‘Absolutely outrageous!’ – ‘Totally unacceptable!’ – ‘Utterly scandalous!’
The cries of disapproval resonate throughout the public space, whether in print, broadcast or on the net, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. And they do indeed protest very vigorously against a crime, an offence against decency or women, or a spectacularly poor explanation of some exercise in political incompetence.
My question is not whether or not an action or omission, or a word or gesture should be commended or condemned. That depends on the actual facts of the matter – as opposed to the way they are represented and reported – and their context. No, my question is in the way we ascribe absolute values to matters of bad manners, poor judgment, thoughtlessness, or gross insensitivity to the person and place and time. And whether it is in the political or the personal sphere, or in the performance of art or the conduct of economic transactions, I continue to be concerned at the sheer shrillness and the sometimes exaggerated significance to an event which may only have affected a few people.
That is why I have to ask whether the alleged offence is on the scale of, say the Nazi Holocaust or the Ukrainian Famine of 1932-33, or the genocide of the Armenians in which some 1.7-2.5 million people died, depending on how the records were compiled and are consulted. And in case we of the post-1945 generation are to be too satisfied with ourselves I might add the massacre of the Tutsis by the Hutus in Rwanda in 1994 when some 800,000 died and the Killing Fields of Cambodia.
I would suggest that it is these levels of callousness, often perpetrated on a mass and indeed societal scale, that deserve absolute levels of criticism rather than personal clumsiness or thoughtlessness or abuse of personal authority. To do otherwise is to trivialize the scale of the mass murders that I have just referred to and to exaggerate the levels of offense which we are wanting to draw attention to, no matter how deeply we feel them.
It may be that this is a form of power play in seeking a form of moral dominance and forcing others onto the defensive. But Jesus said quite clearly: ‘Judge not that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.’ (Matt 7:1) Thus it may go hard for a person who is shrill in condemning racism or homophobia but who still practises inverted snobbery against one with a different or southern accent or with signs of greater education. I know that we say that we should hate the sin but love the sinner, but with the intrusiveness of media, is this what we do?
Part of the issue is the way we take up these causes personally and then get drawn out of our own moral and spiritual depths. They may be emotional but when they cease to be rational then they become dangerous and should our society become serious in seeking scapegoats for its ills then a level head and a generous heart may indeed come to our aid.
I also think that James’ epistle put it very well in chapter 3 as a whole by v16 especially: ‘For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.’
Every blessing this Lent,
A SHORT LIST OF C20/21 GENOCIDES OR MASS MURDERS – some may be debated and this is not complete.
- Genocides: Armenians, 1915, by Turks. 1.7-2.5m, of a population of 8m. (Never admitted by Turkey).
- Ukrainian Famine – 1932-33, by Soviet Communists. 1.8-2.5m died (Historians still debating/denying this).
- Nazi Holocaust: 1933-45, by Nazi Germans. 11m killed by various means incl. 6m Jews, but also very large numbers of gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses.
- Rwanda, 1994, 800,000 Tutsis killed by Hutus.
- Other mass murders: Twin Towers, New York and associated attacks; Srebrenica, Bosnia; Amritsar, India, by British Commander; Guernica; Lidice; Oradour-sur-Glane; The London and other WW2 blitzes. Strategic bombing of Germany, 1943-44.