Time for a bit of gravitas again. More travel stuff later.
I usually hesitate to write much on public morality and traditional values. Not because there is nothing to be written, or nothing to see, but it’s a dangerous game to comment where so many righteous critics delight in public verbal assasinations of those foolish enough to express an opinion, or worse, dare to challenge contemporary wisdom.
So, with a deep breath, here I begin. The established Christian church has provided a reference point for public (and private) morality for centuries. Its pronouncements carried weight and were observed, sometimes grudgingly, and often in the breach by individuals and governments in the western world at least. I will surprise no one by pointing out this is no longer the case. I take as one example the case of the current progressive, enlightened and hip Head of the World Bank (forget her name but not her manicured image as a cultural icon), who felt justified recently in suggesting that her Bank needed to ’embrace’ the values of young people and to move on from dependence on the outmoded values of the past. According to this opinion leader, traditional values are now passè and in need of renewal, or at the very least, renegotiation. After all, traditional values (read ‘Christian’ values) and those who subscribe to them haven’t exactly been shining lights for the world to follow have they?
To my chagrin, I find myself having to agree in part with the position argued by the thoroughly progressive World Bank Head. The established Christian church has allowed its authority to slip away.
Yes, the church is riven with hypocrisy. Every single member is a contradiction in that from time to time they do things and think things they would not be proud of and maybe not admit to. Some are not even very nice people. The church’s public messages of peace, love, humility and joy are often besmirched in our culture, even completely compromised by the attitudes and behaviour of its own members. As a result, the Christian Gospel often goes unheard and undiscovered amidst the noisy condemnation rightly levelled at an accused ‘misogynist, outdated and abusive’ church. Sexual abuse, corruption, political manipulation. Hypocrites all!
I just had to write that. It’s true. It is also what the church’s enemies use to attack and ridicule the church and its leaders. The liberating message so many people need to hear is blocked out by noisy accusations of hypocrisy. In the minds of many it follows, ipso facto, that the Christian message and its morality are also flawed and wrong. That is how the argument goes and Christians need to wear it and face up to it, however uninformed or unjust such a judgement may be.
Now we have that out of the way, may I be permitted to point out the inconvenient truth that sexual and other abuse, misogyny and corruption are not unique to the church? One might be forgiven for thinking they were, given the saturation media reporting of the terrible sexual abuse that has occurred in church institutions. Sexual abuse in state or secular institutions, equally terrible and destructive, doesn’t get much airplay. I wonder why. But I have just realised I am straying off topic – sorry.
You see, the church’s voice is not listened to seriously by mainstream “progressive” culture. They will tell you it is because of the recent public moral failings of church leaders but I suspect the trend has been alive and well far longer. I suggest our mainstream culture has become dominated by a number of messages that reduce down to this: That it’s all about me (you), and therefore, that every person’s personal morality is as good as any others’. Further, this means there can be no absolute right or wrong – or so the logic goes. Any institution that tries to point out otherwise can be ignored, or discredited, as the case may be.
The cult of the individual is powerful and reaches everywhere, but I have just realised this is still leading me away from my topic. I will say simply that we have allowed ourselves to become obsessed with ourselves, our wants and desires; our personal fulfillment. We do not want to have anyone, least of all the traditional church, dictate to us on matters of personal preference and values. The self reigns and it is a jealous god.
While it was not central to my topic, all this has set up the context to what I want to say.
Returning to hypocrites, what can we make of ourselves and our mainstream culture when we decry the terrible effects of illicit substances yet consume them at an astronomical rate? It cannot be just social misfits or the avant garde who are the market for illicit drugs. The enormous quantities imported illegally must be consumed by somebody. I haven’t done the maths but it seems to me that illegal drugs must reach right into the heart and soul of our society at all levels. That is friends and neighbours, people we deal with, and dare I say it, often ourselves. What hypocrites we are to tut tut at the statistics and congratulate our enforcement agencies at intercepting a shipment here and there when all the time our whole culture is awash with these substances. And I haven’t even begin to discuss alcohol abuse.
How dare we point the finger at drug cheats in sport or mumble about the parlous state of football or whatever when drug cheats are exposed, or turn away in disgust from street addicts, when it is us as a community who are implicated up to our necks. What blatant hypocrites!
What too, are we to make of ourselves when our culture is saturated with exploitative and titillating (pun intended) sex. Images and metaphors of sexual activity soak our mass media and our everyday conversations (ok, well maybe not your conversations but its not as if such conversations are rare). We allow our children to be exposed to television programs daily where they are confronted by images, language and concepts that portray and encourage sexual promiscuity and freedom to behave irresponsibly. We encourage, if not make it mandatory for girls of 12 and younger to abandon childhood in the quest to be sexually attractive before they are ready, and in the same breath, condemn males for responding. On the one hand, childhood is held up as being precious and inviolate (We have a Children’s Commissioner after all) while on the on the other we allow and encourage the same children to be sexualised beyond their years. We give strong support to children’s rights groups as they take vicious aim at pedophiles, yet simultaneously we give society-wide tacit encouragement to children to be mini sexual adults, age of consent notwithstanding. We confuse our youth with our contradictory messages about sex and sexuality. I suspect we confuse ourselves too.
What are we to make of ourselves though, when we allow and encourage our children to regard themselves as objects of sexual desire and condemn men who respond to that sexualisation. What are we to make of ourselves when we celebrate the messages of shows like ‘Sex in the City’ and then condemn people in high places who ‘cheat’ on their spouses, or punish immature people influenced by such messages who try to act them out. What gross hypocrites we are. How confused have we allowed our moral compasses to become.
What are we to make of ourselves when we respond to emotion laden messages about the need to care for our planet, feel self-righteous in our judgements of those dirty big polluters, and then run our own household electrical systems as if there were no tomorrow? What about our support for various quests to save whales, koalas, bunny rabbits, rhinos and so on whose environments are being trashed, as we continue to live lives producing enormous amounts of waste and pollution. We join or send money to organisations such as World Wildlife Fund, buy hybrid cars, and sign petitions to save wilderness areas and we console ourselves we are doing our bit for the planet at the same time as we pursue the most scandalously wasteful self indulgent lives.
What are we to make of ourselves when we mouth convenient acceptable platitudes about the need to care for those less fortunate and then turn our back on refugees, the homeless, or the mentally ill? We would help them if we could of course, but it just isn’t always convenient is it? Have you taken a refugee family under your wing yet? When did you last spent time talking to a mentally ill person as if they mattered to you?
Hypocrites, one and all. Church leaders, Christians, and everyone else as well. You and I feature rather prominently don’t you think?
We deserve to be laughed at as we posture and commend ourselves on our contemporary plastic morality. No wonder our Muslim brothers and sisters, not to mention others in what we used to call ‘less developed’ countries, look at our public values with dismay if not disgust and dismiss us as decadent members of a declining culture. We just don’t get it . . . but they do.
We deserve to be laughed at, for our pretensions, for our false, convenient, mouldable and adaptable morality. Instead we convince ourselves that we at least are being ‘true to ourselves’. We follow our own wants and desires, instead of the common good. We embrace indulgence and self absorbtion in place of what is transcendentally good and right. In reality we are the biggest self deluders and hypocrites it is possible to imagine.
Yes, the Christian church in the west has allowed itself to be compromised in its mission. We can rightly criticise those hypocrites in its ranks who presume to preach to us yet fail their own teachings. Meanwhile what has become of us?
Jesus was given to expressing inconvenient truths to people who were a bit slow on the uptake. As Jesus said “you hypocrite! You are worried about the splinter in your brother’s eye, yet you ignore the plank in your own”.
But maybe Jesus was speaking to someone who deserved to be called a hypocrite. We on the other hand are too busy living our lives being seduced that what we want is right for us and of course if we had time for others we would help them. If we had time. We are, after all, basically good people. Aren’t we?
In the mean time we condemn the Christian church for its failings, have cast off our traditional Christian morality and all the constraints that went with it and are the better and happier for it.