Monday, 2 November 2015

Public Morality, Social Sanctions and Virtue

The other day Mrs T posted a picture on Facebook of one of the girls (the one I call Bernie on this blog) doing some DIY.  She was cutting some metal tubing with an angle grinder: it was a dramatic picture, as there were sparks everywhere, and she was kitted up in gloves, helmet with faceguard etc. I was in the background, holding the other end of the pipe.  I (of course) was not wearing any such personal protective equipment.

Within minutes, two friends had commented on my lack of PPE; rightly, I suppose. Whilst the perspective was a little deceptive and I was not as close as I appeared, I was still too close to be completely free from any risk.  (I have blogged before about my cavalier attitude to personal, physical, risk...)

All of which prompted me to reflect on what we can and can't call people out about, and what that says about public morality and how that may be enforced by social sanctions.

For example, I think that if we had posted pictures of Bernie immodestly dressed, or of me roaring drunk, I think it would be less likely that I would have been publicly called out on it. People are wary of such moral censuring of others in such cases.

But only in some cases: when Health and Safety is at stake, we are all deemed to agree that it is acceptable to shame those who put themselves or others at risk. But criticise someone for immodest dress and you will in turn be shamed for the crime of 'slut-shaming.' Or criticise someone for any aspect of their behaviour that resulted in them becoming the victim of a crime, and you will be shamed for 'victim-blaming.' Or suggest that a woman who has chosen to have a child out of wedlock has done anything other than a heroic action, and the skies will fall in.

So reflecting on what one is allowed (and even expected) to censure, and what one is forbidden from censuring suggests an interesting analysis. For the modern liberal (if that is what it is) mindset is only liberal with regards to those things of which it doesn't strongly disapprove: the social sanction of shame is heavily invoked on those things it deems truly wrong.

And there is, for the Christian, the problem that these things and Christian beliefs and values are some way apart: how often I have heard people proclaim 'tolerance' as a Christian virtue?  Just yesterday, when I was reading at Mass, the Bidding Prayers I was given to read included one about the outcomes of the Synod, and suggested we should all pray for 'tolerance, mercy and compassion.' Mercy and compassion I recognise as 'Gospel values': but tolerance? It is not a word I associate with either the example or the teaching of Christ. Strangely, I omitted the word in reading out the prayer. I was tempted to make it 'justice, mercy and compassion,' but desisted.

But the risk is, unless we keep attentive to such things, that we adopt the same standards as the world, and if salt loses its savour...


Ttony said...

Avoiding Facebook, is, of course, another alternative.

Did anyone - the priest, or the author of the Bidding Prayer - comment on your changing it, or even notice? I have to admit that this is a habit I have got into myself and nobody has checked me yet.

Ben Trovato said...

Neither commented; I suspect neither noticed.

The PP renewed his request that I join the rota to write the bidding prayers and we agreed that I will do so once a month.

Latin, do you think?...

Ttony said...

Latin would be bit obvious. Hieratic: start with subjunctives "that we be as your saints" and Anglicanish phraseology "Grant we pray" or "that all might be". Thee/thou can wait.

My mother found out the evening before that my brother-in-law was to write and perform the Bidding Prayers at my Father's funeral. "Tell him I want real prayers, not drivel." This has shaped my view of Bidding Prayers for nearly twenty years now.