Sunday, 17 July 2011

Men Who Stare At Goats

"And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a man that is in readiness into the wilderness." Leviticus 16:21

There has always been present in human nature a desire to project all its negative aspects onto some external, usually powerful, other. By so doing it allows the individual or the group to comfortably express anger and rage at the very aspects of their own nature that they find troublesome, and also helps to remove the shackles of personal responsibility. Ambrose Bierce in his "Devil's Dictionary" succinctly expressed this reality in the following way:

"Responsibility: A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one's neighbour. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star."

Traditionally, Christianity shifted such burdens onto the devil, a character that in order to gain some scriptural legitimacy was grafted somewhat clumsily and unconvincingly onto the Hebrew Bible's Satan. Ironically that same Hebrew Bible is very aware of this predilection of human psychology and in page after page it refutes this manner of thinking. The issue is clearly of some significance as the Bible refers to it very early on; Adam seeks to blame Eve (and God) and Eve blames the serpent for their sin. Cain goes even further and famously denies the very concept of moral responsibility altogether:

"Am I my brother's keeper?" Genesis 4:9

In the New Testament our teacher's brother in addressing this very subject, has the following words attributed to him:

"Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, and He Himself tempteth no man: But each man is tempted when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust when it hath conceived beareth sin." James 1:13-15

Very often the figure that is held responsible for the wrongdoing inherent in each of us, is often endowed with incredible power, and in the case of the devil, traditional Christianity came close to creating a dualistic theology! All evil actions and harmful events are seen to have the hand of the evil-one behind them, either directly or through the armies of its wicked servants. In the last century this self-serving irrationality was clearly evident in the demonisation of the Jews by Nazi Germany, in which the very victims of Nazi racism and oppression were accused of wilful corruption of the German "race", oppressing Germany and subsequently blamed for all that nation's difficulties.

And now yet again we see this growth-stunting mindset in action in the response to the Phone-Hacking scandal. Having read and heard much commentary on this subject (which apparently is of greater importance, to judge by the attention given, than the crisis in the horn of Africa or any other event) it would appear that Mr Murdoch and his News International are the new Beelzebub! If we are to believe what many would have us believe Mr Murdoch has some truly Voldemort-like powers of sorcery often deployed which enslave politicians and which successfully control the collective mind of our nation! As a result politicians suddenly (and conveniently) finding their courage are taking upon themselves the role of exorcists as they seek to "break the spell" of the media mogul's satanic influence and have him cast into the outer darkness. This is in my opinion all tosh!

No one forced politicians of all parties to flatter, fawn and entertain Mr Murdoch and co (or for that matter the BBC, Guardian etc). They chose to do so as they thought that it might help them advance their careers. They were quite happy to set aside or adapt their principles if they thought that the newspapers would promote them and their policies in a favourable light. Not all politicians however were willing to do that, and those dissenters (such as John Mann (Labour) and Ann Widdecombe (Conservative) for example are a living reproach against all those that did, if your pardon the phrase, "dance with the devil". Neither was it Murdoch's fabled power that led many MP's to behave with less than perfect propriety in regards to their expenses. (Oh I'm terribly sorry, that was if I remember correctly the fault of "The System").

Nor did anyone cast an enchantment onto the police that stripped them of their free will and forced them, if the allegations are true, to accept many thousands of pounds in exchange for information and then seek to obstruct (?) this reality from becoming known.

And what of us, the Great British Public, what about our outrage at the wrongdoings of the media set. Was it not we who hungered after more gossip and more scandal and stripped the shelves clean of newspapers that provided it? Did we not collectively derive pleasure at the revelations of the sordidness in the private lives of those that we ourselves have elevated to the heights of celebrity status. Have we not filled cyberspace with speculations and disclosures? Is it not us that fuel the popularity of television shows that derive their fame from presenting human misery and degradation for public entertainment? Would we be right to blame the mythic powers of News International for all this or might we look inwards at ourselves? I feel that we could certainly benefit at this moment from heeding the words of Jesus:

"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?" Matthew 7:3

The disturbing allegations of phone hacking that began this drama are appalling, however not that surprising, and anyone truly responsible for this law breaking should be dealt with appropriately. Beyond that, this is an opportunity for us all to look at the nature of the society that we have created and specifically our individual role in it. We should not allow any individual or organisation to be scapegoated for aspects of our culture that we find distasteful and the same is also true on the micro scale, in our families, in our chapels and churches and in our workplaces.

The media scandal and the underlying issues it exposes will not I feel be fundamentally resolved by the passing of more laws or with expression of synthetic outrage. It can only be remedied if our nation and we as individuals come to realise and work actively towards a truth so beautifully expressed by Samuel Smiles:

"That which raises a country, that which strengthens a country, and that which dignifies a country - that which spreads her power, creates her moral influence, and makes her respected and submitted to, bends the heart of millions and bows down the pride of nations to her - the instrument of obedience, the fountain of supremacy, the true throne, crown, and sceptre of a nation; this aristocracy is not an aristocracy of blood, not an aristocracy of fashion, not an aristocracy of talent only; it is an aristocracy of Character. That is the true heraldry of man. The crown and glory of life is Character.
"Self Help" Samuel Smiles 1859

This is something that with God's grace and assistance we can all work at and hopefully achieve some measure of success in our own lives.

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