The so-called Age of Faith in Europe was no time to be alive. The Church believed it could and should control every aspect of people’s thoughts and behavior including what they did in private. Theologians dictated how you did it, inquisitors peered under your bed sheets to make sure that you did do it that way, and tribunals punished you when you didn’t. And the punishments could be draconian and led to humiliation, suffering and cruelty – but mainly to hypocrisy. Read Uta Ranke-Heineman’s Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven which details some of the Church’s bizarre teachings on sex through the centuries and how they enforced them. You’ll be staggered. The Enlightenment freed us from all that and now morality is a matter of personal responsibility, something between you and your God, except where it directly and negatively affects the community. Much of the Middle East is still to have its Enlightenment and so in some countries ‘morality police’ still snoop into people’s private lives and threaten them with public humiliation, floggings or worse. In Iran you can face a long prison term for dancing – even in private. But in the liberal democracies all that is long gone. Or has it?
Tiger Woods career has suffered a serious, perhaps even fatal, setback because he allegedly cheated on his wife. Now the news tells us that an English football captain may be about to loose his position for the same reason. Neither men have ever presented themselves as paragons of virtue, neither has ever pontificated about morality in the public arena and the sports they excelled at are about being able to hit or kick balls to make them go where they want, not about ethics. Last time I looked football was more commonly associated with hard drinking, punch ups both on and off the field and multiple girlfriends. You may recall that three years ago a popular English footballer said be believed that physically disabled people were like that because they had done something bad in their previous life. There was an outcry, he apoligised, the outcry continued, he made a second abject apology, the howls of indignation got louder and eventually he was forced to resign. Of course, I’m just a simple monk but when we did civics at school I seem to recall being taught that a part of democracy is that you have the freedom to believe what you want and express your beliefs – even if it’s completely stupid. The Buddha’s teaching on marital faithfulness is clear enough, as is his teachings on wrong view. Thoughtful people consider these ideas carefully and try to apply them in their lives. I know of nothing the Buddha ever said that could be used to justify enforcing his ethics or his vision of reality.
It would be good if popular public figures were able to set a good example and it’s sad when they don’t. But, quite frankly, if they don’t that’s their business, that’s a matter for them and their kamma, between them and their conscience, a matter for them and their God. A prying public and a lurid press should not be allowed to take the place of the inquisitors and the morality police. The picture shows Iran’s morality police detaining a young man for having an unacceptable hair style.