Thursday, February 4, 2010

Enough Of The Morality Police

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.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly Bhante, but in regards to misbehaving sports stars unfortunately that old truism "Noblesse oblige" - With privilege comes responsibility - applies even to them.

Privilege for sports stars usually means, amongst other things, product endorsements worth ridiculous amounts of money. Responsibility for sports stars (for better or for worse and rightly or wrongly) is to be seen as role-models by millions of fans, and so they must live up to the standard fans expect of them.

Sure it's disgraceful, not to mention humiliating, for poor old Tiger Woods that the media contributed in totally destroying his career, but from another perspective, he willingly signed up for an extremely lucrative sponsorship with a multi-multi-million dollar company and through his own actions has given that company unsatisfactory press. It's not that I'm sticking up for Nike, but unfortunately with privilege comes responsibility.

Perry said...

Thanks for this. I don't have anything important to add but as a lifelong football fan I thought I'd shed some light on the current situation for you.

The man you mention is John Terry, who is not only an English captain, but is the captain of the England national team. Not only is he the first footballer to have been embroiled in a similar scenario, but he's not even the last England captain to do so (see David Beckham). The reason that this has such extensive coverage is because the affair in question was with the long-term partner of Wayne Bridge, another England player.

The World Cup will be in June, and barring a major injury or similar, Terry is a certainty to be involved with England, and Bridge is likely to as well. Ignoring the tabloids (particularly the tabloids of the Murdoch variety) the main argument is whether Mr. Terry, as the leader of the team, can successfully earn the trust and respect of his team-mates after doing such a deed.

Also, the fall-out with regards to the disability comment was made in 1999 by Glenn Hoddle, at the time the manager of the England national team. His exact quote was:

"My beliefs have evolved in the last eight or nine years, that the spirit has to come back again, that is nothing new, that has been around for thousands of years. You have to come back to learn and face some of the things you have done, good and bad. There are too many injustices around. You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap. You have to look at things that happened in your life and ask why. It comes around."

Apologies for going on about something that really has no importance to you and others, but I thought I'd offer you the events in more detail.

- Perry.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Perry,
Apologies not necessary. I’ll learn football from you and you can learn Dhamma from me.

Perry said...

Okay Bhante, but only if you teach me the Dhamma first. :)

Unknown said...

I hope this means that you were not or should not be outraged at Pastor Rony Tan's remarks. Calling in the ISD seems a bit extreme but I guess the govt doesn't want even the slightest possibility that racial tensions like those in Malaysia erupting