In the second half of the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul gives a grim picture of what happens when a society that once had some knowledge of God rejects him. One of his major themes is that their view of sex and sexuality becomes horrendously skewed (sound familiar?), but he also gives a list of the sorts of attitudes and behaviours society will experience in their wilful rejection of God. Amongst other things, he describes a people who are implacable and unmerciful.
I was reminded of this earlier this week during the furore over the comments of the Tory MP, Anne Marie Morris. As you are no doubt aware, she used a certain expression of 19th Century U.S. origin, which contains a derogatory word to describe people with dark skin. It’s evidently a hideous expression, and one that ought to have disappeared in the mists of time. But is it really a sackable offence?
Many seem to think so. Owen Jones, for example, who appears to be daily morphing into the leftist version of “disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”, spent much of the day on Twitter venting his spleen, calling not only for the sacking of Mrs Morris, but also a couple of her colleagues who had apparently failed to condemn her. Oh and anyone who was not prepared to call for her sacking was apparently a racist too. No doubt those who fail to condemn those who fail to condemn make it into the Jonesian definition of what a racist is.
I decided to test things on Twitter, posting a link to this excellent piece from Spiked Online’s Brendan O’Neill, accompanied by the words: “Fantastic response to self-righteous intoleristas such as Owen Jones.”
Now my point had nothing whatsoever to do with defending Mrs Morris, her comment or even her “right” to make such comments. I have no desire nor intention to do so. In my view, she used a stupid phrase, almost certainly not through any malice towards black people (though she might have that for all I know), but rather probably just a thoughtless use of an expression that people used to use and which she hasn’t really given much thought to. But she apologised and a normal society would have moved on.
The point I was getting at, however, was this: are the “tolerant” amongst us really so intolerant that they cannot accept that people sometimes say and do stupid things which they then regret and apologise for? From the reaction I received from many (though not all) on Twitter, the answer would appear to be yes. My favourite response was the guy who responded, “Let me guess: You’re a white male over the age of 40?” Yes indeed I am, but I am at a total loss as to why anyone should think the colour of my skin or age to be important. Personally, I believe that all humans are made in the Imago Dei, so the meaning of such comments is rather lost on me.
But you know, sometimes we do things which are thoughtless. Bet you’ve done some. Sometimes we say things thoughtlessly. Bet you’ve said some. Sometimes we say things that we shouldn’t really say, or which we don’t really mean. Bet you’ve done those too. What do we do in such cases? We apologise. And what should be the response of others? They should, with good grace, accept our apology.
But here’s the thing. Many in our society today are completely unable or even incapable of doing this. They are unwilling to accept that people sometimes say stupid or unsavoury things, and that an apology will suffice in dealing with it. No, they desire sacrifice, and they will have it at all costs. It’s the new national blood sport, where instead of hunting foxes, we now hunt people and seek their downfall, rather than accepting their admission and apology and moving on.
So here we are, in the middle of the self-proclaimed most tolerant society in history, and yet daily we see more and more examples of how those who hoist their tolerance credentials upon the flagpoles of their own egos actually turn out to be the least tolerant of all. They cannot accept that someone said something stupid and now regrets it. They cannot accept an apology. They’re much too “tolerant” for all that.
This is no accident. Back to the Apostle Paul. He says that this kind of implacableness and unmercifulness is what you should expect increasing amounts of when a culture thumbs its nose at the God it used to give glory to. Why? Because the essence of that God is that he is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth” (Exodus 34:6). He is forgiving, and prepared to pardon each and every one of us our each and every sin should we acknowledge it to him and put our trust in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ at Calvary.
A society that turns its back on Him, having once known his grace and his mercy, will become increasingly unable to show mercy and forgiveness. And it will increasingly demand the sacrifice. It may like to kid itself that it is now the very embodiment of tolerance and mercy. Yet as we are in the midst of discovering, the truth is very different.