Thursday, 22 April 2010

What morality looks like

The court case which arose from the inquest into the death of Diane Brimble has closed, and the defendant has been found not guilty of the charges. The article in the Sydney Morning Herald takes a look at the situation, and compares the verdict and the public interest in the court proceedings against the public interest in the inquest. Our moral outrage, it seems, is confined to inquests and not court cases.

More important than commentary about the state of public opinion is the overall point of the article; that is, the court case was about legal responsibility between people but could not be about moral responsibility between people. From the article by Geesche Jacobsen:
"Despite the inquest's approach, the case was not about moral responsibility, about what ought to have been done. And ''bad, loutish or maybe even insensitive behaviour'' as Justice Howie called it, is no crime.

Should she have been photographed during sex?

Should she have been kicked off the bed?

Should she have been left lying on the floor, having defecated?

Should people - young men and four young women from another cabin - have laughed about her, even looked at her, and done nothing?"
Dianne Brimble saga ends with lives still to heal

Jacobsen highlights that the prosecution's case was only about legal responsibility.
There was no general duty to help a stranger in distress, however unusual that seemed, Justice Howie told the jury after the prosecution acknowledged in the final days of the trial it could not prove Wilhelm had had a duty of care towards Brimble. No legal duty.

Although there was no legal duty of care, I share Jacobsen's dismay that no one helped a person in need. I also share this sentiment from Scott Stephens[1] that we no longer recognise what morality looks like.
By failing to pursue the critique of religion into the sanctuary of global capitalism itself, by reducing discussion of morality to well-being and personal security, and by neglecting to advocate some alternate form of virtuous community, they end up supplying the pathologies of capitalism with a veneer of rationality.
Hillsong for the unbelievers
If morality is reduced to "well-being and personal security" such that there is no moral duty between people, then we are in need, more than ever, of the gospel. It's a poor reflection on human nature that we have taken the ideas of personal choice and individuality beyond the realm of community responsibility. An individual is free to choose, and will experience the consequences of those choices, but if those choices lead that person into trouble then the gospel insists that the strong help the weak.

In the parable of the Samaritan, the traveller chose to journey along the road and the consequence was severe assault and theft. The priest and Levite did not help, but the Samaritan did. Now, which of these fulfilled their legal responsibilities? All of them. And which of them embodied the gospel? The Samaritan.

We've are too comfortable with the notion of personal choice and personal responsibility, to the extent that we feel we can abandon compassion. This is woeful, and the gospel calls us to live better than that. The gospel tells us to look after the people around us, to take care of the stranger in need, to be good neighbours to all.


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[1] Yes, I know I refer to him often. He's usually right about things like this.
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