In praise of discrimination.
The Ten Commandments have fallen out of fashion. We don’t like being told what we should or shouldn’t do. We prefer to make it up as we go along. We have convenience food – welcome also to what has become ‘convenience ethics’.
But if we did still reflect on the 10 commandments’ framework, and if there was a modern 11th commandment, it might well be ‘Thou shalt not discriminate.’
It has entered into the Criminal Law. You can be sent to prison for discrimination. As with so many things nowadays, it comes down to the meaning of the word; and just like so many words ‘discriminate’ carries two meanings. A common sense meaning and a political, or even politically-correct (meaning Marxist) meaning.
It was a vicar writing a letter to the Times, who reminded me of the difference between the two meanings.
‘The Rev’d Colin B*****’ was the catalyst. In his opinion he wanted Mrs May not to be a ‘bloody difficult women’ but rather, in the face of the 27 EU countries who are looking to punish the UK for Brexit ‘pour encourager les autres’, he wanted Mrs May to show some humanity and humility. I thought he was just being a bit facile, and virtue signalling.
I have never been involved in top level international negotiations, but I suspect that to get a good outcome when you are dealing with angry, intransigent opponents, ‘humility and humanity’ may not quite cut it.
But, the Rev’d Colin B****** went on more provocatively to suggest, that he wished “as a fellow Christian” Mrs May would share his values, “which flow from my Christian heritage which accepts, respects and values people irrespective of their background and which strives for justice, reconciliation and peace.”
I’ve been trying to find a polite phrase that describes this point of view. And after a lot of reflection, I’ve toned it down to “pious, ignorant platitude.”
The Christian tradition does exactly the opposite of what the Rev’d Colin B****** says it does. I remember the accounts of Bishop Bell of Chichester in the 2nd World War, taking the whole military and political establishment on. He thundered in public that they were morally proscribed from carpet bombing German civilians, destroying their cities ‘indiscriminately’. Bishop Bell was against indiscriminate bombing; he was against a war machine that could not discriminate between soldiers and women, children and the elderly.
I thought back to William Wilberforce and his fellow Evangelical Christians who discriminated against the slave trade and all the economic self-interest that wanted to allow slavery to be condoned. (Yes, they worshipped the economy and their economic well-being above all other things even then.)
I found myself wondering if the Rev’d Colin B****** had read any history? I wondered too if he actually grasped the fuller truth about Jesus from whom Christian heritage flows?
Jesus discriminated. He discriminated all the time. What he did flies in the face of our ostrich in the sand, over-therapeutised, self-regarding, self-indulgences. “Oh, we mustn’t judge and mustn’t discriminate’ comes our cry – but Jesus did. All the time. He was very rude to the pompous moralising figures he met.
He discriminated energetically between them, and people of real humility. He was caustic about the self-protection of wealthy people who got addicted to the power their wealth gave them, in contrast to the vulnerable, generous poor.
He was ruthless rude to the puffed-up proud people he encountered, in contrast to the quieter, kinder meek. He did not respect the self-regarding vengeful.
He did not respect the people who hid behind the rules and went light on love. He would not put up with people who refused to forgive others and threatened and warned them that at the point they would need forgiveness, they would not get it themselves.
Wherever this penchant for non-judgemental, non-discrimination superficial morality comes from, it is not Jesus and it is not the Christian heritage.
It’s much more likely Carl Rogers, the father of non-directive counselling. If we allow a little bit of honesty to cur through our public platitudes for a moment, there are times when we all discriminate, as for example between people we can trust and people we can’t; people who will protect us and can be relied on, and people who are likely to stab us in the back.
Of course we discriminate. So let’s learn to do it ethically and wisely. Therapy has its place, but let’s stop pretending discrimination is wrong, and instead learn to do it well instead of destructively, or pretending we don’t or shouldn’t do it at all.