It is strange indeed that British flags are flying at half-mast for the death of a Saudi king – head of a regime which fiercely upholds values and laws completely antithetical to liberal western norms. Yet this oddity is somehow of a piece with the confused western phenomena of ‘Je suis Charlie’ and ‘No More Page 3’.
While – of course – sharing the general sense of outrage at the Paris murders I quickly began to feel uncomfortable with the ‘Je suis Charlie’ campaign. It seemed to jar with reality – the reality that many of those most vociferously aligning themselves with the satirical newspaper are also the most vociferous in seeking to limit other freedoms of expression. Also, although I have never read it, the sense that probably the content of the newspaper would tend to make me je ne suis pas Charlie. I am not so dense as to fail to appreciate that ‘Je suis Charlie’ did not necessarily mean an unequivocal endorsement of the newspaper so much as a sign of solidarity with those killed, but, still.
And then there was this weeks brouhaha about the Sun’s shelving, and then reinstating, of the p3 topless model.
Again, the inconsistency (is hypocrisy too strong a term?) of those who would say Charlie Hebdo should be able to publish whatever they want, yet also say, it is unacceptable for the Sun to publish p3, troubles me: at least a little.
It is not as though I would endorse either cartoons designed to offend a particular religion, or any shade of pornography. It’s just that I feel troubled by liberal inconsistencies.
I am also troubled by some of the arguments used in the ‘No More’ campaign, especially by my co-religionists. To argue that page 3 should be stopped because, it makes our girls think that they are judged by their bodies and this is bad for their self-esteem, seems incredibly weak. Exactly the same argument could be made to put an end to female sport or the fashion industry. (Personally, I’d be quite glad to be rid of the latter, but would resist the abolition of the former.) Nor would it be exactly a giant logical leap to similarly argue that women of ‘preferable’ intelligence should be prevented from appearing in the media, because it makes girls of lower IQ feel thick, and thus damages their self-esteem, preventing them from being the women they are meant to be.
The argument from inequality is a poor one. It is too plastic, too prone to personal bias. It is far too culturally captive. Much more robust are more foundational arguments: don’t deliberately offend the beliefs of others; don’t publish material that removes sex from the bounds of the covenantal relationship of marriage.
Of course, those kind of foundational arguments are grounded in my Christian faith, and I don’t expect them to be shared by the generality of the populace: which puts me in the strange position of having to defend what I deplore – both the right of Charlie Hebdo to publish offensive cartoons, and the Sun to publish pictures of half-naked women.
That’s strange, but it is at least consistent.
Today I planted some apple trees. Planting a tree is a declaration of optimism for the future. Luther famously said (although probably in reality he didn’t) “If I knew that tomorrow was the end of the world, I would plant an apple tree today!” Whatever the truth of its origins, it’s a good phrase. My trees won’t fruit for a couple of years, but once they get going they should be good for decades. I’m optimistic about the future of the earth, and believe that is why Christians should go on planting apple trees, right up to kingdom come.
One day page three, and offensive cartoons, and terrorism, and the fashion industry, and hypocrisy, will be consumed and purged, and the earth will be truly fruitful. To contemporary ears that sounds exceeding strange, but it is the hope in which I plant a tree.