Views on the News

I wasn’t sure I was actually going to write this post, but, after a lot of mental debate, here it is. Make of it what you will.

I live in Toronto, and by now most of you who don’t live in Toronto have heard of our mayor, Rob Ford. You might even have heard of his brother Doug. I am not a Ford Bros fan because I think they are not very good at running the city. I am not going to weigh in on whether the video exists, if it is all true, or what should happen next. I’m more interested in something I’m going to call Public Morality. Let’s talk about that.

Tom Wright wrote a very interesting piece for the Guardian on Public Morality. You should go read it now. In the context of current chaos in Toronto lots of people have started to talk about whether journalists should be publishing these sorts of stories. The Globe and Mail’s editor published a defense of the investigative report on Doug Ford with the story. I’m glad journalists seem to be thinking about these kinds of questions. What still remains for me is a question about who sets the standards for public discussions of acceptable moral behaviour. Wright also asked this question. Who sets the bar? Is there even a bar set any longer? In many conversations the bar seems to be what is legal or illegal and whether that can be upheld in a court of law.

In the court of Public Morality however, sometimes even what happens in a court of law will not suffice. Behaviour doesn’t change because someone is found guilty or not. Sometimes people are found guilty, take on the court-imposed punishment, but are still deemed untouchable by society. How do we help people move forward? Is there such a thing as forgiveness in Public Morality?

Handling scandals in government has become a matter of spin, and some people seem to do that well, and others are not so good at it. Should spin matter? Is there something else that might be better?

At the moment I’m teaching an online course on the Old Testament. Last week the readings included Leviticus. This prompted some interesting discussion about what to do with this book of ancient rituals. I suggested that one thing the ancient system of sacrifice and offering provided was a way forward after bad things happened. If you did something wrong, there was a way to deal with it and move forward. How can this happen in our society? How can this happen in our own lives and relationships? Do we let people change?

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