He started with Adam and Eve, kept doing it through the Old Testament, peaking with the Top 10 and then carried on with Jesus who made it worse by making us have to go to church as well as behave ourselves. All that ‘do this’, ‘don’t do that’. Isn’t God just a rules-based kill-joy who wants us to stand in straight lines and do as we’re told? Isn’t it better to take the rules away and give ourselves freedom? After all, we’re all grown-ups, living in a civilised society these days.
I’d love to say yes. I’d love to say that now we’ve gone through the Empire-building evolutionary-scoiety Enlightenment stuff about being brilliant, now that we’re aware of the consequences of our actions on a global scale and have social consciences regularly pricked by Pudsey and Gary Barlow, now that we are grown up, we could leave the rules behind. Like joining the sixth form and no longer having to wear uniform and sit with 12 year olds. Free reign. Freedom!
But if the moral crises of the last 4 years have shown us anything, it’s that there is nothing more dangerous than humans without rules. Like out of control Victorian public-school prefects, without a framework for their freedom humans just cannot control their insatiable desire for power, for selfishness, for self-protection, and for financial gain at other’s expense.
The economic boom was built on a lie, that financial people knew was a lie until they told it so many times even they thought it was true. The MPs knew their expenses system was dubious at best and corrupt at worst but it was in all this best interests to keep quiet and carry on. Our politicians and our Police knew their relationship with the Murdoch Empire was dangerous and wrong but it was just too good to stop because the perks were too attractive.
It wold be very easy to cry “Moral outrage! Repent and bring back gospel values!” in a shouty-street-preacher sort of way. Or at least be heard as saying that. Because, I think I am. The more I see our society frame its ethics and moral around a the jelly of “what works for me”, “it’s a victimless crime”, ‘it feels good” and “I’m too big to fail”, the more I feel like donning a sandwich board.
Each time something like this happens, our ineffectual and highly-implicated-in-it-all Prime Minister (or one of his clones) says something like “This is terrible and it must stop”, and yet offers absolutely no alternative. And neither does anyone else. Regulation? But based around whose principles? Unless there is an over-arching and generally agreed framework to work from, it’s meaningless.
What God has constantly given us is a framework on which to base society. That framework has shifted and changed depending on where that society is, but even before Jesus the Law was not there to kill joy, but to provide a framework for it. And what Jesus did was raise the stakes even higher, because our motivation to follow the framework was no longer “because we follow the framework’ but “because we love”.
It is because he loves that he gives us free will, but not free reign. It is because we love that we operate within this framework which is summed up in the two greatest commandments, which are themselves about love: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbour as yourself.” We need to restore those as the centre of who we are. And if we don’t do that ourselves, then we cannot point the finger at others for not doing it either.