A country that has moved so inexorably away from its Christian roots as Britain has must, from time to time, indulge itself in a little guilt release by pretending to be all aghast at the bad behaviour of a public figure. This is just to reassure us all that no, we’re not so bad as all that yet, and yes, we do still have some standards left. It’s all phoney of course.
The latest specimen for this periodic release valve is Lord Sewel of Gilcomstoun, who has now resigned from the Lords over secretly filmed actions, including snorting cocaine from the breasts of a call girl and being photographed smoking a cigarette whilst wearing a bra. His antics were reported in The Sun “newspaper”, which readers will I’m sure be well aware has been a veritable bastion of conservative social values throughout its history.
One would think from the reaction of the media and those in Government that Britain had suddenly found itself in the grip of social conservatism and that Lord Sewel’s actions have genuinely shocked a nation not used to hearing about such vice. However, before we all get caught up in the phoney moral outrage, it is worth just pausing to ask in what type of society his actions were done in.
Is it one that upholds the sanctity of marriage? One which loathes the idea of adultery? One which does all it can to drive pornographers out of business? One which upholds virtue and would never dream of exalting or laughing at the base behaviour of certain celebrities? One which abhors the idea of recreational drug taking? One which believes prostitution to be a great scourge that we should work towards eliminating? Does that sound like modern Britain?
Or is it one which has wilfully destroyed the marriage covenant? One which thinks nothing of people having “affairs”? One which has allowed a flood of pornography to invade the newsstands? One that revels in the tawdry goings on of certain celebrities, giving a nudge and a wink to all sorts of appalling behaviour? One which encourages a club scene where recreational drugs are openly taken? One which turns a blind eye to prostitution and even talks from time to time about setting up legal brothels? Isn’t that a bit more like modern Britain than the previous description?
I must say that the whole incident has confused me greatly. Take the bra thing, for instance. There was me thinking that men wearing women’s underwear was now de rigueur and apparently a thing to be celebrated, but now I’m suddenly being called upon to disapprove of it. Certainly, had Lord Sewel splashed himself over the cover of Vanity Fair in a corset, telling people that from now on he wants to be known as Lady Betsy, then the Sun and the rest of the media would be fawning over him, Dave Cameron would probably be telling us how brave (s)he is, and any dissenting voices would be dealt with by the Twitterati in a chorus of disapproval and howls of “hate crime”. But apparently old, lecherous peers wearing orange bras in dingy settings is really not the done thing. Maybe orange just isn’t in. Or maybe we’re still all too repressed.
The other things that confuses me is that there I was thinking that freedom of expression and diversity was all the rage, especially in sexual matters, and that we’d got past all that old morality business where we couldn’t possibly say that one lifestyle was better than others. Now suddenly we’re all called upon to pass judgement on a man for his sexual preferences and his use of the celebrity drug of choice. Right on cue, like a collection of maiden aunts, we’ve had the likes of Dave Cameron, the man who recently redefined marriage so it apparently no longer needs either a man or a woman, striking that serious moral authority pose that he does, and telling us,
“I think it’s right he has stood down from his committee posts and I’m sure further questions will be asked about whether it is appropriate to have someone legislating and acting in the House of Lords if they have genuinely behaved in this way.”
To which I’m tempted to ask, “Where’s your commitment to tolerance and diversity, Dave? He was just expressing his sexual and recreational preferences and who are you to say this is wrong? That’s just prejudice and intolerance, man.” You know, all the standard tripe that conservative Christians have had flung back at them whenever they claim that certain behaviour is wrong.
And before anyone says that the comparison between, say, same-sex marriage and Lord Sewel’s actions is absurd, I would point out that they both fit comfortably within the standard liberal box of relativistic righteousness, which is measured purely by whether the actions involved consenting adults or not. Well, in Lord Sewel’s case it did indeed involve consenting adults, and so I’m struggling to see where all those “non-judgemental”, tolerant moral relativists – such as Dave Cameron – are having such a problem with it. Have they suddenly rediscovered Christian morality? Or have they rather discovered that moral relativism only works in so far as they themselves are willing to tolerate a thing?
The fact is that Britain has been slipping further and further down the road to Canaanite morality for at least the last 50 years.We’ve had no fault divorce. We’ve had the acceptance of sex outside of wedlock. We’re fine with recreational drug taking and believe it to be a right to get stupefied. We kill the unborn en masse. We’re arrogant enough to think we can redefine marriage. And in this context, apparently we’re all shocked and aghast that a peer of the realm thinks it’s okay to go and snort cocaine from a hooker’s breasts?
Not me. It’s exactly the kind of thing I would expect in a country that has chosen to go down the moral sewer, and I’m afraid the sporadic outbreak of phoney moral outrage from the likes of Dave Cameron isn’t going to convince me that we still have standards. As a nation, unless we repent of taking the direction we’ve decided to take, I fully expect to see more Lord Sewels doing even more tawdry things. But as things stand, I’d say that Lord Sewel is a pretty good icon for our times.