“People of the Covenant”: Flanders, Crapps, Smith: Oxford 1988: p.78
We think we know something about sociology and psychology; about what makes people tick and about motive, means and opportunity and so forth. My title citation is taken from a summary of The Pentateuch – which is the first five books of The Old Testament; also called Torah in the Jewish Scriptures. The eleven words in the citation say more than do most of our scholarly texts on the complexities of human relations and on viable solutions to the wreckage and detritus of waste and destruction casually foisted by our human activities on our neighbours, on the planet, and on its life-forms, and on its natural cycles and its physical composition.
I have written elsewhere about this material degradation of the planet; ecologically; depletion of species; pollutions; mining and other ransacking of its resources; and of the destabilisation of natural rhythms and balances; of how all this massive and yet accelerating abuse of our world which is being happily done, suffered, and allowed by we human species; is able to be seen very clearly to be merely a physical expression and result of our lack of, loss of, temperance and self-control; of responsible thought and action; and as a result of our greed and negligence, of our carelessness and of our aggressive and abandoned gung-ho behaviours towards one another, for instance in wars; consumerism; wealth-worship; disrespect; hardheartedness; selfishness; and lack of insight and foresight; as much as it is a result also of our attitudes towards all the means and resources of the earth. It is also the poison apple of our silly imbecile callow and wanton rejection of aiming at maintaining sober resolution, self-discipline, and self-accountability – in all our dealings.
Just as a vehicle is made to transport items from A to B, in pursuit of leisure or in the course of business; and just as there are many, many accidents which happen, very often serious ones, simply because a driver had decided to ‘take a chance’ or else had been engaged elsewhere with a phone or a tablet; or had taken too much drink or drugs to be able to judge driving decisions; and even yet this is not the fact of just, say, one in a hundred accidents, but perhaps involves over half of all road accidents being down to these kinds of abuse of the roads and to an ignorant disrespect for other people who are using them. Just as this constant traffic toll is undoubtedly the case, and just as our acceptation of such a regular toll expresses our innurement to and blasé casualness about it; at bottom there lies a simple indifference to what might be seen by the myopic to be ‘small things’; things such as good manners, conscientiousness, caring, taking thought for others; patience; sensibleness; looking after one’s body and mind; the list can go on but already the list to most of us stinks too highly of stuffiness and of unwarranted, unwanted, restrictions upon us.
And this misunderstanding of such a list being seen as an imposition and as an imposed restriction on our behaviours, a nasty curb on our cherished iconic rights of personal choice and of the freedom in liberty; such gut rebellions which so many of us protest so heatedly when such a critique of you is made, and fume at the impudence of such a programme of conduct being suggested; taken together these responses display all the sickness and decline in our state as human beings – as such a decline presents itself in the current age. I was going to insert the word ‘noble’ before ‘human beings’ in that last sentence but alas nobility is something which we are lacking and need but of which we are sadly wholly depleted. Too many minds of today have discarded the idea. ‘Nobility’ is a word no longer in use; nor is it understood very widely – except as a label to a rump ancient aristocracy of titled listless rakes. Only the outward badge of the word is available in our vocabularies and there is a tranche of words used only as outward-badges these days, and whose use and value in their internal applications and as older words have fallen into disregard and disfavour with us . This dereliction has left us without a language and thus without those accompanying thought/emotion complexes, by which we might relate to and so understand their largely-lost but yet-valuable adumbrations.
Words like this are ‘duty’; ‘honour’; ‘principle’; ‘character’; ‘earnest’ and there are many others like them. ‘Duty’ is now taxation; ‘honour’ is not now used; ‘principle’ is usually a scientific term; ‘earnest’ used only in the use of a dead idiom. Many ordinary British persons would be hard put to were they to be asked to describe the meanings of these words; whereas I do believe they were in general current usage in all strata of society in the nineteenth century here.
Tell a person today that sticking with simple good manners might save lives (for instance on the roads) and they’d be more likely to laugh at you than to agree with you. What we do is merely legislate when a problem of bad habits and bad manners impinges on health or safety; and we let the law attempt bearing a burden which it is unable to bear because the legislature as a solution is unfitted to it.
Schools do try to instil considerateness and good conduct in their children; only how far this is enacted indeed as teachers merely fulfilling a government directive and how far it comes from their hearts remains unassessable. Even the best and best intentioned of teachers are up against great odds however. The whole thrust of popular culture in our day is aimed at celebrating the violent; the guy or girl who successfully ‘bucks the system’ for their own ends; the guy or girl who is able most to act the villain or to use fair means or foul to win out is hero of the day. From popular songs, to musicals, to cinema; to television, to advertising, to sport, to celebrity, to chat-shows; to reality TV: all is created and for the most part watched, not for the matters these items might claim to discuss, but for the excesses and outrages so many of these shows provide as entertainment to their audiences.
Jason Statham; Liam Neeson; Daniel Craig; Fifty-Cent; the Sweeny-Todd type musical stuff; Wolverine; X-Men; are all titillating pap. The modern day Penny Dreadfuls and Bram Stoker stuff. TV is up to the gunwales with it; plus owning a great dose of name and shame, domestic quarrels in public, and voyeuristic freak shows. Entertainment just got too brutal and brutalising in the course of 30 years. Commonly now a theme on TV for whodunit thrillers is likely to be child molestation or serial killings, usually of young women, or ruthless gun-running stories in centres of world conflict; the sort of stuff that is really unbearable even when fictionalised.
The tendency is that we like to believe that the world is crooked, that it is run by or inhabiting it are all kinds of perverse and gratuitously evil persons; so that this our attitude of cynical scepticism towards life and towards such words as I have been attempting to uphold is a knowing one, and one by which we believe we have tabs on things as they really are etc. Thus it is for the sake of our slick coolness we disgrace the name of humanity.
As a result schools even at their best can do little – especially because children do not do as they are told but rather as they are set example. In their homes sitting with mum and dad watching as entertainment the horrors and perversions on offer to them; seeing their parents condoning it by watching it; and appreciating it by the comment; and endorsing it by their delight in it; what is there to be expected other than how the children become nurtured?
All this horrible base TV titillation happens at home in our living rooms; where a child knows and feels s/he is safe and surrounded by secure and strong ties; and yet the whole tenor of these base TV titillations is that they happen in extremities, when characters onscreen are suffering or being injured, killed or tortured – what might this lead to as an attitude in the parents and in the children?
A stock reply to this critique of mine is that these things are fiction; they are not real; they occur in a virtual world of imagination; and that because this is so I should get a life. My reply is that these ‘fictions’ are presented – they have to be so – ever more ‘grittily’ and ‘abrasively’ – so as to trump the previous ‘grittiness’ and ‘abrasion’ of former stories – and thus keep a hold on the viewers and not lose their attention – their having become inured to an utter ghastliness. All this being so, means that an increased reality factor – of bigger screens – visual HD-plus – and wall to wall sound banks – as well as of ever greater ‘streetwise’ brash and raw presentations which deny all sense of there being a virtual world of imagination within which an action is unfolding. And as a result the distinctions between fact and fiction are being eroded onscreen and also within people’s minds.
The amazing conceitedness of the situation is astonishing. We sit contented to watch horror after horror and to dismiss it as ‘everyday stuff’ when we chat with a work colleague next day; when in our world if only eyes were opened there are to be seen horror after horror in fact and deed in many places across the earth. Not necessarily wars – one of the direct inhumanities of man to man – but the water shortages – the famines – the illnesses – the sufferings of fellow human beings – not cause directly by their daughters having been kidnapped for sale to wealthy Arabs – nor by a tradesman making meat pies out of their families – but yet caused by our simple and disgraceful indifference to their suffering in a world where we have so much – too much, far too much – and them nowhere near enough – theirs a world wherein were you to you give them a dollar bill you’re their steadfast friend for life.
Now for the bit about ‘The Order of Society is Maintained by Proper Worship of God’. The proper worship of God? How might one ask does worship come into it? And what might proper worship be? ‘Proper’ is one of those lost words. Someone ‘proper’ to older people is likely to be a stuffy and over-correct person – a bit like me? ‘Proper’ is almost synonymous with ‘real’ to many persons alive today here – in fact what a more educated person would call ‘authentic’ and a film buff might name as ‘the whole nine yards’ or ‘the real McCoy’. But ‘proper’ is in fact a word meaning ‘appropriate’ – something in its right place at the right time. So what is worship that is in the right place at the right time?
Even the barbarous Roman world had a nerve of sensibility towards nobility showing in ordinary persons and in their ordinary lives. One of their sayings was: ‘laborare est orare’ meaning simply ‘work is prayer’. And this is a deep and present truth in life. ‘Present’ as used here meaning ‘within life generally’ and not ‘in life today’ only.
God, in the Book of Genesis we are told in a story planted a garden in Eden in the east and gave it to Adam and Eve to work in so to grow their food. Thus Eden and work are signposted by the story as being gifts from God to humankind; and how far is this from an understanding that the act of men and women doing that work put before them by God to get their bread, is an act of thanksgiving and an orison of prayer of gratitude going up to their Creator? Not far at all.
We have lost all such appreciation – not even Harvest Festivals are in many schools here these days – removed for various ostensible reasons. Few if any of us say Grace before or after meals. Fewer give a second thought to any thankfulness to be owned for the fact that there is (always) food in the house and meals on the table daily. I have written elsewhere how we here who are well-off eat out and we here who are less well-off bring-in takeaways – have them delivered rather – and thereby we lose completely those fulfilments to be felt in preparing meals for loved ones. (This is all old hat and stuffy stuff – not modern and bang up to date – cutting edge – state of the art- and next generation – it’s boring!) No wonder we do not see that our employment ought always to be prayerful and performed in a prayerful spirit.
The point to be taken here by readers of this piece should be that a Proper Worship of God exists in everyday life – in all life – 24/7 – ever, all the time, we need to become and to remain aware of being in communication with – at least with the knowledge that God has provided all things to us and that all we do therefore is done before his face and is either acceptable to him or else ‘evil is at our door’. Better, and maybe this takes some time and nurture to get to its realisation in a person – even in little – is that we should feel in our inmost self that this is so – that all that we do and think and create and complete or leave half-done is or ought to be dedicated from our inmost-self to our Lord God as a prayer of Thanksgiving and appreciation.
Thus do come to life all the words in that list of redundant and defunct words. In our hearts and minds they spring to life as our hearts and minds likewise spring to life in a resurrection of what was dead in us, so that God ‘who sees us coming from afar off runs out to met us’ and exclaims to those around him ‘this brother of yours was dead and is now alive again’.
Only by right conduct is a proper worship of God achievable. Only by Proper Worship of God is the Order of Society Maintained. Right conduct is not brownie points from God and enough stamps to get to heaven. Right conduct springs from one’s personal resurrection and from one’s world having sprung to life, so that one knows, to quote a song: ‘Nothing’s Real but Love’. Only love is conducive to harmony, to concord, to due deference and to an earnest concern for the welfare of others. And this is all appropriate and all necessary to the maintenance of good order in society.
Those almost prehistoric Old Testament tribes knew nothing of psychology and sociology, of the science of public order and of those strings to pluck on the human heart. They did not know what makes people tick; they did not know the ins and outs of aberrant behaviours and of therapies and remedies that fix people up. We’re the ones who know such things – things being a displacement of, an evasion even of self-responsibility, – a diversion into science and pseudo-science, as like statue laws attempting to replace proper conduct – a facile displacement from self-reliance, from attempting upholding one’s character, and from attempting character building of lives generally.
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