Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Scandal! Scandal! Read All About It!

Again and again, in every corner of the world, like a flame bursting from blackened ashes, there would appear the old tale of the Brown Scandal, or Priest Ruins Potter Home. Tireless apologists of the priest's party watched for it, and patiently tagged after it with contradictions and exposures and letters of protest. Sometimes the letters were published in the papers; and sometimes they were not. But still nobody knew how many people had heard the story without hearing the contradiction.

It was possible to find whole blocks of blameless and innocent people who thought the Mexican Scandal was an ordinary recorded historical incident like the Gunpowder Plot. Then somebody would enlighten these simple people, only to discover that the old story had started afresh among a few quite educated people, who would seem the last people on earth to be duped by it.

And so the two Father Browns chase each other round the world for ever; the first a shameless criminal fleeing from justice; the second a martyr broken by slander, in a halo of rehabilitation. But neither of them is very like the real Father Brown, who is not broken at all; but goes stumping with his stout umbrella through life, liking most of the people in it; accepting the world as his companion, but never as his judge.

GK Chesterton, The Scandal of Father Brown

Reflection – One of the downsides or upsides (I can’t decide which, really) of being on social media is that whether you like it or not, you end up knowing about the latest scandals of the day, the stories that are rocking the zeitgeist house, or at least that little portion of the zeitgeist that you personally occupy.

You end up at least knowing about them (after the 50th time some story or other pops up in your newsfeed), whether you have the slightest interest in them or not. I think part of the wise use of social media is being vigilant about being swept along in the current of scandal, simply thinking, reading, and caring about some story or other for no other reason than that everyone else is thinking, reading, and caring about it.

We need to actively fight against that tendency in our on-line, wired-in world. Just because (for example) some woman got cat-called walking down a street in New York and made a video about it, we don’t by that very fact have to Have A National Conversation about harassment. Really. We don’t.

Or, I understand that there is some Cardinal or other in Rome who’s gotten moved from one job to another (the details escape me), and this presages the coming of the antichrist or something. As has been foretold: “Lo, and I saw the seventh seal being broken open, and a voice from heaven cried, let the curial officials be transferred without a full explanation being given to those who Feed on the Buzz. And there was a great outcry and lamentation in the heavens, and a third of the bureaucrats fell from the heavens.” (The Apocalypse of Rorate Caeli 6: 66).

Yeah, anyhow, whatever. Not my circus, not my monkeys, as the saying goes.

All of this (which I have absolutely no intention of taking further interest in, writing about, or debating), puts me powerfully in mind of that wonderful Chesterton story “The Scandal of Father Brown.” As with many GKC stories, the plot is irrelevant. Essentially Fr. Brown is caught up in an affair where he appears to be helping a woman run away from her husband with her lover, and an American journalist on the scene dashes off an expose of this perfidious deed. It then turns out that the journalist got the characters wrong, and that the lover was the husband and vice versa, and Fr. Brown was restoring the marriage to right order.

But it’s this last bit of the story that I find especially relevant, where the scandal rages in the media, denunciations and defenses, pro-Burke and anti-Burke (oops, I meant to write Brown) camps forming, and high drama ensuing as the man is pilloried and then vindicated, pilloried and vindicated.

Zzzzzzz… oh, sorry, nodded off there. My goodness, how boring and pointless I find all this scandal mongering.

And meanwhile, the real Cardinal Brown (oops, I mean to write… well, you know), is neither pilloried nor vindicated, not broken at all, but I hope is stumping along with his umbrella, so to speak, accepting (and here’s the money phrase) ‘the world as his companion, and never his judge.’

That’s it, there. The trouble with all this stupid tiresome SCANDAL, SCANDAL all the time, in the Church, out of the Church, wherever, is that it gives the ‘world’, be it Buzzfeed, Gawker, the NY Times or CNN, wayyyyy too much power. These people are not our judges. They’re no one’s judges. They really, truly, utterly Do Not Matter.

For that matter, the Pope is not our judge, either. If Pope Francis phones me up today and transfers me to Ulan Bator or something, who cares? Off I will go to Mongolia, and see what awaits me there.

There is one Judge, and one Judge only, and all of us are to spend our lives stumping along and attending to our duties, being obedient, and loving as best we can, where we are, under the merciful eyes of the One Judge of men. Everything else is a distraction, pure and simple.

And that, my brothers and sisters, is all I have to say on that subject.

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