FROM THE LAST JUDGEMENT TO TWITTER
1st December, 2020
Because we are, uniquely on this planet, the only creature with a moral sense people fear judgement. To think ourselves bad, to be considered bad by others or, in any sense, to actually be bad are fearful things for us from which we are all anxious to defend ourselves. To see if this is true a glimpse of a couple of Twitter or Facebook threads is all that is required to confirm it. Much of what you see is people defending themselves or seeking to impugn others. It seems that badness has to be placed somehwere.
The interesting thing about such fears is that we all automatically assume that there is a moral standard to which we can appeal and by which we are judged. This is an unthinking and instinctive given. If you pass a primary school playground you will sooner or later hear a child squawk – ‘Give me my ball back! It’s not fair! “. It’s such a profound reflex it’s almost pre-rational.
In our culture for millennia this problem was resolved by the assumption that ultimate objective moral reality was grounded in the mind of an omniscient God who saw into our hearts and infallibly read the motives behind our conduct:
O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me.
Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising,
thou understandest my thought afar off.
Thou compassest my path and my lying down,
and art acquainted with all my ways.
On the basis of this, one day, we would be sorted into sheep and goats by Christ the judge and moral reality would be finally confirmed. One has only to look at the splendid last judgement scenes anywhere in the West in, for example, the magnificent stained glass west window in Fairford church in Gloucestershire or on the mosaiced west wall of Torcello Cathedral in Venice to see the truth of this. Morality was real and had consequences and existed outside of the purely human sphere. In spite of how helpfully such ideas arranged affairs we now, of course, in our modern sophistication, look down on them as primitive and may even revile them.
Our moral nature and the instinctive and reflex clamour we make for justice resulted in the practical need for a human simulacrum of the divine judgement if we were to avoid violent conflict between wronged parties here and now in this world. However fallible the system might be, we find that, in the temporal sphere, we cannot, therefore, do without human judges and juries who adjudicate our disputes as best they can. The rule of human law is required to guarantee the continuation of civilisation.
In our time these problems are being dealt with differently and perhaps in a far worse and more dangerous ways in terms of the whole of society. In the minds of the woke and wielders of cancel culture the idea of morality having an objective locus independent of the human sphere, such as in the mind of God, is redundant. As a result they see goodness as a present commodity which is relative, negotiable and provisional. For them there is only so much of this commodity available in the world and the acquisition of it is a zero sum game achieved by those who are quickest off the line when the starting pistol is fired. They feel that, by sheer effort of will, you can make yourself “good’ by personal fiat by the simple means of finding fault in and condemning others by social media proclamation. At the same time you protect yourself against being seen in any kind of bad light for the arithmetic goes that, if another is declared bad, you must be good. As no objective standard of moral reality can be appealed to attack is the best form of defence. All you have to do now in such a no holds barred free for all is waylay and ‘steal’ righteousness from your victim in a form of mugging.
In this kind of ethos old ideas like ‘judge not lest you be judged’ and ‘remove the beam from your eye before you presume to remove the splinter from your brother’s’ are deemed to be quaint. In a world where the appearance of virtue is competitive you simply assert first your confidence that your consideration for the feelings of others is unimpeachable and vastly superior to that of your losing victim and there you are, sitting pretty in your self-created smugness like Little Jack Horner, saying “what a good boy am I! “You have simply seized first the right to be judge, jury and executioner. It’s all a question of which rival subjectivity is the more muscular. And the loser walks away with the weight of publicly perceived wickedness on his shoulders. There is no recourse to appeal as there is no higher judge.
Of course the only remedy to this vicious game is appeal to older ideas of objective justice grounded in something other than mere assertion. It is fashionable now to describe old tropes like the Last Judgement as primitive and evidence of belief in an arbitrarily vindictive God. This is to take the Old Testament accounts as literal newspaper reports on his nature by a somehow privileged observer. In reality they (together with the New Testament) give a glimpse of a nature that uncompromisingly but helpfully insists on the moral parameters within which we need to function while also offering a remedy for our failures.