It has been fascinating watching the ebb and flow of responses to the ball tampering incident in South Africa. (For those who have been in a media blackout or bushwalking in deepest darkest somewhere, a conspiracy involving the coach, captain, vice captain and a young, new member of the Australian cricket team were caught on camera, and through subsequent confession and investigation, cheating by attempting to alter the condition of a cricket ball.)
The response has been remarkable - outrage, letters pouring into the Australian Cricket Board demanding pretty much everyone’s heads roll, former captains and players opining, and the Prime Minister weighing in with significant finger wagging, whilst acknowledging that the members of the test cricket team are held in far higher regard than politicians!
Social and paid media commentary has been blanket level, and has see-sawed between initial contemptuous condemnation in the first day or two, to ‘chill out’ in the last couple of days.
It’s a microcosm of the moral confusion of our culture. Five observations / reflections.
First, it was wrong. Of course it was wrong, and cheating at cricket, whilst one of the smaller wrongs currently being perpetrated in our world, is a wrong.
2. The shrill self righteousness of much of the response has been ear-piercing. Journos - paid and self-appointed - were falling over themselves to raise the stakes as to the punishment - stand them down, sack them for a long time, sack them for ever! BURN THEIR BAGGY GREENS (I made that one up!) The moralising, judgmental, graceless, rigidity of the response is impossible to miss. Which leads to the third response.
3. Why? Why so over the top. My 2 cents worth. We live in a culture of crushing and confusing moral ambiguity. We aren't even sure about the rights and wrongs of having rights and wrongs in our lives. We don’t tell other people how to live, we never even think about telling other people’s kids how to live, and watch out if someone tells us how to live. In real life there are no heroes and villains. That’s one of the reasons why we watch the TV shows and movies we do - because we love it when there are. And so when a real life villain appears - a cheat, at cricket no less - then the touch paper of moral certainty is suddenly lit! At last, something to be clear about! But of course, there’s more to it than that.
4. You see, at the same time, there are plenty of moral rules we must not transgress. One of the most obvious is the necessity to ‘save the planet’. But for almost all of these rules, we find ourselves as villainous as heroic. My carbon footprint is not that much smaller than most, and at the same time, not that much bigger than my most ardently green friends. I’m half villain and half hero - well maybe less than half the latter. As a society, we are deeply uncertain about our own cultural righteousness. And so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that part of the outrage is projection of our own half-guilty conscience, a form of atonement called scape-goating. At last I know I’m right, because I join the throng condemning the guilty.
5. Finally, for me one the the most curious things is that, on the whole, Christians have made an almost indistinguishable - and undistinguished - contribution. They have followed almost exactly these same contours (with the notable exception of Mike Baird’s post, and similarly Cricket with Miles). We have a different operating system at work - the grace of God which as appeared - and yet we seem unable to bring its resources to bear in the hurly-burly of real world issues. We know that we are ‘saved by grace’; we just don’t know how to apply that mode to this moment.
Which is a shame. This incident could have provided terrific opportunity, especially directly before Easter, to ask probing questions, both publicly and privately, that exposed some of the graceless dynamics at play here. But only if we actually knew the gospel well enough to have something different to say. Because beyond self righteous moralism on the one hand, and permissive ‘chill out’ on the other, there really is a third way to live, the way of grace in Christ.
PS. Our conference, Saturate the City will include a focus on exactly the kind of gospel fluency that is needed in these moments.