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15 February 2015
posted by Canon Dakin on 20-02-2015

The background to the passage from St Paul which we heard this morning is respect for the feelings of others.  Corinthians sacrificed to their gods.  The animal sacrificed in the temple would be sold to a butcher who then would offer it for sale in his shop. Your broad minded Christian, who knew that the gods of Greece had no real existence, had no scruple in buying the meat. There were other Christians who were more timid, who hesitated to use anything associated with pagan worship.

  St Paul is telling the broadminded that they would be doing nothing wrong but, out of kindness, should avoid embarrassing those who were scrupulous by not serving them with meat contaminated by idolatry. There is a modern ring about being free and yet choosing not to exercise that freedom out of regard for the feelings of others. Charlie in Paris was exercising freedom of expression. Perhaps he did so without due regard for Muslim sensitivity. This does not justify his murder and the death of his companions.  There was a Muslim rally in London last week protesting against the insensitivity shown to their faith. One boy held a poster quoting Pope Francis: If someone insulted my mother I’d hit him on the nose. Pope Francis was implying that it is natural to defend the honour of those whom you love - he was also implying that you would not be justified in going further than hitting him on the nose. In the Muslim rally I mentioned there were women holding a placard: There is no absolute right to freedom of expression.  I think St Paul would agree with them. You may legally be free to express yourself as you wish but to be deliberately and gratuitously hurtful offends against charity and good manners. In our post-sixties liberal society those who manipulate the media are constantly crossing the boundaries of what once would have been regarded as good taste. 

To set out to shock has almost become an accepted convention. Stephen Fry recently caused offence in introducing the Bafta Awards. This coarseness has filtered down. You hear even children echoing language their parents justify by listening to TV drama. Though children can be very innocent. When I was a boy I was a fan of Biggles, a flying ace, the invention of Capt. W.E. Johns. He was on some Middle Eastern adventure and I was fascinated by an insult traded between two shady characters. I didn’t understand what it meant precisely but it sounded so strong and smooth and sophisticated that I began to use it on friend and foe alike until my mother overheard me telling one boy that he was  ‘the misbegotten son of a mother’s misplaced affection’. I was then informed that what I was saying was not very nice and that I should stop it.  A woman I know indirectly was recently visiting her daughter-in-law and her four-year old grandson. She happened to drop a sugar sachet and said to her grandson: “Would you mind picking that up for me?” “Pick it up yourself”, he said; “You dropped it”.  Of course, his mother didn’t let him get away with that, wherever he’d heard it.  Freedom of expression in a humane society has to be exercised with respect for the dignity and values of those who are aware of what is being said or written.

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