>The regular reader knows that I normally keep to cultural matters, as I am not a political theorist. I certainly have my opinions, and will air them when warranted, but despite my residence in the Nation’s capital and close proximity to friends and relations involved in such things, I take very little active interest in politics. Society, on the other hand, which is often mirrored in politics, is another matter altogether, and today I could not help but write about an incident which is all-too-indicative of not only the path society is treading but also how much re-education is going to be necessary if we are to pull ourselves out of the mud we seem to be wallowing about in.
Today while perusing the Torygraph I read about Alex Stewart, a young Australian atheist who has been suspended from his job teaching law at a university for tearing out pages of the Bible and the Koran, and using them for cigarette paper, then commenting on the comparative taste of the burning pages. “People do this stuff all the time,” he commented, “and if people get really upset about this then they’re taking it far too seriously.”
Australia, like the United States, inherited the system of Common Law which is the heritage of our shared ancestry as former British colonies. Civility is something expected of members of the bar, and rightly so. This action, while uncivil in and of itself, would have remained merely a private act of vandalism had Mr. Stewart not chosen to draw attention to it by posting it for all to see on You Tube. His intent was clearly to shock and to mock, and by so doing gain his fifteen minutes of fame; but he may have done so at great personal expense.
Where do we go when even the lawyers, who are supposed to help our civil society to REMAIN civil, are acting in an uncouth and uncivilized way? An article by the great Jesuit political theorist James Schall, S.J. at Georgetown University, may hold some answers. In this piece from First Principles – in which he manages to quote both Johnson and Boswell separately, I might add – Father Schall is primarily focused on the issue of what has come to be known as the “ugly American”: in a narrow way, he is reflecting on the out-of-control American student abroad for their junior semester/full year program. From first hand experience of such things, it is too often something like a drawn-out mess of “Jersey Shore” characters with money, taking place in a colder climate.
Yet Father Schall is also considering the law in his piece, for he points out that one of the great redeeming qualities of the law, when applied correctly, is that it could “educate us by encouraging us to perform the acts of virtue by which we acquire the habits of civil living.” At the same time, the civil law in and of itself is not wholly the answer. Father Schall warns us that the contemporary leftist, by seeking to outlaw any kind of dissent from their principles, is seeking to establish a kind of hyper-responsibility on the part of the law for every aspect of life.
Father Schall also goes on to point out one of the reasons why Islam, in the present century, has become so radicalized – and the answer is, our behavior in performing deliberately provocative actions such as those of Mr. Stewart:
Everyone is aware that the Muslim “terrorists” as they are called are also moralists. When we identify them as “terrorists” we do everything but understand what they are about. One of the things they are about is being scandalized by the immorality so often seen in western life. We see this as liberty of expression or some such.
So what is the solution? Tarring and feathering, as was shown to ghastly effect in John Adams? An auto-da-fe? No: that would be to go down the totalitarian road.
In the case of Mr. Stewart, this is an instance where the profession must police itself. Lawyers may act in unappealing ways at times in the courtroom, but we do not – or should not – draw attention to ourselves as objects of reproach by engaging in petty vandalism of someone else’s sacred text. Doing so cheapens and weakens confidence in the profession.
If Mr. Stewart has an atheist viewpoint he wishes to push outside of thumbing through his presumably dog-eared copy of Mr. Dawkins, Mr. Hitchens and other atheism-lite types, it would be better for him to do so in a forum where such ideas can be raised and debated in an animated, but still civil, fashion. Not intentionally causing scandal should be the hallmark of those entrusted with protection of the civil system. I would hope that the powers that be in the Australian legal profession would give Mr. Stewart similar advice.