There is a worrying trend in Western society that encourages people to behave irresponsibly by presenting imprudent people who have seen the error of their ways as role models. It is thought to be a greater virtue to have acted unwisely and regretted it than to have never acted in an incautious manner to begin with. The unwise are rewarded with a social privilege denied to the cautious.
The Western Christian church has of course embraced this attitude which we can see in their promotion of some prototypical stories from the Bible.
‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son’ is particularly problematic. Here is a precis of the narrative.
A rich man has two sons. One day, one of the sons comes to his father and asks for his inheritance. In essence, the son is wishing for his father to die and cannot wait any longer. The father concedes to his son’s demands and hands over his half of the inheritance. With this sudden release of capital, the son leaves his family’s farm and travels to distant lands. He drinks and whores away the money and eventually has to take work as a pig herd. After some time living in squalor, the son remembers how his father’s servants lived very well in comparison to a pig herd and so he resolves to head home and beg to be made a servant.
Upon returning home, the father rushes out to greet him. The father hugs and kisses the son and calls a servant to bring a plush robe to clothe him in and for a fatted calf to be slaughtered for a celebratory feast. When the son who stayed hears this he leaves his work in the field and approaches the father.
“I have done everything right and never left you, yet you have never slaughtered an animal in my honour”, he says.
“But your brother has returned to us”, replied the father, “and so we must celebrate”.
Now, of course, this is ridiculous. While I would agree that it is correct in most cases to offer a second chance to wrongdoers under the tit for two tats doctrine, the offensive part of the story comes in the good son’s lament that he has never been privileged despite living a god life. He is, in fact, being de-privileged at the expense of his bad brother.
Elsewhere in the Bible, this concept is commented upon by Christ in his ‘Parable of the Lost Sheep’.
A shepherd has one hundred sheep. One goes missing and so the shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep who stayed where they were meant to and goes searching for the lost one. The shepherd finds the sheep and carries it back to the others.
Christ finishes the parable by saying that there is more happiness in Heaven over one lost sheep who is found than over ninety-nine who were never lost.
Again, we see the privileging of the bad at the expense of the good. But even worse is that ninety-nine sheep are left unguarded and vulnerable for the sake of finding one. Christ says, “I tell you … there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent” (Luke 15:7). This is an astonishing philosophy. I am a proud Christian but I see the need for a strong church to teach us how to live responsibly. The Church is in a unique position to be able to guide people morally from an objective perspective, however it seems more and more to instead advocate injudicious behaviour.
This becomes an issue in our society when we value the opinion of those like Russell Brand and Matthew Perry over Peter Hitchens when it comes to drug laws and enforcement, for the simplistic reason that they have been addicted to class-A drugs and he has not. This process of becoming addicted and then overcoming it of course in no way makes them any wiser over the facts. Likewise, society allows the eternally unemployed to enjoy a higher standard of living on the state’s purse than a hardworking man earning £12,000 a year. Those who live the right way are rarely given the credibility or the rewards that the reckless are.
Society has flipped upside down when we have those who need saving from self-inflicted wounds being treated with more respect than those who have never hurt themselves. When the reformed are considered wiser than those who never needed to reform. When the bad are privileged at the expense of the good, society is no longer working as it should.