A Twisted Sense of Moral Outrage

My wife rarely gets angry, but yesterday she was livid, in response to an article on the lunchtime radio news about Raoul Moat.

Moat was a middle aged man with a history of domestic abuse, who was released last week on license from prison after serving time for assault. In the time he was in prison his ex-girlfriend had started seeing someone else. He left prison, procured a shotgun, shot his girlfriend, the new boyfriend, and a random police officer who was sitting in his car at a nearby road junction. He then went on the run for a week before shooting himself when we was finally tracked down by the police.

What made her livid was the reactions. Flowers have been left at the scene of his shooting; a facebook page calling him a ‘legend’ attracted over 1000 fans in a day. Among interviewees with comments such as “he was a good bloke”, one person said “he was a good worker, he’d never claimed benefit [i.e. welfare] in his life”. He may have been guilty of murder and attempted murder, but at least he didn’t claim benefit. That would be really despicable!

Over at “throw yourself like seed” Andy wrote a brave and difficult post about the children’s author K. P. Bath, sentenced for 6 years in prison for viewing child pornography. Now I don’t share Andy’s particular desire to ‘speak up’ for this injustice, but I do think the comparison is instructive. Read the comments to the CNN article Andy links to and you’ll read feedback such as “they ought to cut his testicles off and shove them down his throat until he chokes”, “I hope he gets raped repeatedly in jail”, and so on.

So we have Moat, someone who directly and consistently has abused, maimed and killed people, and Bath, who has been a willing consumer of images of other people’s (non-lethal) abuse. Moat is a legend, Bath deserves extended torture.

The reason is simple, I think. In our culture we have a deep and subconscious belief in intrinsic evil. An infectious model of demon possession and corruption left over from the time when religion was highly superstitious and almost totally pervasive.

Large swathes of our culture have convinced themselves that sexual abuse of children belongs in that category. So anyone who engages in it is identified with evil in its baldest sense. Conversely spousal abuse, violence against the police and ‘crimes of passion’ are all in a different cultural category for us. The latter two are crimes that could be portrayed in a movie, for example, with a sympathetic hero (a lone fugitive having to battle the corrupt police, a jilted lover getting their own back). Spousal abuse has come a long way in our society, but those who campaign against it still face a difficult barrier, shared with those fighting physical abuse of children – the patriarchal teachings of Christianity have left a legacy – men are supposed to call their household to discipline, and that is as true of wives as it is of children. None of Moat’s crimes were demonic, he is allowed to be a normal guy with issues. Bath isn’t allowed that category.

I find Bath’s crimes to be worthy of strong condemnation and criminal sanction. But to me they are of a completely different scale to the ‘legend’ Moat. I think that a casual and facile resort to categories of ‘evil’ and ‘righteous’ do nothing for our actual moral sense. And I think this is one further example where generations of indoctrination into a superstitious and irrational religious morality has castrated the ability of many in our society to approach crime in a just way.


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2 responses to “A Twisted Sense of Moral Outrage

  1. My wife rarely gets angry…
    — Ian

    What? Trying to start some blogger-wife envy? Huh? Wish I could brag like that. 🙂

    If one thinks Religion come from God, one can be disappointed at the outcome. But if you assume that religion is just another tool for people to accomplish their ends, I think one is not as surprised.

    Hatred of homosexuals is a cross-cultural phenomena. I saw it in China, Japan, India etc.. I don’t think religion is the cause. Humans are the cause. And since they make religions … well, there ya go. The problem is that religions are sacred and can’t be doubted so it is a great conservative tool to resist change in values.

    I find your story disgusting too. I agree with your emotional evaluation. I have seen wife beating excepted in many countries. Hell, primates to it — and they don’t have religion.

    What I am saying is: The problem is much deeper than just religion.

  2. Ian

    Yes, I agree. But that wasn’t my point, I don’t think.

    My point is more about the elevation of certain crimes to be in the realm of pure evil. While other crimes are just crimes, to be discussed more rationally. You can have a murderer portrayed as the hero of a book, but not a child rapist.

    I perceive in the tabloid press a doctrine of corrupting evil. Evil that permeates a person, that feels to me to chime with Christian doctrine about evil: the existence of a parallel spiritual world in which good and evil are personified forces, and in whose conflict we are pawns. A sense in which the evil possessed must be utterly destroyed or purged with torture, lest it spread and infect. That is a continual thread through Christian history. That sense is reserved for certain crimes and not others.

    Of course that may be common to humanity too. It just feels to me to chime in with what I know from historic Christian doctrine (though I’m aware it is not part of sophisticated contemporary Christian doctrine).

    So it isn’t about *values* or what is considered verboten. In fact the attitude towards child sex abuse has dramatically changed in the last 100 years, hell even in the last 20 – it is just that this crime is the demon du jour.

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