Skip to main content


And the scribe and plutocrat brought unto us a man stated in obscenity; and when they had set him in the press, they say unto us, Reader, this man was stated in obscenity, in the very act. Now Murdoch as a rule commanded us, that such should be panned: but what sayest thou...?
What we did sayest said more, I suggest, about us than about the Prime Minister [1]. How delighted we emerged in the emergence of such unparalleled grounds for disgust! Twitter was awash with pork puns, suggestive pics, quips about the Pig Society, and a derogatory spoof account, conspicuously followed by the UK Russian Embassy; someone inevitably had the genius idea of putting the word 'gate' at the end of the descriptor of the implicated creature, thereby concretising the allegation as an official political scandal; my favourite societal prognostician, Charlie Brooker, had to publicly clarify that no, he had not heard any such rumour when he penned Black Mirror episode The National Anthem which (remarkably) deals with a similar theme; taxi drivers and pub landlords and shop assistants and others whose occupations naturally involve an element of banter waxed jubilant about the ugly, shocking, career-destroying-surely revelation to anyone who would hear.

We were appalled, and pleased to be so. But ... well, a back-of-the-book-blurb-level knowledge of Freud is enough to make one wonder what uncomfortable home truths might lie latent behind such revulsion ...

Now, I'm not saying we're all harbouring macabre porcine fetishes. But the taboos around sex, combined with our sometimes-unsettlingly-animal instincts, seem rich material for obscure, semi-conscious fantasies, sufficiently formed and in sufficient contravention of our conscious senses of decency to render us perpetually indistinctly ashamed. I can't help but think that this probably accounts in large part for the perverse delight we derive from spotlighting someone else's solidly-defined, strikingly obscene (alleged) shortfalling. It's kinda reassuring, no? Whatever my sexuality is doing with itself in its allotted dark corner, at least it's not that.

When the scribes and the Pharisees bring before Jesus a 'woman caught in adultery' and prompt him for his own judgment of her – "Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” (John 8:5) – Jesus, unfazed by their attempt to catch him out (cf. verse 6), evades their question for a while (intriguingly, by writing on the ground with his finger ... what was he writing? why doesn't it say?!) until ...
And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:7-11)
Jesus' words shift their focus away from the woman and on to themselves. And they can't honestly defend what they see. Whether confronted with personal sexual offences, or with consciences panging more broadly – cue quiet departures.

Introspection is a messy business. Well, it is for me, anyway (if ever there was a matter on which 'I can only speak for myself' ... !) We get especially embarrassed about sex stuff – it carries a sort of overhead of taboo-induced extra shame. But actually, my 'worst' mess-ups – in terms of harm caused, principles betrayed – are seldom the embarrassing or interesting ones. Stories about naughty bits and meat seem trivial next to 'everyday' displays of cruelty, contempt, indifference towards other people. Thus reminded, I fervently hope (and believe, too, on good days), that Jesus' words to the woman extend to me just as his words to the Pharisees do ...

[1] This isn't a post about David Cameron. Regarding him as Prime Minister, it is enough to say I didn't and wouldn't vote for him; regarding him as a fellow human being trying, I trust sincerely, to figure out a true and good way through this muddle of a world, it is enough to say he has my respect and my prayers.

[Thumbnail image cc from Rob_moments on Flickr].