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Social media has significantly altered many aspects of the balance of power. It has given a voice to ordinary people and made it more difficult for power to hide that which it finds inconvenient or embarrassing.
Twitter, Facebook and widespread blogging have provided a means of stimulating debate and responding quickly to unfolding events. But the almost instantaneous quality of this kind of communication also makes it fatally easy to publish quick and poorly thought through responses. Such responses are more likely to reflect the prejudices and preconceptions of the observer than to illuminate the matter under consideration. And this is the appropriate point at which to remind ourselves of that most seductive of conjugations: “I am well informed; you are prejudiced.”
At first glance, Oscar Pistorius and Cardinal O'Brien appear to have little in common. But responses to the offences they are alleged to have committed and for which they are under investigation have been plentiful and share a marked tendency towards vehement certainty. In many commentators, the strong feelings aroused by some aspects of the Catholic Church's behaviour, by abuse of power, and by violence towards women have provoked a contempt for the unfolding of due process. The existence of such process not only protects the individual concerned, it comes between the offender and the offended and in providing the shield of objective enquiry, may prevent further violence. It should be our first concern to do nothing which could compromise it.
Feelings of anger against those who offend may obscure the essential recognition of our common, flawed and often profoundly inconsistent human nature. Whether the object of scorn and anger wears scarlet robes or prosthetic limbs, they are our siblings in weakness and paradox. To forget this is to edge a little nearer to the bearing of false witness.
George Fox advised his followers that it was sometimes wisdom to “stand still in the Light.” Refraining from intemperate language and instant judgements is better both for the health of our public discourse and our own ethical development. In a culture which demands instant opinion and interprets its absence as ignorance or weakness, saying “let's wait and see” may be a genuinely radical choice.
* Also on Ekklesia: 'Cardinal O'Brien and beyond: the crisis in the Catholic Church', by Simon Barrow: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18066
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet