The Busybody of the Ages

The mascot of our age is The Busybody: scampering from house to house, dashing up to windows to see what people are doing, and trumpeting the vice of everything found. If a house has no vices, the busybody redefines vice in order to find something to gossip about.

This is not unique to our time. People have always identified strongly with the norms of their cultures and ostracized those who violate them.

What is unique, however, is the lack of a conscious morality. Whatever the collective busybody happens to think is good becomes good. The present tide of opinion determines the cultural norms of right and wrong, but without ever defining what those words mean. At the same time, the stakes for violating cultural norms are being raised. We live on an unconscious, yet increasingly intolerant, moral plane. A Moebius plane that twists upon itself, on which none can walk for very long before they find themselves upside down.

Past cultures were just as intolerant. However, they were more honest about their intolerance and about its reasons. Today, when confronted with a new social phenomenon, well-intentioned individuals seek a policy from the culture. Their attitude is: “Tell me how I should feel about this.” This is especially true when a minority group asks for a deeper understanding of their condition. Then, when the majority have heard the answer, they adopt that policy as an infallible timeless moral principle. Anyone who disagrees is subject to public shaming.

But the busybody’s ethos contradicts itself. The unfortunate souls who grasp at scraps of culture to formulate moral judgments end up sinking into a morass of untenability. Hence we have monstrosities like the pro-choice ethical vegetarian, the pro-life warhawk, the ideological scientist, and whatever contradictory combination of principles you and I cling to so dearly.

In The Common Man, Chesterton wrote: “Men have always one of two things: either a complete and conscious philosophy or the unconscious acceptance of the broken bits of some incomplete and shattered and often discredited philosophy.” I wonder what he would write now. Who today even desires to have a “complete and conscious philosophy”? But if we do not seek this, how will we avoid error in the future? If cultural norms shift, how will we decide what to think? Are we doomed to drift, unmoored, forever waiting for the most vocal among us to inform us of our own views?

What does a father do when the kids are squabbling? Take them to court to determine who said what and which of the two children should be forced to pay millions of dollars in damages to the other? No! The father holds both children responsible for indulging in the argument. He understands that the fight does not help his children. It does not lead to virtue. It does not lead to change. He loves both children and sees them as infinitely more valuable than their opposing viewpoints in the present conflict.

God is our father. Do you think He will exalt one side for being right and condemn their opponents for being wrong? Or do you think He might be unhappy with our endless squabbling? While we blame one another for evil in our world, God recognizes the work of the tempter, the one who distorts reality until we adopt absurd views and antagonize those who disagree with us, the co-author of every lie, the busybody of the current age and all ages.

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