One thing I like about reading N.T. Wright’s scholarly works, is that he often has amusing (and quite pointed) remarks. I annotate my books, and the special squiggle in the margin for these points is a smily face! :-)
In a passage in “Jesus and the Victory of God” (p.392), he is discussing the theories of some NT scholars that the construc of the 1st Century Pharisees in the Gospels is an “invention of the early church”, the implication being that the Pharisees of Jesus’ time were not some kind of “official thought police” spying on “ordinary citizens” to see whether or not they broke the Law. He gives the following analogy:
Contemporary analogies [with the Pharisees] are fraught with danger. But there exist certain persons in modern western societies who are elected to no office, hold no government position, carry no authority from the police or the judiciary, and yet to appoint themselves to be the guardians of public morality. From this official unofficial position they assume the right to scrutinise and criticise every movement of the royal, the religious, and the politically active – all of who gnash their teeth but remain powerless. I refer, of course, to journalists. Far be it from me to attack all members of such a noble profession with criticisms appropriate only to some; and yet it cannot go unremarked that some journalists not infrequently bind heavy moral burdens, hard to bear, and lay in on the backs of those whose activities they report, while they themselves do not attempt to lift such burdens with their little finger. This is not a mere digression. It reminds us of two important points. (a) One does not have to be a member of an official thought police in order to have considerable influence within a culture. (b) The self appointed guardians of public behaviour might not cross the street to inspect the private behaviour of an unknown individual. But they will happily go to the other side of the world, and hide in places far less congenial than Galileean corn fields, in order to take one surreptitious photograph of a princess wearing somewhat less and than she would normally put on for the cameras.
One can’t help but smile knowingly at his analogy. But I also wondered at the characterisation of many Catholic bloggers (and those who write to Vatican curial offices) as “temple police”. There is the danger that we can be like the journalists in Wright’s analogy: criticising but not lifting a finger to do anything about the situation. I would like to think not. I would like to think that what many Catholic bloggers do when they highlight the failings of the Church is a constructive exercise aimed precisely at “lifting burdens” and that, far from just writing, we are actively engaged in improving matters.
Also, we need to ask about the function of such criticism. Is it just because, like the Pharisees and like (some) modern day journalists we are aiming at some kind of pure moralism or society in which everything is just as we want it? I would hope not. I would like to think that our aim is not legalistic, but a desire to allow the full beauty of the Church to be seen and the authentic call of the Church to be heard. Food for thought anyway.