I mentioned Pipril Pete the other day. He was the ex-pharmaceutical rep. who set up a conference organising company that helped me organize my first international conference. We had people from 23 nationalities at the meeting and one of the things I organized at the meeting was for each nationality to tell a national joke. This was the Japanese joke: There was during the war a Japanese Schindler who helped Jews to escape. The irony was that all he did was give his telephone number, 66. In Japanese this sounds like Run-Jew-Run!
No one would volunteer an Irish joke, so I supplied one: Did you hear about the IRA terrorist who tried to blow up a bus? Burnt his lips on the exhaust pipe.
There were Irish people present and i received a sharp missive complaining about the anti-Irish mature of the joke. I had thought it was anti-terrorist rather than anti-Irish, but I realized that much humor is anti-something. It is difficult to avoid offending someone when you start making jokes, whether it be mothers-in-law, women in general, gays, real estators, bankers or even hedgehogs (Why did the hedgehog cross the road? To see his flat mate.)
Psalm one talks about not sitting at the seat of the scornful and if you listen to modern comedians, it is difficult not to. CS Lewis talks about the ambivalent attitude that we have to famous people. Not many of us would resist the temptation to meet a famous person. I once shared the opening of a flower show with the boxer, Frank Bruno. We hear it said again and again that the editor of some newspaper is a rascal, that some politician is a liar, that some official person is a tyrannical Jack-in-office and even dishonest, that someone has treated his wife abominably, that some celebrity leads a most vile and mischievous life. And the general rule in modern society is that no-one refuses to meet any of these people and to behave towards them in the friendliest and most cordial manner. People will even go out of their way to meet them. They will not stop buying the rascally newspaper, thus paying the owner for the lies, the detestable intrusions upon private life and private tragedy, the blasphemies and the pornography, which they profess to condemn wrote Lewis. How it is appropriate to the News of the World phone-hacking scandal.
Lewis (writing more than 50 years ago) asks whether a world in which such 'rascalty' undergoes no social penalty is a healthy one.
How ought we to behave in the presence of very bad people? Especially those who are powerful, prosperous and impenitent. For those who are poor and miserable the Christian has the answer - Christ's attitude to the woman at the well or the woman taken in adultery is our exemplar. But what of the publicans and sinners? They may have been social outcasts to the Pharisees, but they were rich and influential men and it is the Pharisees that Jesus condemns. We cannot compare ourselves to Jesus in his humility, his love, his indifference to social discredit and misrepresentation.
How can we avoid the accusation of priggery if we avoid the popular celebrity? Usually silence is enough. We don't need to get involved. But even if we do not seek out the 'scornful' normal human society brings us into contact. We shall hear vile stories told as funny, the betraying of confidences, gossip behind people's backs, the mocking of things we hold sacred, the lauding of cruelty and all disinterested motives, all heroism, all genuine forgiveness assumed to be phantasmal, idiotic and only believed in by children.
If we do not demur it will be held that 'those Christians' are not so different; their morality is but an act (like Peter round the brazier). Where we must we must disagree. We will doubtless find that we are not alone, and even if in a minority of one, we will sometimes find in the future that we have influenced one of our hearers for the better. As Lewis says, "Even though pedantry is a folly and snobbery a vice, there are circles in which only a man indifferent to all accuracy will escape being called a pedant, and others where manners are so coarse, flashy and shameless that a man of any natural good taste will be called a snob."