Edith Stein, Mob Violence and the Absence of a Moral Compass

Today is the feast of St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, better known as Edith Stein. It is also a day when Britain is again in shock. The idea of mob violence, torching and looting in some of our major cities is hard to get one’s head round. Life in Britain is meant to be predictable and ‘safe’. The police are armed only in exceptional circumstances. We respect people; we respect property; we form orderly queues; we don’t think the death penalty has any part to play in civilized society. But our civilized society isn’t proving very civilized at present.

For an older generation, there are echoes of the 1930s. The Nazis rose to power because they had a ‘solution’ to the apparent disintegration of German society after the First World War. Violence, as we all know, was part of that ‘solution’. It meant the death of St Teresa Benedicta and her sister, Rose, and millions of others besides. No doubt, following the riots in London and elsewhere, there will be calls for ‘crackdowns’, appeals to ‘bring back flogging’ and other variations on the theme. Extremist parties will win votes because people are afraid, while others will speak of the rioters as ‘deprived’ and ‘frustrated’. Very few will have the courage to address the real problem, that of growing up without a moral compass, without a set of values that recognizes the need to observe the laws and customs by which society operates.

What we are seeing in our streets is not a protest movement, nor is it the result of poverty (to say so is to insult the poor). It is sheer criminality: violence and greed running unchecked. It is indefensible. Today our prayers are for all who have suffered as a result of the riots, which includes the rioters themselves. They are prayers for peace and the restoration of order; but let us not forget to ask the prayers of St Teresa Benedicta to preserve us from  the destruction of the tolerance and mutual concern which underlie a civilized society. She understands better than most where the violence could lead.

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7 thoughts on “Edith Stein, Mob Violence and the Absence of a Moral Compass”

  1. A special thank-you for this : lux in tenebris. It follows on perfectly, as well, from your posts ‘Rioting in Tottenham’, and ‘Love of Truth’.

    • PS It’s a wonderful 1st reading from Hosea at today’s mass for St Teresa Benedicta :
      Thus says the Lord:
      I am going to lure her
      and lead her out into the wilderness
      and speak to her heart.
      I am going to give her back her vineyards,
      and make the Valley of Achor a gateway of hope.

      A commentary I checked for help with ‘the valley of Achor’ explains “The Book of Joshua, chapter seven, relates the story from which the valley’s name comes. After the problems the Israelites had as a result of Achan’s immoral theft of items commanded to be destroyed, the Israelite community stoned Achan and his household.”

  2. Hello. First, I’d like to say wonderful the blog and Twitter feed are (and your prayers for your Followers are appreciated!)

    I think I would partly disagree with this though:

    “What we are seeing in our streets is not a protest movement, nor is it the result of poverty (to say so is to insult the poor). It is sheer criminality: violence and greed running unchecked. It is indefensible. ”

    Although the immediate motivations of the rioters are certainly not political, but based on sheer acquisitiveness as you say, at a deeper level this surely is the result of poverty. Not that poverty NECESSARILY leads to this sort of attitude (as you say, to say that would be an insult to the poor, the vasty majority of whom are not involved in these crimes). And I’m not excusing it in anyway (it is indefensible, as you say), but the rioting surely does flow from poverty, at least indirectly. These are not middle-class kids or graduates we see in the streets.

  3. Sitting in North America, my first response to the riots in England was their similarities to the L.A. riots of 1992. Yes, there is violence and greed, but they are always there and they are always ready to take advantage of unrest. Why is it that so many people are taking to the streets at this time and not last year? Could it be that poverty and unemployment combined with an anger among the young people who see a future for themselves of only more unemployment and poverty is contributing to these riots?

  4. Thank you for all your comments. I don’t pretend to understand what is at the bottom of the riots, but seeing a 31 year old teacher in the dock, followed by a millionaire’s daughter and an 11 year old boy may suggest that what I call being adrift morally is a better catch-all than anything else we’ve managed to come up with. There was an excellent account of being caught up in riots in the north by the chaplain of MediaCityUK here, http://chaplainmediacity.wordpress.com/2011/08/09/salford-riots. Some of the factors we’d normally expect to see coming into play, eg hot weather, don’t apply. I’ve written a column for The Universe asking whether we need to examine our love of celebrity culture a bit more. Could it be that creating unreal expectations/misplaced sense of entitlement? What about the effect of being in a crowd? Is that a trigger? I don’t know, but I am grateful for all your insights, and for the positive news that has also come out: the mass clean-ups, the brave speech by Haroun Jahan’s father.

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