Sleaze, St Benedict, and Us

‘Sleaze’ as a word dates only from the 1960s but the behaviour it signifies has been around much, much longer. In recent weeks the media have been relentless in their exposure of certain types of sleaze. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’d like never to hear the name Harvey Weinstein again. Now we can look forward, if that is the right term, to more lurid accounts of immoral behaviour at Westminster, in business, the Church, and anywhere else you care to name.

Some people will shrug off the reports or make fun of those who allege that they have suffered from sexual harassment or abuse. Others will reflect on the allegations and perhaps think about their own conduct. One of the happier results of the #MeToo campaign has been the number of men who have been shocked into a realisation of how widespread is the problem of unwelcome sexual attention and have pledged to do what they can to ensure that it is eradicated. Of course, men are also now coming forward claiming that they, too, have been victims of harassment/abuse, and while I don’t doubt that many have, I think it remains overwhelmingly a problem for women and girls, who are often smaller and less physically strong than their assailants. What is at the root of such behaviour — apart from hormones?

I think it would be fair to say that at the root of most male on female harrassment or abuse is a lack of respect. Women don’t count. Men can say or do pretty much what they like and women will just have to put up with it. If they don’t, they are dismissed as being humourless or prudes. Such attitudes are not confined to sexual matters but extend to women’s value in the workplace (think BBC salaries), their scholarship (think Mary Beard), even their opinions on everyday matters (think how often a man will dismiss what a woman says or indulge in mansplaining).* And we are talking about the developed West here!

To St Benedict such attitudes would have been contrary to everything he believed about the respect due to an individual. In his monastery slaves and freemen served on equal terms; age or previous status was of no consequence; our rank in the monastery is determined by the order in which we came through the door. Only virtue and holiness of life single us out, and it is for the abbot to decide whether we should hold any higher place in community than that given by the date of our entry. Today’s chapter of the Rule, RB 23 On Excommunication for Faults, shows what happens when all this goes haywire and the monk rebels against the community and its ethos. He is to be warned privately a couple of times, then rebuked publicly, then, if he still fails to amend, he is to be punished by excommunication— a very public form of punishment. I don’t think such a nuanced system of warning and punishment will be applied to those found guilty at the bar of public opinion, and there’s the rub.

One of the problems of dealing with sleaze or any other form of ‘inappropriate behaviour’ is the fact that once the offences come to light, the media have a field-day. The individuals concerned may play to the gallery, so that those who have been hurt or wounded end up being even more hurt or wounded. Alternatively, the one at fault may be so hounded that others who are entirely innocent pay a huge price, too. How many marriages and families have been wrecked by the media spotlinght turning upon them? And today, when we talk about the media we must also add Social Media and the proliferation of quite scathing comments and aggressive remarks from the general public.

Today I shall be praying for all who have been affected by the recent allegations of sleazy behaviour, praying, too, that we may not become so morally insensitive that we accept such behaviour or dismiss it as ‘just one of those things’. St Paul talks about our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit. Spend a moment or two thinking about that and it is clear why mutual respect is so important, I’d say, crucially important.

*I don’t want this to read as a rant against men! It is always difficult to express something that may be generally true but does not apply to any particular individual. I count myself blessed to know many men who are models of courtesy and kindness.


8 thoughts on “Sleaze, St Benedict, and Us”

  1. I get very cross with the media for being judge and jury. It feeds the crowds as at a public execution. We all know ,well enough ,that accusations are not always founded on truth.
    Its not only “sleaze”, looking at current events in Spain, we are led to believe that a former President is a traitor, without trial.
    The press and media are guilty ,but, so are those who bay agreement.

  2. Thank you, to me this does not come across as a rant against men, but a much needed , balanced summation of what is !
    We live in secular times & respect for God, Nations, Eachother & self can often get lost among our desire for self fulfilment, self gratification , immediacy in everything. May we all heed your reminder & St Paul’s teaching that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, God in us – may we respect & revere what God has given.

  3. I agree that in the workplace it became common practice . In the seventies I had to endure daily smut, smirks and awful suggestions from a powerful boss, I was disgusted but drew the line only when a a young student working with me was also subjected to this. Report. yes. result. Shrugs! An almost get over yourselves dears!
    I fear the upcoming media frenzy and yes there will be innocents hurt.
    My prayer. Our Saviour treated women as equals, His teachings abound with grace, compassion, mercy and
    forgiveness. If we could only model this in our daily lives.
    I pray courage for all who have been affected and that they receive some freedom and a measure of peace by sharing with listening, believing people .
    I pray too for those who will undoubtedly be falsely accused, the effects on them and their families.

    Lord have mercy.

  4. The most sensible analysis of this awfulness I have read. There’s not a woman I know and #metoo who has not been harassed, propositioned or subjected to demeaning comments. And, as you say, it’s the power balance that made and is still making it, almost impossible to do anything about it.
    And all those decent, respectful and good men who would not dream of behaving like this should perhaps be more aware of what happens and be proactive in challenging those men who do.

  5. Thank you. Please continue to pray for all those who are deeply worried at the effect that ‘sleaze’ may have on their own lives, on the lives of their families and on the lives of so many others. We pray that Truth, Justice and Reconciliation will prevail.

  6. Thank you for a valuable of a type of sleaze that is dominating the headlines. Your are right about a sense of the Male thinking that they have an entitlement to behave in inappropriate ways towards others, and women generally tend to be the victims.

    People often refer back to the ‘good old days’ when they had more freedom to do exactly what the want, ignoring that those freedoms or ‘entitlements’ were making victims of those they treated in indescribable ways.

    For those who have had the courage to speak out, that is a gift to others, who might themselves have the courage to do the same. For the men involved, perhaps even if they haven’t been called out for their past actions, it might well provoke an examination of conscience and perhaps, an acknowledgement of past transgressions to be repented for.

    Often it will be too late to make recompense and seek forgiveness, but forgiveness from God is available for the genuinely contrite. I don’t expect a line waiting to confess, but I do think that many will actually seek to repent, determined to never behave in that way again. I pray that it so.

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