Today I’d like to talk about an element in media-fuelled moral outrage which often seems to result in berserk blaming frenzies and emotional witch-hunts.

Whenever there is a hysterical element in blaming others, it is apparent that two types of blame are being confused. Practical blame simply attempts to identify a particular sequence of causes and effects in our linear perception of time, eg the plant pot broke because your arm knocked it off the table, because you were distracted, because you'd had a stressful day, etc.

Absolute blame, on the other hand, seeks to assign ultimate identity to a local source of "badness", eg the plant pot broke because you are a clumsy fool.

By using practical blame we can anticipate future reoccurrences of unfortunate events and thus take preventative measures. Absolute blame doesn't serve us in any practical way, but it makes us feel right.

You are reading this sermon, at this particular moment, as a culmination of endless branches of interconnecting events or processes, going back in time to God-knows-where. Any event occurring at a human level, as opposed to an atomic level, results from so many past variables that we can’t hope to unravel all the causes.

All we can do is to pick out the cause-effect strands that will most practically serve us. If the event happens to be a serious crime, and if we are practically benefited by convicting the perpetrator, we attempt to give prominence to those cause-effect strands which will shed most light on the event in terms of criminal evidence etc.

Absolute blame (judgement) works by looking at a complex reality of inter-linking events, and then isolating one part and labelling it ‘bad’, as if it is completely separate from the rest of ‘good’ reality. A reasonable analogy for this would be the distinction between a tadpole (good) and a frog (bad). In metamorphosis you can’t isolate the precise moment when a ‘good’ tadpole becomes a ‘bad’ frog. Neither can you conceive of a device which measures ‘badness’ in humans. All you can do is create practical definitions which serve specific purposes, eg does the amphibian jump a certain height?

This distinction between absolutes and practicalities has far wider implications than crime. We tend to react to any unfortunate incident in terms of absolute judgements ("I'm useless", "you are pathetic", "he's an idiot", "it's a shame" etc). Even our own internal dialogue is probably saturated with absolute blame (which masquerades as trivial commentary: " fool" etc).

These seemingly trivial linguistic habits are directly related to the language of hysterical media rabble-rousing. All this insidious, anxiety-inducing blame and judgement can be dropped completely, without harm, if we realise it has no practical value in successfully determining our next step in any situation.

There is an interesting experiment you can perform to investigate the nature of absolute judgement. When guilt is viewed in ‘tough’ absolute terms, a person is seen as either absolutely guilty or absolutely innocent – no ‘soft’ relativism is allowed. Consider, then, that you are absolutely innocent. For 15 minutes, mentally repeat ‘I am innocent’ while thinking deeply about the meaning of your complete and unconditional innocence.

CCTVAll other authorities are hereby superseded by this sermon.