The Liberal Democrat MP (and Cabinet Minister) Chris Huhne has been publicly criticised for his “hypocrisy” after leaving his wife for his PR lady, the bisexual Carina Trimingham. It is underlined that it is not Mr Huhne’s adultery – or what the Americans call “cheating” – that is at fault, but his hypocrisy in advocating “family values” during his election campaign.
Apparently he used family pictures to “woo voters”, and wrote captions such as: “Family matters to me so much. Where would we be without them?” And: “I took becoming a father so seriously I gave up smoking.” The condemnation of Mr Huhne for “hypocrisy” is very much in line with contemporary values; the social attitude today is that it doesn’t much matter what you do so long as you are “honest” about it.
It is an illumination, once again, of how traditional Catholic values are out of tune with the way we live now. For Catholicism accepts that a man may affirm even that which he does not practise. The most flagrant adulterer in the world, in other words, is perfectly entitled to claim marriage as an ideal.
Actually, flagrant adulterers have often idealised marriage – they just tend to excuse themselves from the general rules of fidelity.
But it was not necessarily hypocritical of Mr Huhne to profess his belief in marriage and the family. He may well have meant it quite sincerely when he first said so, 26 years ago.
Or he may sincerely affirm a value that he has simply failed, personally, to attain.
Of course it is dangerous for a politician to seem to boast of his own virtues in a realm where he cannot maintain such constancy. Self-regard of any kind is always vulnerable to hubris. And hypocrites have ever been the butt of satire – consider Moliere’s Tartuffe.
But if nobody could ever uphold a standard they admired – without being able to live up to it – we would have no standards or ideals at all.
I profoundly disagreed with Edwina Currie when she lambasted John Major for praising family values, concealing that he had had an affair with Mrs Currie.
Yet he was entitled to affirm an ideal, no matter what his own conduct was.
Hypocrisy is not always the worst offence. It might well be worse to have no values to which to aspire.
Imuch look forward to the new television comedy sitcom Rev, starting next Monday June 28 on BBC Two. It has had a promising advance press, and those who have seen previews of the sitcom – which stars Tom Hollander as an inner-city vicar – say it is way above such silly programmes as The Vicar of Dibley.
What seems so interesting about Rev is that it is about a cleric who really does believe in serving God and doing good. There is a strong tradition of English social comedy about the ordained man as a figure of fun, going back to Jane Austen and Trollope. And not just a figure of fun, but a character devoid of basic spirituality.
James Wood, who writes Rev, seems to got hold of a fresh angle on the parsonage: faith.
Aconvicted murderer, Ronnie Lee Gardner, has recently been executed by firing squad in Utah, the Mormon state.
Some witnesses have described the execution as “gruesome”, although the victims’ families said they felt that justice had been done.
But it was also claimed that the firing squad execution was less horrible than the electric chair or lethal injection. It is quicker and less prone to the errors which can prolong the agony.
There was, in the 19th century, a Christian moral defence of capital punishment by firing squad: that is, no single executioner is appointed, and no one can know which bullet killed the prisoner. Some marksmen were even given blanks, so that none should know who fired the fatal shot.
I don’t want to seem to treat a serious matter flippantly, but there is also, in film history, a tradition of portraying the firing squad as a glamorous exit.
A classic in this field was Marlene Dietrich as the Mata Hari figure in Josef von Sternberg’s Dishonored. Offered a bandana to cover her eyes before her execution, she takes the material, and slowly wipes the tears of pity from the eyes of the commanding officer. Then she refreshes her lipstick, adjusts her stocking garter and stands up straight to meet her fate.
There is even an Irish rebel song which sees the firing squad as gallant: “Shoot me like a soldier/Do not hang me like a dog.” If the state of Utah insists on this method for the death penalty, it may be the least worst way of doing it.