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Distasteful, yes but dastardly? Perhaps not


Distasteful, yes but dastardly? Perhaps not

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The pious admonitions of senior clerics (page 3 of last Tuesday’s DAILY NATION) on the practice of posting macabre photographs and videos of the dead on social media arguably evidences the church at its judgemental best.

We don’t know the motivations for postings of this kind, of course, but at the least, as the clerics say, the practice is distasteful and insensitive in that it turns the tragedy of death into a sideshow, a titillating experience.

On the other hand, to describe the practice as “unchristian” does seem a little hard, and to say that no Christian should “associate” with anyone who thus acts so foolishly might itself be challenged as “unchristian” too. It sounds unnecessarily punitive.

We are all very fallible – even bishops – and our job is surely not to condemn randomly but rather to explore the underlying motivations of those who thus engage the social media and explain to them why what they do is inappropriate. I do not believe for a moment that the posters measure the consequences of what they do, nor that they intend to harm anyone, certainly not the bereaved.

As Bishop Holder says, in this society there is a fascination with death. It’s exemplified particularly in the routine publication in newspapers – often on the front page for all the world to see – of the dead at the scene of accidents and cadavers in coffins in church. Yet our clerical sensibilities, apparently, have no problem with that, as if to say it’s all made right by the sanctity of holy water, or the primitive concept that the body “lies in state”, or our insatiable curiosity about how the dead look in their everlasting repose of silence. The difference, if any, from the social media case is surely one of degree not of kind.

Contrast the 2013 published photograph of two school kids cavorting in a classroom. The ambiguous image was neither pornographic nor obscene in itself, and it left everything to our imaginations. If we chose to draw certain conclusions about what we thought we saw that’s really a statement about us, not the image. The difference between imagination and reality was thus one of kind not degree.

On the other hand, the publication of any image of the acknowledgedly dead leaves no room for the imagination about what it is we’re seeing; and so if we cannot detect rather obvious parallels between social media publications and those which pass as “news” in the Press we might just be accused of double standards and, for that reason, our social media judgements dismissed as bordering on the shallow.