Sunday, July 1, 2012

Morality Police

So... this is going to be kind of a different post for me. Only kind of, though. My wife thinks I should leave the topic alone since this really isn't what my blog is about, but I will relate it to what my blog is about at the end so as to take care of that issue as much as I can. I want to state that I am not making a statement about any group in particular, so this is not a religious attack or a political attack or anything like that. It's about certain kinds of people, and they cover the spectrum of groups. This is a behavior, though, that infuriates me wherever I see it, and, since I see a lot of it in the publishing industry, I'm going to go ahead and talk about it.

A couple of months ago, I was listening to the radio. I'll point out here that I generally listen to the local Christian radio station; I just can't deal with secular radio in large doses, because it's all the same superficial crap, and, even though I like songs here and there, overall, it kind of turns my stomach. I just don't need that many songs about sex. At least not in the way pop music talks about it. Sure, some of the Christian stuff is superficial, too, but at least it's superficial in a way that's trying to say something more than "I want your sex."


It was a Sunday night, and I was heading to the grocery store. Sunday night is a non-music time on the station, but the grocery store isn't very far, so I didn't feel like trying to find something else to listen to or digging out a CD because I'd be there by  the time I found something else. They were having a special broadcast about the growing issue of human trafficking. Don't get me wrong, I'm against human trafficking. Owning people is not okay, and requiring of people to do things against their will is even worse (no, I'm not talking about your job, because you do have your job because you are choosing to have your job). But the guy said two things that really pissed me off:

1. The number of people in slavery today is the highest it's ever been in history.
Okay, this may be true, and I haven't tried to look this up, but I would bet the percentage of people in slavery is, if not the lowest, close to the lowest it's ever been. This is taking a fact and twisting it to say something that doesn't really reflect the truth, and that always bothers me. It's just not okay to misrepresent facts to make your point. I don't care who you are or how worthy your cause. Just don't do it!

2. "Jesus wouldn't stand for this" (if he was here today).
I don't care how bad human trafficking is, this is just a false statement, and it's this guy projecting what he believes into some inaccurate view of who Jesus was and is. Historically, whether you accept the Bible as historical fact or not, you can see that Jesus did, in fact, stand for human trafficking. Slavery was a norm in his day, and he never took a stance against it. In fact, he said of the slave "obey your master." If Jesus didn't take a stance against human trafficking while he was on the Earth previously, why would he take a stance against it today? The statement this guy made is blatantly false and meant to cause an emotional reaction in his audience to achieve his own goals. And I don't care, at that point, if his goals are good because what he's doing is wrong.

And this kind of crap is all over the place these days in all kinds of forms, and it just makes me sick.

First of all, although I believe all people should be free, not all people believe that all people should be free including some people who are slaves. It is still common practice in many parts of the world for people to sell themselves into slavery of their own free will. How can I come in and tell a guy, just because I believe it's wrong, that he shouldn't sell himself into slavery. He shouldn't sell someone else into slavery (unless that person is voluntarily submitting), but me trying to tell him he's wrong in his own choice is as bad as selling someone into slavery against his will. My job is not be the morality policeman.

In fact, it is no one's job to be the morality police, and I'm tired of people trying to take that upon themselves. I'm tired of it from politicians, and I'm especially tired of it from various religious quarters (not just in the USA) but most especially from people that call themselves Christians. To Christians, I can only say  go read your Bible and show me where Jesus said for his followers to be the Morality Police for the world. Really, if you think it's your job to tell me how I should be living my life, go look. Do it now. While you're doing it, I'll go about living my life, because you're going to be gone a long, long time, because it's NOT in there!

Jesus said three things that are important. Okay, wait, he said a lot more than three things that are important, but he said three things that have direct bearing on this and are probably the most important things he said. First, when asked by the Pharisees (the religious legalists of the day) what was the most important of the commandments, He answered with something that's not quite one of the commandments (not that it's not, but it's not stated as explicitly anywhere else as the way Jesus states it):
1. Love God with your whole being. [This is not the quote. This is a simpler paraphrase of the quote.]
This is thing that Jesus is saying is the most important thing that we humans can do. Nowhere in that statement does it say to go out and tell other people how they ought to be behaving and what they should be doing or how they ought to be loving God.
Then he said the second thing following right on the heels of the first thing:
2. Love your neighbor [love your fellow man] as yourself.
And here is where the Golden Rule comes from: treat other people the way you yourself want to be treated. Now, I'm just saying here, but most people don't like to be beaten over the head all the time and told how they should act. That means don't try to make it illegal for me to eat yams just because you don't like them. Also, don't try to legislate that I need to eat lobster just because you do like it. Leave me to not eat any lobster. More for you.
The third thing he said later:
3. People will know who my followers (Christians, hypothetically) are by their love.
By their LOVE. And I just don't see a whole lot of love coming from the Right these days. Or from the Left for that matter. Treating people with love does not include calling them names on television or taking them out back and beating them near to death or any number of other things that happen on a regular basis these days. STOP doing that crap!

I want to be clear, here, that I am not aiming what I'm saying here just at Christians (I am one); these problems are fairly endemic; however, I hold Christians to a higher standard because, supposedly, they have someone that left them pretty explicit instructions on how to live and how to behave, and if they would just read the book they say they follow they might learn a few things. People who are not Christians did not have someone leave them a book of instructions on how to behave, and, yet, somehow, they often behave better than Christians do. What was it Gandhi said, "I would be a Christian except for Christians"? That is one of the saddest things I've ever heard in my life. I bet he'd read the book!

Jesus set us to be EXAMPLES, not enforcers. It's not our job, it's not anyone's job, to make people behave in a certain way. It is only our job to live in such a way as to be an example to other people as to what might be a better way to live. The government and the law have the responsibility to enforce behavior, and that should be limited to keeping us from doing things to other people against their will. Things like:
Don't speed, because you might have an accident and kill someone.
Don't kill someone.
Don't take other people's stuff.
Really, the law is here to reinforce that whole "treat other people the way you want to be treated."
Yes, I know I said "Jesus" set us to be examples, because that part was aimed at Christians that think they should be out enforcing their own personal version of the truth, but, really, that's how we should all live. Set an example by living a life that other people can admire, not going around whacking people with sticks when we think they've crossed some line they don't see or believe exists.

The only time we have the right to get involved in how someone else is living their life is if that person is inflicting his/her will on someone else against that person's will. In those cases, it's not even that we have the right to get involved, but we should get involved. So, if you see someone beating the crap out of someone else, you should have the moral imperative to get involved. Then you have the right to tell someone to stop behaving in a particular manner. If there's a question as to whether whatever is happening is happening voluntarily, find out, but, generally speaking, I think it's pretty easy to tell when someone needs to be stopped from doing something to someone else. Don't stand by and let the old pervert take the little boy into the shower (I'm sorry, but  the more that comes out about that man and how many people didn't say anything...).

But I said all of this relates to publishing, and you're probably wondering, at this point, how in the world could any of this relate to publishing and writing and, yes, even reading, but it does! Because traditional publishers and agents and all of those people spend their time treating writers just like all of these religious people and politicians trying to force us to live by some code that we don't necessarily buy into.
1. Don't use adverbs.
2. Don't use prologues.
3. Don't write more than 80,000 words.
4. Don't self-publish!
5. E-books are bad! (Unless they're from us and we're charging you more for them than physical books. And, while you're at it, why don't you just give us some more free money.)
They, the traditional publishers, are the same kind of bullies as all these politicians on TV calling people names for believing something that doesn't feed into what they want you to believe. For believing something that gives you the power instead of them. Because, yes, telling me, as a writer, that I shouldn't have the freedom to self-publish my book or that I am "bad" for doing so is just like telling a woman that she is wrong for wanting to use birth control. I don't need some rich publisher somewhere telling me that I shouldn't have the freedom to make my own choices, especially when what they want is to make me a slave against my will.

But, you know, for those of you out there that want and are choosing to sell yourself and your book into slavery to a big publisher, that is your right and choice to do so. I hope it works out for you.

All of this comes down to freedom. People in power don't really like "regular" people to be free. Politicians don't like it. Religious leaders don't like it. Big publishing houses don't like it. They want us all lined up submitting to slavery, and they most often don't really care if it's voluntary or not. But, you know, the Declaration of Independence has that great statement in it that liberty, that freedom, is a Right. Within that, I suppose, is the freedom to submit to chains from other people or to elect people that will bring out more and more chains for all of us, but, really, growing up in a land where freedom is held in such esteem, I can't understand why anyone would want to go back to being a slave. Be free! And, what's more, allow other people to be free, too!

No more Morality Police.


  1. Don't judge lest ye be judged?
    "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone?"
    I get what you mean.
    Now I need to get off the Internet as it's my last day of vacation and I intend to enjoy it!

  2. Like Ghandi also said, "Let's go make our own salt."

    And I do wish more people would take on your attitude - the world would be a better place.

    Well, probably. I'm willing to bet we'd still screw it up.

  3. Well said, especially in the writing aspect. I love that an agent, just a regular human being like you or I, can have the power to say, "Well, this is good, and this is not good." Like their word is law. But it's not. It's purely opinion. But for an opinion, it carries way more weight than it should, and simply because they say something is bad does not necessarily mean it is.

  4. You don't have to be a Christian to appreciate the Golden Rule. It should be part of the instructions we come with when we're born. Oh, wait...

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. "Jesus, save me from your followers" is the prayer I've been adhering to. You know, I'm really glad you posted this for the simple reason that I find it enormously reassuring to meet and encounter Christians who behave like decent human beings. I wish I didn't have the knee-jerk stereotype that Christians are small-minded dickweasels who like to bang people on the head with a large book they've hardly read, but I do, and I really get happy when someone reminds me that that stereotype is just as small-minded as I'm imagining all Christians to be.

    In the Talmud, there's a story of the man who told the great sage Hillel that he'd convert to Judaism if Hillel could explain the entire Torah while standing on one leg. Hillel stood on one leg and said "That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow; this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it." (WHAT NOW, UNBELIEVER!)

    So did you mean to make the parallel between people who "willingly" sell themselves into slavery (I would argue that nobody WANTS to be a slave, and that "consensual" deals are not actually consensual but the result of someone in desperate circumstances feeling they have no other option, which doesn't exactly make it a choice) and people who sign traditional publishing contracts? I wasn't sure.

  7. This is why I only listen to two stations - NPR, and sports talk.

  8. "Don't judge lest ye be judged?" I like that one, although it kind of indicts me as a book reviewer. I do a lot of judging there. Of course, as long as we're just trading literary criticisms, I suppose I can live with it.

  9. Bravo! Well done. This is a day for some deep posts and valid points. There is a contingent trying to make our laws about being the morality police, rather than protection in more general terms (i.e. you can't use birth control vs. stop killing people, dolt), and that contingent is not one political group, but people who think if they don't believe something is okay, no one else should be allowed to do it. And vice versa: live the way I live, because it is the right way. That can apply to all kinds of things, not just politics and publishing.

  10. I think that with regard to religion, there is a very human need to connect with others who see the world in the same way. I think this is a strong motivation behind the push to "spread the message" and to act as a morality police per se. There is also a strong need to have what one believes "validated" by others. Validation is what leads to self confidence and if you get it in excess, it leads to feelings of superiority. And people who have no self worth to begin with are comforted by feelings of superiority. That's just the way it is.

    I think the same can be said of authors pursuing traditional publishing through the Big Six. They want 1) validation and 2) the ability to feel superior to others. The "arrogant author" is by no means a new thing.

    Your post makes me think of a work meeting we had a few weeks back. It was one of those team building things. Anyway, a co-worker...a young guy, attractive, Mormon, three kids, said "my worst fear is mediocrity."

    Its actually kind of insulting to think about that because most of us, myself included, are mediocre. I'm 40 and nearly everything I've tried in life has failed. That's just the way it is. I'm comfortably mediocre. I'm fine with that. What gets me confused is when ppl who are like me (and in the same boat) have contempt for me. They think they are better; I don't get that. I've never thought I was better than anyone else.

    Maybe this has to do with the American Dream. Poor people in our country admire the rich and continue to hold onto this "dream" that, if they just work hard enough, they can have it all. But the American Dream is dead; that era is gone. It would be better for everyone in my opinion to just fucking admit this instead of turning 40, then 50, and then 60 and so on and so forth...all the while remaining poor yet voting and supporting legislation for the rich cause "those are secretly my people! They just don't know it yet!"

    And to think that you are really "in the wrong crowd" is probably at the root of the worst of the entitlement issues that plague this country's population.

  11. I normally catch the local news for weather only and that failed the other night. As for writers, I have come across a lot who offer advice, but there are those who like in church have formed cliques. I am currently working on a small project and have decided to self publish it.

  12. @ Michael Offutt,

    Though I don't know what that dude at your work was referencing that might be mediocre, I think it depends a lot on what he was talking about. For instance, there's no reason why I can't be an excellent or above-average: dad, hard-worker, compassionate, listener, etc.

    And even if he was saying that he wants to "be known/respected for something," I don't think that has to equate to superiority. Like, the woman who scrimps and saves at a dishwasher's job to put the money together to send her kids to college...she's definitely not mediocre, no matter what she's failed at, and she deserves respect.

    I DO believe that we should struggle and fight for our own version of excellence; we should try to be a better person than we were yesterday. Sometimes that can even mean better at a talent or in a job, but especially it should mean better in some sort of character attribute.

  13. As usual, I pop in here thinking I'm going for a quick read and then back to work, and you've given me a ton of stuff to think and/or talk about.

    I'll try to shorten it up to say that I agree with you about the morality police and hating others. My own take is that based on my own religious beliefs and what (little) I know about other religions, that if you think your God has told you to hate someone you have to be wrong -- and that telling others how to live their life when they are not harming you is likewise wrong.

    I'd like to pontificate more but I have little that I could add to what you've said so well. So I'll leave it at that.

    I also read your U2 post below. I think what I liked best about U2 was that after "Joshua Tree," when they could have just gone on making that same record over and over, they instead stretched themselves as musicians and tried for a rawer sound on my personal favorite album of theirs, "Rattle & Hum," then went techno and pop-py and all.

    It's easy, sure, to say "We've made millions, so we can do what we want," but think of the many artists who made millions and then DIDN'T try something new and creative. U2, and now JK Rowling, are two that spring to mind as having used their incredible fame/popularity to challenge themselves. So while I agree that a writer/artist should find themselves, they should then try to continue to expand their skills and take on new challenges.

  14. Alex: Exactly. And, since Jesus is the only one without sin and he didn't cast any stones, what does that say for the rest of us?

    Rusty: Yeah, I'd put my money on the screwing it up.

    ABftS: Yeah, especially when they start pointing out "broken rules" while things like Twilight are on the market.

    L.G.: You know, I was taught the Golden Rule when I was in elementary school. At school, I mean. For years. It was just something that we covered at the beginning of every school year. I don't think they do that anymore.

    Jericha: I would agree with you about the slavery thing except that people do have choices. They're just not always good ones. It's kind of the equivalent of a soldier "following orders" that he doesn't agree with and saying he didn't have a choice.
    Yes, I did mean to make that parallel.

    Matthew: I like NPR; they just don't play music.

    neal: Well, maybe I should do another post at some point about the whole "judging" thing, because that's kind of taken out of context sometimes.

    Shannon: It does apply to all kinds of things, but it's most dangerous in the hands of large organizations with lots of power like governments and churches.

    Michael: I get the whole wanting to be with people that believe like you do, but that doesn't ever make it okay to enforce those beliefs on people that don't believe the way you do. Not that I think that you think that, because I know you don't.

    GG: Advice is one thing, but saying things like "do not use adverbs" when stated as rule of writing is not advice.

    neal: I agree with what you're saying, but it sounds like what this guy was saying was that he would hate to be viewed that way by other people; there would be no reason to fear it otherwise. From that standpoint, I completely understand what Michael is saying.

    Briane: I figured you'd know better by now that I rarely provide a "quick read." >grin<

    That is one of the things I've always liked about U2. They didn't just stop when they reached success; they continued to work and grow, even when some of what they did was not met with enthusiasm. It's what's kept them relevant and the most important band in the world for 3 decades.

  15. You make a lot of good points. In fact I was pondering this topic over the weekend and considering putting together a post related to this topic for when I start posting my own material again.

    All sides want to cast judgement on opposing sides and belittle them and condemn them. There do have to be laws in place about certain things and someone needs to enforce them in order to keep order.

    On the other hand there are a lot of laws that I consider stupid that someone keeps in force. I guess it's a matter of whoever has the lawyers, guns, and money are the ones who get to enforce their laws. That's not me so I guess example is, as you say, the best way to approach things.

    A Faraway View

  16. Our government is way too far into the morality police business, along with a few other groups out there. I, as a Christian, get offended when people assume that I'm going to hit them over the head with the Bible and tell them what to do. There are many out there in the world who have that narrow view of Christians, so I also reluctantly admit to being a Christian. My Christianity is the Bible though. And if they Bible says it isn't okay, then it isn't. And if the Bible tells me that I should or shouldn't do something, then that's what I act on. Everyone else is free to do what they choose. I just have a book I'm going by (that I actually read).
    I get tired also, of others telling me how I should be living my life, what foods I can and cannot eat, what size soda I can buy, that I need a helmet to ride my bike... and that if I have some money, I need to give it to someone who doesn't want to work for a living (I know, some people do need help, but not ALL of them).
    Your post stirred up the same feelings of discontent and concern I have for our country. We are losing the greatness, the fierce independence...we are binding ourselves and handing over our freedoms willingly. What is wrong with us???

  17. Wow! I hate more than anything when self righteous types tell me how I should live...I personally have not found any of the gods believeable, but I must say it is refreshing to hear a Christian speak out against bashing others over the head with a thick book...and how do they know what Jesus would or wouldn't stand for? It's true...Jesus was okay with slavery...I've never tried to have anything published, but it's obvious by the diversity of books available that there is something out there for just about everyone, and 'good' or 'bad' is in the mind of the individual reader, and publishers are just that..not that there opinion doesn't matter, but it's just an opinion..same with music..Freedom rules!

  18. Lee: Well, I'm sure I could have more to say on all of this stuff. More than sure. Most of it just makes me too sad, though.

    Donna: There's a lot here I could expound upon, but I'm just going to go with what you said at the end:
    For all of our "freedom," we are the most monitored society on the planet. There are security cameras everywhere and all sorts of other things. It's very close to 1984.

    Eve: I think Jesus views on slavery are best summed up in the story of Joseph: always do the best that you can, do your job with quality and pride, and you can end up anywhere. Quit moaning about where you are or what you are. In the end, Jesus was all about helping others. It's almost all he did. If "Christians," on an individual basis, did that same kind of thing...? Well, that's all I'm saying.

  19. Hiya, I agree with the gist of this piece.

    In no particular order:
    * Gandhi was asked about his opinion of Western civilisation; he thought it would be a good idea.
    * hyperbole - as in Gandhi would have read the Bible (assertion without substantiated fact? imo I reckon he would have read it too)
    * publishers/agents - their idea of 'good' is what will make them some money.

  20. ^_^: I'm actually pretty sure that Gandhi studied the Bible; I'm pretty sure I remember studying that, anyway. I just didn't feel like verifying it.
    Thanks for stopping by!

  21. I'm not sure what to say to this one, Andrew. So I'm not going to say anything except to comment that it seems like you're reaching a bit too far to make the parallel.

    In terms of religion, morality policing is strongly in vogue in America today, and it makes me uncomfortable and ashamed for my fellow Americans.

  22. Callie: Well, maybe, except that I didn't come at this by trying to make a parallel. I came across one of those "lists of things not to do" and it just struck me how it's so like the morality police among us.
    Like, when I was a kid, it was
    1. Don't drink.
    2. Don't dance.
    3. Don't smoke.
    Not if you wanted to "go to heaven."
    That's very similar to me as
    1. Don't use adverbs.
    2. Don't go over 80,000 words.
    3. (drawing a blank, at the moment, but there are plenty of other "don't"s)
    Not if you want to be published.