Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Punishment, Stability and Community

In my ordinary daily sequence of reading, prayer and meditation, I’ve been reading the really uncongenial part of the Rule of Benedict, chapters that deal with punshment in the community. To put things in historical perspective, corporal punishment was universal in the sixth century, and Benedict’s use of it minimal compared to contemporaneous sources. The Rule is not designed to absolutise the disciplinary practices of its age any more than the Parable of the Good Samaritan is designed to make people beat up Samaritans.

However, it is interesting to note who gets punished in the rule. Unlike our age, Benedict does not punish incompetence, human failing, ignorance, lack of spiritual intensity, failure, or saying the wrong thing openly. The rule does punish subversive grumbling, and sabotage of the community life. He expects dissent within the community, indeed encourages it as an expression of repect, but takes its toxic forms very seriously. A stable community cannot grow without basic respect, humility and realism all round. Community is not a syrupy and largely meaningless synonym for “everybody”, but a testing ground for character and motives.

So farewell then, if we want to walk in the way of Benedict, to email firestorms, hypocritical finger wagging, control by threats and manipulation, angry cynicism, and ego driven community sabotage. These need to be exposed for what they are, not tarted up with Conservative, or for that matter Radical suspenders. The community needs to be honest about what is really going on. Nobody gets punished for making bad tea, but however passionately they feel they are right, if they start slipping arsenic into it, three strikes and they’re out (another interesting Benedictine principle)

5 comments:

ROBERTA said...

your thoughts on "punishment" were so helpful to me.
there is so much that we have "absolutized"...thank you!

p.s. enjoyed the comparison to the good samaritan :)

John Bassett said...

"So farewell then, if we want to walk in the way of Benedict, to email firestorms, hypocritical finger wagging, control by threats and manipulation, angry cynicism, and ego driven community sabotage."

No wonder silence is such a feature of monastic life!

Erika Baker said...

I like that!

But in Benedict's time there was a strong hierarchical order, and ultimately, decicions were not made by those who voiced their disagreement.

I think today's desperate antagonism arises out of the relative insecurity that comes from having no more certainties and no-one who has a final say.

Those who disagree don't only disagree and then wait for their masters to change things, but make actual changes all by themselves.

Those who didn't want the changes are left feeling helpless and seething.

Both sides are afraid of each other and don't really know how to handle the autonomy of the other.

Genuine tolerance and an acceptance of difference are lost in a world that is perceived as increasingly fragmenting, foreign and strange.

Individualism and personal responsibility are still a very new phenomenon in our society and we are still learning to handle them properly.

Matt Wardman said...

A good cold shower.

I think it backs up the idea of "deep breath and 10 minutes/overnight" before posting that draft you just wrote.

Alexis said...

Amen to that! Thanks for this timely reflection.

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