The Covid inquiry has revealed a classic case of people avoiding moral responsibility and pushing it on to others. It’s exactly what happens in the Biblical stories of Creation, written perhaps 2,500 years ago. Old those stories may be, but they continue to shed light on human behaviour.
You may remember that Adam and Eve are commanded not to eat the fruit of a particular tree. So, of course, that is exactly what they are tempted to do. Eve offers Adam the apple. He eats it. God comes along and asks them what they have done. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the serpent. ‘It was her fault…it was his fault…’
The major difference between the spare beauty of the Creation myth and the Covid Enquiry is the kind of language used. In the Biblical version, not one superfluous word is employed.
It is a story stripped to its bare essentials, a timeless myth which has never lost its power. By contrast, the Covid enquiry reveals people not only avoiding moral responsibility but doing so with tempers fraying and obscene expletives shouted in a technicolour display of raw and petulant egos. It is not a reassuring sight.
What baffles me is why so many expletives were used. I am not being prudish, swear words are sometimes inevitable in extreme situations, but the more rarely they are used the more effective they become.
When they are thrown around so casually and so frequently, as it appears they were in Number Ten, it indicates not only a dehumanising abuse of other people, but it also discloses the withered poverty of the perpetrators’ thought processes.
Language is a great and lovely human gift, but its use also involves moral responsibility, doesn’t it?
Bishop Christopher Herbert is the former vicar of The Bourne near Farnham, Canon of Guildford Cathedral and Bishop of St Albans.