independent

Saturday 25 March 2017

Everybody is entitled to dignity

FR BRIAN WHELAN

IF you've ever had the experience of gong through airport security since they introduced the heightened security measures, you will have suffered the indignity of being treated as a potential terrorist threat!

Of course it does bring the benefit that if they're putting everyone through the same rigid security screening, then you're going to be much safer getting on that plane, because the real terrorists won't get through.

But there is very little dignity involved, and if you fly to Israel, as I did, then you can expect to be made suffer tremendous indignity. They take you aside and give you the royal treatment - stand up, turn around, take off shoes, open your buttons, sit down, lift your arms up! The string of questions are even more intrusive, and you end up feeling quite small indeed.

The dignity of the human person is something that we value very highly, and sometimes that dignity is destroyed quite easily. When Jesus was giving the Sermon on the Mount, he told his followers to turn the other cheek, and if someone takes your outer garment, to give them your undergarment as well. To our mind, this is like allowing someone to walk all over us, but a closer look at this passage shows us that it's the complete opposite.

Striking someone on the cheek had to be done with the right hand, giving a backhanded slap on the person's right cheek, because in Jesus' time the left hand couldn't be used to touch anyone. It was basically a gesture of insult, a symbolic blow used to humiliate the person on the receiving end. People slapped their slaves in this way, and Romans gave backhanders to Jews.

By turning the other cheek, the person hitting you can't slap you with the back of their hand, so they must either give you a good punch, or else leave you alone. The difference is that this punch is the punch of an equal - not a put-down like the slap was.

With regards to the person taking your outer-garment, what Jesus was referring to was that the law said that a creditor could sue his debtor for their coat, leaving them with just their underclothes. But Jesus says to give them that as well!

Now if you give them your undergarment, that means you are stark naked, and in Jewish society, curiously enough, shame was not just on the naked person, but also on the person who sees your nakedness. Immediately they must cast their eyes down so as not to see you naked, thereby allowing you to stand tall, and your oppressor being the one who has his head bowed in shame.

In Ireland at present, the abortion debate is raising its head once more. The pro-life side of the debate has always centred on the dignity of human life, that every human life deserves respect and dignity.

Last week, the Minister for Communications, Pat Rabbitte, basically told Cardinal Brady to stay out of the debate regarding abortion. One would have thought it was partly the role of any Minister for Communications to encourage public discourse on important issues, not try to suppress it?

What struck me from this interjection by Minister Rabbitte however, was that there was no respect or dignity being shown to the Cardinal - respect not only due by virtue of the Office he holds, but also by virtue of his dignity as a human person. How dare Pat Rabbitte tell anyone that they shouldn't express their views and beliefs and engage in the debate.

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