London has fallen prey to yet another night of mindless violence, and the disease is spreading to other cities. On the internet there is a great deal of video footage of rioters, looting, fires and vandalism. What began on Saturday as a small and peaceful protest by the family and friends of a man, Mark Duggan, tragically shot by police during an arrest in Tottenham on Thursday, quickly descended into anarchy as malcontents hijacked the protest. If some police officers got it wrong, investigations will reveal that. For now we are not in full possession of the facts. But what we have been seeing since then is not protest, legitimate or otherwise, but anarchic criminality.
The YouTube video below (its title is the uploader’s) is heart-rending: a young man has been attacked by looters, and as he is helped up he is robbed.
The comments attached to the video descend pretty quickly into recrimination, and there is some suggestion that the young victim is himself a looter and that this scene proves only that there is no honour among thieves. Whether that is true or not, it is still a disturbing scene. Casual violence and casual robbery, without any regard to others’ well-being nor any reference to basic moral decency: that is the mark of these riots and the looting that has attended them.
What is clear is that the riots and looting are not about the death of Mr Duggan. Something disturbing has been unleashed, and it has the stench of evil. Some have pointed to the high rate of youth unemployment, and this may be a factor. That said, it is clear from much of the video footage that many, perhaps most, of the looters are adults, not disaffected youth, taking advantage of the diversion of police from their normal duties. It is the worst form of opportunism.
Some might say that this reflects the dark side of humanity, and this may be getting closer to the essential truth. But it might be more accurate to say that this is the darkness that dwells in a godless society. When a people loses its sense of accountability to God, it has begun to lose its sense of accountability to anyone at all, be it society, the state, or even the family. It is a sad truth that when there is no God in our lives, the highest value for an individual becomes the self. I will do what is right for me; I will do what ever I want. In this climate no one else has any right to tell me that what I am doing is wrong, let alone to punish me for it. Indeed what is right ends up being nothing more than being whatever I want. Where ego reigns so completely, evil has a free hand and others will suffer. When elements of such a society of egos feel free to express themselves without restraint then we see the anarchy that is blighted the streets of London these last few nights.
Sadly, as society and government have stripped away God from the fabric of social life, they have also stripped away the moral code that goes with religion and which relies on religion. When point after point of Christian morality can be changed or discarded according to the prevailing mood of the loudest elements in a society, then no point of morality is safe. Morality becomes merely contingent, and ultimately a matter of what an individual feels, what is right for me. Then we find that the great commandment and moral precept of Christianity has likewise been discarded: to love God, and (consequently) to love our neighbour as ourself. For the only love such a society practises in reality is love of self alone, and there can be no more barren or destructive “love” than that.
For now the family of Mr Duggan has had its grief compounded by this anarchy unleashed initially under the banner of his death. Shopkeepers have their businesses looted and their livelihoods threatened; bus drivers have their buses torched in the streets; ordinary individuals have their houses and cars incinerated; thugs roam about assaulting police and ordinary folk alike. Through all this we have no choice but to rely on the thin blue line to hold back the darkness from overwhelming us. And when calm finally returns, as it will, then will come the reckoning. May that brief reckoning serve to remind us all of the final reckoning that awaits us after death, and the eternity of its consequences. And may Mr Duggan rest in peace.