Two recent news stories – one big, the other huge – shine a light into the human heart.
Lance Armstrong was, once, the most feted cyclist on earth. Seven Tour de France victories, all won after a two-year battle with cancer, seemed unbelievable. They were. Although Armstrong never tested positive for drugs, rumours persisted, and two weeks ago a massive report from the US Anti-Doping Agency exposed, in meticulous detail, what they called ‘the most sophisticated, professionalised and successful doping programme that sport has ever seen’.
At about the same time, ITV screened a documentary which accused the eccentric celebrity broadcaster and fundraiser, Jimmy Savile, of sexual assault on, among others, many children. Since then, hundreds more accusations have been made and over 200 potential victims identified.
Neither Armstrong nor Savile have been proved guilty in a court of law, but the evidence seems comprehensive and irrefutable.
But it is the fact they have not been found guilty and duly punished that is revealing. Armstrong has been stripped of his medals and his name tarnished, but he was never brought to public justice by the body that should have caught him. Savile is now beyond earthly justice. Those hundreds of children whose lives he corrupted and the millions more whose trust he betrayed will never see him publicly tried and condemned.
And it matters. We do not – we cannot – simply dismiss what Armstrong and Savile did with a casual ‘never mind’. We cannot just ‘stop worrying and enjoy your life’, as the atheist bus campaign advised us. Justice matters, fundamentally. It is a defining human characteristic. Without it, the moral air we breathe is left infected with toxins that we can feel in our bloodstream.
Christians have long claimed that ‘at least’ people like Savile (and – gulp – ourselves) will face ultimate judgment, and there is something reassuring (not to mention fearful) in that. But, if we are honest, it is not that much use to those who are left trying to rebuild their trust and their lives.
Perhaps the connection between Christ and culture here lies not in final judgment but with the very idea of justice. To be human is to seek – to need – justice. No fashionable non-judgmentalism or moral relativism will suffice. Only justice can clear the air, heal the past, afford us a future. Only justice sets us free.
Research Director of Theos