Monday, August 28, 2006

Always ask for the whole story

Like many people, I was quite shocked when I heard that a football player had, as it was reported, been cautioned by police for making the sign of the cross at a Rangers v Celtic match.

The sign of the cross is made by both catholics and protestants. I'm Church of England myself and this weekend my wife commented on the fact that I made the sign of the cross without even thinking of it when we passed the site of Friday's fatal car accident on the A595 and I sent up a short prayer for the victims.

So if the situation had been that someone made the sign of the cross in prayer with no other context, and had then been cautioned on the basis that showing reverence to God is itself provocative, that would be disgraceful. Some of the initial reports of the incident certainly read as if that is what happened.

However, I am very grateful to my old University contemporary and friend Iain Dale. He wrote a blog piece expressing concern at the caution, but to his credit Iain also put in a link to "Mr Eugenides" who was actually at the match and had a different point of view. You can read it here

This appears to be a classic example of a story where the information you are given may be correct so far as it goes, but if one piece of the jigsaw is missing you are likely to arrive at radically different conclusions from what you would have thought given the whole picture.

All the initial nreports I had seen of the incident explained that football matches between Rangers and Celtic are often marred by Catholic vs. Protestant sectarianism. What they left out, but according to "Mr Eugenides" also happened, is that the "sign of the cross" gesture was made while looking directly and deliberately at the other side's supporters and immediately followed by an insulting and obscene gesture.

The BBC updated their internet report to add references to "other gestures" in addition to the sign of the cross, which I take to mean that the account by "Mr Eugenides" has some substance.

Anyone with the least understanding of the Christian faith should understand that if the sign of the cross is coupled with a crude insult, it is no longer "a gesture of religious reverence." In fact to abuse what should be a sign of respect for Jesus in this way amounts to blasphemy. Sadly, religious sectarianism has a long and tragic history, but nonetheless baiting people in such a way is totally opposed to the message of Jesus Christ.

"Mr Eugenides" thought that the police reaction was a something of an over-reaction to behaviour of legitimate concern, and on the basis of his account of the match I find it difficult to disagree with this view. Whether it is correct or not, this whole sad story is an excellent example of what a good idea it is to try to get the whole facts of a case before you make a judgement on it.

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