Friday, March 10, 2006

John Profumo and shame

What I know about John Profumo is really what is in the papers today. The sex scandal that carries his name has, to my mind, about as much of interest as any other sex scandal: none. What I find more interesting, and even uplifting, is what Profumo did after his disgrace.

Within days of his political departure, Mr Profumo turned up at the refuge centre Toynbee Hall in east London and asked to help with the washing up.
He stayed for nearly 40 years, using his political skills to raise huge funds, and expanding the charity's activities to include social programmes and youth training.
Do that for a week or so, and it's a photo opportunity. Do it for a year, and you've got stamina. 40 years? That's something else.
"No one judges Jack Profumo more harshly than he does himself," his friend, the late Jim Thomson, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, once said. "He says he has never known a day since it happened when he has not felt real shame".
The Bishop says so, and I believe him. Much has been written recently about the need to keep religion out of the constituted political system, and I am in agreement with that position. I haven't read anything, however, about the virtues of religion in the training of those given power by that system. The story of John Profumo seems to illustrate (and I am only guessing here) the value of a sense of duty in driving public life. A sense of duty underpinned by a religion that inculcates notions of sin, repentance and penance. He must have seen his sin as heinous and his wrong as undeniable, and therefore his need to rebalance the scales as imperative. Profumo's sense of duty was also a reflection of his privelaged upbringing, one of the last generation coached from boyhood to rule. In his case, the responsibility inherent in that position was as strong as the thirst for office. He'd relished the fruits of power, been the playboy in gilded halls, so now he would put on the sackcloth.

I am not saying that only religion gives people this backbone. I am wondering if other means of developing it are as efficient.

Profumo had done great service before 1963.
But in a Commons motion, five MPs pay tribute to John Profumo, saying the country owes him "a huge debt of gratitude" for voting against his party in 1940 over the "appeasement" deal with Germany by the then Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain.
This vote paved the way for the resignation of Chamberlain and the accession to power of Churchill.

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