Have you ever found yourself complaining about how bad the culture has gotten–let’s use the example of some smutty television show– only to have someone say “if you don’t like such and such then don’t watch it!). How does one go about responding to such a reply?
I think I found a possible answer from Geoffrey Chaucer. In the Prologue to the Miller’s Tale, Chaucer warns that the content of the Miller’s Tale may be considered objectionable by some people. He tells those people not to fear: if they don’t want to be offended by this tale, he can “turne over the leef” to a different tale. In other words, if you don’t like the material, then pick another tale.
Several stories later, Chaucer has the Wife of Bath explain how she became deaf in one ear. Her fifth husband is a clerk (a university student), and in his spare moments before bed he would read aloud a book entitled, “The Book of Wikked Wyves” in which every story that ever depicted a wicked wife was contained. The Wife of Bath listens to these stories, and she cannot stand them. She complains that if women had the ability to write books, they would write books about all the wicked husbands throughout history. But in this culture, women can neither read or write, and so the Wife of Bath has no choice but to listen to her husband’s stories every night. She eventually becomes so frustrated that she rips three pages out of his book as he’s reading, and he strikes her in the ear, causing her to go deaf.
The Wife of Bath seems to have a point, probably the one of any lasting worth from her Prologue. Sure: if it is possible to turn the page and encounter a story we like better, then we should do it. But what if all of the stories in the book are offensive? What if it’s not possible to turn the page to a different story?
Let’s say that I am driving down the highway, and I realize that I am hungry. So I pull off the road and look for a place to eat. I see a McDonald’s, but I decide to pass it up. I once read a book called “Fast Food Nation” which pointed out some of the disgusting things that McDonald’s does to produce its beef. Let’s say I’m also opposed to their chopping down the Rain Forest in order to create cheap grazing land for the cattle they slaughter for their beef. If I ever complained about this type of thing to the owner of a McDonald’s, he might tell me to go somewhere else. So I try to go somewhere else. I see a Burger King, a Taco Bell, and several other chain restaurants. Sure, I can “go somewhere else,” but are the options all that different?
The same things goes for clothes: how hard is it to find alternatives to the giant chains which use near-slave labor in awful working conditions to make their merchandise? How easy is it to find a chain that doesn’t use such practices? Or how about television, where now even shows on stations like “Fox Family” have numerous sexually explicit situations and shows? Is it possible just to “turn the page” when no other pages are worthwhile? Interestingly enough, the Canterbury Tales are the same way. There may be a few good tales in them, but most of them are pretty promiscuous.
Many Christians have reached the point where it is no longer possible to turn the page. Where ever we look, we see something morally objectionable. Therefore, if someone tells me that I should stop complaining whenever I see something objectionable, hear something offensive, etc, I will tell them that I did go somewhere else: I came here after trying everywhere else. Hence, if they don’t like my complaining, they can just go somewhere else.