I suppose it should be obvious but a little incident recently left me wondering. We were going on a trip and the booking conditions made it quite clear that eating, drinking and smoking were not allowed on the vehicle. When we climbed aboard there were a couple of printed notices that similarly made that point – a gentle reminder. So, when one of our group wanted to eat a sandwich they had to eat it before getting on. We kept the rules – but meanwhile another family got on and the mother dished out various snacks, sweets, crisps and the like, to her family dotted round the cabin.

I had to explain to a miffed companion that some people only keep the rules if they are made to while we only break the rules if we think we really have to. Was the no eating and drinking rule simply there to satisfy some box on the insurance? No member of staff enforced it – though, to be fair, they might have been otherwise occupied checking tickets etc. Perhaps they didn’t really mean it but had to be able to tell their insurers that it was a booking condition and that they had put notices up. That’s really annoying: stating a rule you don’t really intend to enforce is an example of hypocrisy. “We have this rule to satisfy our superiors not because we think it necessary or helpful. You must obey this rule but we don’t really care whether you do or not.” And what would have happened if we got our fruit or chocolate out and started to eat? “Everybody else is doing it” is no excuse.

I’ve heard it said that rules/laws are “For the guidance of the wise and the adherence of fools”. So what happens when an arrogant fool thinks he or she is wise? They quote that saying.

If the rules are to have any force they must be necessary, and if they are necessary they must be enforced. If a rule is not enforced then it is implied that it is unnecessary, irrelevant and can be ignored. In effect, it is not a rule at all.

What are rules for? They should be for the protection of the vulnerable and for the health and safety of all. They should be to promote fair treatment and justice for all concerned.

Where some of us get into difficulties, it is because most rules are written by human beings: few are derived from the laws of nature. That means they are not absolute and there are often exceptions. The trouble is, everyone thinks that they are the exception.

Some rules are divinely inspired. I realise that many people do not hold the Ten Commandments in the high esteem that I and other Christians do. However, the principles they enshrine are for the protection of the vulnerable, for the health and safety of all as well as promoting justice and fair treatment for all. We might not be comfortable with the notion that the penalty for breaking them is capital punishment – after all, there are few, if any, human beings who can honestly claim not to have infringed any of them. (You may be aware that Jesus taught that imagining adultery was tantamount to committing it, for example). There was a time in England’s past when adultery was made a capital offence but juries routinely refused to convict even when they were convinced the defendant was guilty. It was pretty much a case of “There but for the grace of God go I”.

However, the commandments that make direct reference to God should at least give us pause to realise how small we are in relation to the universe and we do well to exercise some humility with respect to the Divine Reality we barely have glimpses of.

I guess the moral of the tale is that we do need some rules but should not be too hasty in making them.

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