Rioting Is An Ecstatic, Spiritual Experience: Or, Structural Sin Made Me Do It

“Rioting”—which is to say, looting, rampaging, vandalizing, engaging in wanton mayhem and violence, and generally acting very badly—“can be, literally, an ecstatic spiritual experience.” So says the is-he Right Reverend Peter Price, a man who is no less than the Bishop of Bath and Wells. (Note the Bish’s use of literally. PDF of report.)

Price’s comments have been widely reported, with opinion coalescing around the idea that Price has, literally, lost his mind. But this is unfair, because, literally, Price was merely quoting another churchman, one Father Austin Smith, who made his ecstatic comments after the Toxteth riots in the 1980s. In that feast of spirituality, “468 police officers had been injured, 500 people arrested and at least 70 buildings demolished.”

Anyway, Price continued, “Something is released in the [riot] participants which takes them out of themselves as a kind of spiritual escape.” Out of themselves and into shoe shops, where “participants” gleefully stole as many “trainers” as they could lay their thieving mitts on. Which shows that “participants” are not only immoral lawbreakers but that they also have appalling taste in footwear. (This is known in statistics as a correlation.)

“The tragedy,” Price says, is that

we have a large population of young people who are desperate to escape from the constrained lives to which they feel and appear to be condemned. Where hope has been killed off and with no prospect of escape, is it surprising that their energies erupt in antisocial and violent actions? In a consumer society, is it surprising that lusting after high-status goods is seen as a way to find meaning?

There is some truth here. And it is this: there is always somebody willing to excuse the repugnant behavior of one person as the fault of the political enemies of the excuser. Price’s enemies are—wait for it—rich people, “austerity measures,” and “social tensions”.

These culpable entities even caused innocent citizens who had just “come out to see what was happening” to become “quickly caught up in the thrill of the moment.” To excuse why these bystanders engaged in theft, Price hypothesizes that they were “just picking up things that had been discarded on the streets.” And keeping them and bringing them home. Just like dear old mom did not, we hope, teach them.

Now most of Price’s report is dull, written in pseudo-academese and contains phrases like “coveting is a big issue” and “The mobile nature of the events makes a locational analysis problematic in relation to those involved, and particularly those arrested.” It reads as if a cluster of senior clergy were sitting around the pub on wet afternoon when one suddenly announced, “Our duty is to issue a report”—and then they actually wrote it!

Because it’s in the nature of these documents, Price could not help himself from theorizing. The real cause of the riots was something called “structural sin which recognises how people on all sides of conflicts can face moral choices that are not between what is clearly right and clearly wrong but which are necessitated by circumstances in response to situations where much has gone wrong already.” In other words, pocketing an item dropped by a fleeing looter is not clearly right nor clearly wrong. Even lighting a shop on fire to watch it burn can be considered morally ambiguous if much has gone wrong already.

Price was not speaking gibberish, however. The idea of “structural sin” is well known and was developed inside something called “liberation theology,” which is often read as a codeword for theological Marxism (and if that isn’t a contradiction in terms, nothing is).

Structural sin is shared sin. Because of “unjust” economic, political situations, and “discriminatory lending practices,” the man who ecstatically wields the club upside the shopkeeper’s head is guilty of structural sin, but so are you who sat at home guilty because you contributed to the circumstances which caused the man to swing the club. Why, if it weren’t for you dutifully going to work each day and paying your taxes, these riots would never have occurred! Price says “flawed social structures” are responsible for “creating the conditions for sin to manifest itself.”

Sin seen in this way is like a gas which leaks out individuals and seeps through a community, concentrating here and there due to vagaries of wind. The only recourse is to bottle sin up by reinvigorating the welfare state and making risky loans. Indeed, if “austerity” is left in place, Price sees the possibility of future riots. “Nothing is inevitable — but the auguries are not reassuring.”


  1. EAE

    Great post [I liked it].

  2. William Sears

    Or as Robert Scheaffer would say: they seethe with resentment against the achievements of others and will land the heaviest blow that goes unanswered. Thus the Right Reverent’s solution is exactly and literally wrong. Resentment must always, as in always, be opposed least we create the conditions for another reign of terror.

  3. I would support our national government if it chose to harshly repress the rioters, while simultaneously running an agressive public relations campaign against them.

    We are ill served by President Obama and his minions expressions of (at the very least) sympathy with the goals of #occupywallstreet and similar front groups. We’d be far better off to openly oppose them, even to the point of hounding them out of existence. The present administration seeks to marginalize producers, while romanticizing non-producers. This is backward, in every sense of the word.

  4. APL

    Liberation theology has always served to excuse individual sin in favour of some dubious social good. I went to Catholic school in the 70’s and the liberation theology was already being taught in so called “morality-ethics classes”. It would start out by introducing simplistic heart-tugging questions like: “Is is wrong to steal a loaf of bread to feed your starving family”. What I quickly realized is the ultimate goal was always to provide justifications for theft. The emphasis is always on justifying the sin rather than asking the obvious moral question: “What real,honest and sincere efforts have you made to avoid sinning?”. For the typical rioter the answer is: not a hell of a lot.

  5. ” Out of themselves and into shoe shops, where “participants” gleefully stole as many “trainers” as they could lay their thieving mitts on. Which shows that “participants” are not only immoral lawbreakers but that they also have appalling taste in footwear. (This is known in statistics as a correlation.)”

    I would argue they showed an extremely UTILITARIAN taste in footwear. After all, it’s not like any of them have “Sunday best” outfits to wear to weddings or funerals; they just show up in the usual hoodies, saggy jeans, and seven-day-sh*tter basketball shorts they sport everywhere else.

  6. Dr K A Rodgers

    I have long enjoyed the defintion of a rationalisation as “Providing a socially acceptable explanation for socially unacceptable behaviour.” And it goes on, “Socially unacceptable behaviour is a form of insanity.”

    Truly we live in the Age of the Alibi.

  7. Ray

    Isn’t structural sin something that architects and civil engineers do?

  8. JH

    Now, how would one explain the behavior of the majority of young people who didn’t participate in the disorders?

  9. Briggs


    Yes! Exactly, yes. What is the evidence which disproves their theory! This is the key step to real knowledge, in statistics and everywhere.

  10. Uncle Mike

    Mass hysteria. People in a mob jettison their normal morality. That salient social fact has been used by various manipulators from Caesar to Robespierre to Hitler to Obama.

    To blame “greed” is simplistic and wrong. The Right Rev is closer to the mark when he blames “ecstasy”. The abandonment of moral virtue, reinforced by the mob, is endorphin-producing. Temporarily.

  11. cb

    Um. The ‘experts’, the ‘explianers’, the ‘framers’… these people are all on the side of the Devil. They serve no purpose – as Vox Day -might- say: murders and pedophiles contribute, in general, more to society than they do.

    Consider that we are all ruled by people who are not only corrupt to such a degree that ‘Satanism’ has become a good descriptor, they are blatantly so.

    What can one do against these elites? The police, the judges, the rules and regulations that strangle the very soul every single damned day – these exist in a manner that is, again, classifiable as Satanism.

    What can one do?

    I think you are wrong – simply because under such a system as that which is, concepts such as ‘theft’ and ‘vandalism’ are NOT applicable – because this is a state of civil war. The enemy is the State, the enemy is police, the enemy has become the system that murders your children – they die while you wait for the ‘State’ doctors to deign to consider your case.

    What the hell can you do?

    Sure, there are always barbarians: ‘young’ followers of the Ideology of Pieces come to mind. Etc. Etc. But so what? Are you going to say that we MUST -all- work through the ‘right’ channels? Channels that will, NEVER, not serve the foul elites? Seriously?

    What about when America broke from the UK? Where those people all ‘thieves’ and ‘vandals’? (That’s what the elites in the UK said…) They, too, acted against those they could – the businessmen. Sorry, but that is the way the cookie crumbles: the wealth of the businessmen are that which powers the State.

    Is any of this desirable? Of course not. But, again, what the hell else can you do, except to burn down everything? Except to wait and hope that one day one of those bastards on TV will no longer be behind a line of highly trained jar-heads with guns…

    Consider the USA with the Obama vs Romney thing. Voting for the ‘lesser of evils’ will, as sure as the tides, lead to ever-worse ‘lesser of evils’. Romney is a human turd. Obama is a Satanist. Why choose either one? Why vote for a TURD?! REJECT them both, or the people who WILL suffer are your children, and all their children as well.

    Look, I am a coward, and a whimp. I don’t think I’ll actually every do anything, like those people have. But are they ALL wrong? I do not think so. Justice is very basic thing: even dogs understand it.

  12. cb

    Sorry, did not make the last point:

    Breaking free of the strictures of false ‘goodness’, CAN be ecstatic. While I (really, really) despise hippies, they are not wrong about everything: Christianity, AS PRACTICED, is indeed worthy of hatred, worthy to be despised. To deny the very existence of REAL justice, in the name of the golden rule, or maturity, or debate, or compromise, or some other non-applicable BS, is an affront to sanity, and casting it aside FEELS GOOD.

    It takes an education to kill off what I guess could be called Natural Justice (which is, oddly enough, something you will only REALLY find in a population with a string Christian background.)
    Witness Europe, where the morons are blaming the corporations for their ills, while the truly guilty, the humanist-socialists, walk free.

    There are real consequences to the mindless acceptance of complete BS. It is one thing to nag on about ‘economic realities’, but the reality of injustice, and reaction(s) to it, is a much more powerful force. In the end, the whole world will burn: thank you socialism, thank you ‘science’: thank you Evolution – the foundation of the BS that is humanism.

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