Thank you for a fascinating and thought-provoking article on public morality.
I am a Christian Minister and, as such, there is much in your analysis I would certainly agree with – particularly that there is a void in public moral leadership waiting to be filled, and that the church, in its broadest sense, has failed to fill it.
In fact, you actually highlight the reason why – possibly inadvertently – when you write: “The law dealt with the issue of what was illegal, and the churches preached the manners and morals which guided everything underneath.” But this statement describes the fruit, but not the root of why public morality was held together for so long in the UK’s version of Christendom.
The root of public morality; the binding force which held British society together for so long was the power of the authority of the Bible. From the Reformation onwards, that “the Word of God” was available to be understood in the English language had a profound effect on these islands, across the British Empire and in the United States.
The Bible in English gave all people open access to the God to whom all, from prince to peasant, would one day have to give account. However, at the end of the 19th century the Bible’s authority was being challenged and gradually there was a shift – sometimes public, sometimes not – away from the Bible as being the authoritative Word of God. Once that was removed there was no root for the fruit of “manners and morals” and so they began to wither. It also meant that there was no basis for much of the church to speak from and so we witness the continually shifting sands of much of the church’s public pronouncements about public morals.
Our current society now follows the pattern of: “everybody did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). We have made ourselves into our own little gods so that we are always right and we are ready to judge others for the viewpoints they hold or the mistakes they make. We see this so often on Twitter, in political campaigning and in the illiberal attitudes towards freedom of speech.
As a church Minister, I passionately believe in the reality of redemption; that in Jesus Christ our sin can be forgiven. But redemption needs repentance – the idea that we give God the driving seat of our lives instead of running them for ourselves. Without the true repentance of not writing vile tweets or willingly smearing political opponents or despising those with whom we disagree there can be no real redemption.
I agree with your three concluding points, but as a Christian I would have to say that unless there is a standard for public morality that is higher than humanity, it is unlikely that these will be fulfilled.
If people are truly seeking a high standard of public morality, then they need to turn back to the Bible and the God of the Bible. But I also have to acknowledge that we do live in a post-Christendom age. Many people think they know what the Bible says without having ever really picked it up. The challenge to individuals in our society is for them to read it for themselves, and ask for help to understand its message. It speaks as well to 21st Century British society, just as well as it has spoken to any society throughout the ages.
We have tried to run the old sheriff out of town, but if we ask Him to return we will find He is as effective as He ever was.
From the late 1960s the New Left attacked middle class/bourgeois values. In the 1950s before the change in attitude, the CND marchers to Aldermaston were friendly, from the late 1960s, the anti- Vietnam demonstrations became violent. From the late 1960s, the Left have refused to condemn the political violence of Red Army Faction, The Red Brigade, Action Direct , etc, etc . H Marcuse – Repressive Tolerance.
The Left- Militant Tendency, SWP, etc, etc used violent and aggressive language and intimidation in meetings from the early 1970s. It is now Social Media that sends what is said in meetings 40 years ago around the World. When Miners had packs of fox hounds they were never attacked by the Hunt Sabs because they would have lost any confrontation.
As Arthur Bryant would have pointed out manners were enforced by gentlemen, hence the phrase “I will teach him some manners “. Nowadays, the vast majority of metropolitan white collar middle class men are so feeble, they are incapable of teaching anyone some manners. They even dare not risk asking a yob to take their feet of a seat in case they lose a fight, whereas in 18 th Centuries, a British /early 19 a gentleman was expected” To be able to clear a lane with his morleys(fists)”.
Isn’t it possible, Giles, that some mental illness is genetic? That we need the tablets AND to fix society so that it doesn’t disable us?
Speaking as someone with Bipolar disorder, inherited from her father, this sort of attitude is arrant nonsense. Maybe if society could cope better with my ‘quirks’ then I wouldn’t need so many drugs, but I would still need the drugs because without them I don’t function. I’ve tried, numerous times, to do without them. I have a strong community around me, both religious and secular, yet I am still rendered vulnerable by the actions and attitudes of others, and it isn’t helped by articles like this one.
Drugs have many different mechanisms, and to dismiss them all is to be neglectful and irresponsible in the extreme.
I understand what you are saying, Giles, but it’s really not so simple. In my own experience of mental health problems, the pills can get you to that point of functioning well enough to do ‘the sort of emotional hard work that might be required to fix your relationships or to mourn a loved one’, which you are unable to do when in emotional crisis. Pills alone are no cure, although in the case of ‘florid’ illnesses like bipolar or schizophrenia, they are absolutely essential. But pills combined with talk therapy and personal work are better than talk therapy alone, because they help you make the most of the talk therapy.
I have no qualifications in business or accounting or tax. But it seems increasingly clear that the tax structure and the principles on which it is based are now completely anachronistic. They were laid down in a completely different age, time when the nature of capitalism was quite different. I think that INCOME tax has had its day. The employed tax base is shrinking, I suppose because of the nature and dynamic of the working world has changed and anyway, I cant quite understand the justification for the taxing of an individual’s labour, sweat and toil. Surely, if capitalism is to survive (and in order to avoid a revolution during which they will lose all) capitalists should devise a new legitimacy in the ways that funds are extracted from the populus in order to meet obligations of government.
Surely it is in the interests of the very wealthy themselves- and their dynasties – that the economic structures that protect industry, finance, entrepreneurial enterprise, in fact, nothing less than the liberty of the individual. It is in their long term interests to embrace a modest but radical re- fashioning of tax structures. Yes, it will be modestly painful, but way better than the alternatives in which revolution will violently grab everything from them. And at least they will remain in their positions to influence of the terms of transition.
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