by Giles Fraser
Friday, 31
July 2020

WATCH: The Christian case against ‘morality’

by Giles Fraser

In August it will be Happy Birthday to BBC Radio 4’s The Moral Maze, thirty years young. Some people love it, some shout at the radio. But, because it is often pretty combative stuff, usually people have a view about it. The idea is to stress test certain moral formulations about topical issues with robust debate. And panellists, past and present, have not been shy in expressing themselves. Michael Gove, Claire Fox, Michael Mansfield, Melanie Phillips, Andrew Doyle — most of us could start a fight in an empty room.

The way the programme is structured encourages the panellists to adopt sharply contrasting positions. That makes for livelier debate. But I often find myself ambivalent about many of the topics we discuss — and not because I do not know what I think, or that I am in two minds about it. No, I have come to realise that it is often because I have some basic issues with the very structure of what we call morality. And I suspect my ambivalence has something to do with the surprising ambivalence that Christianity — especially in its more Protestant formulations — has about morality.

Earlier in the year, I gave a lecture for the Sheffield University Prokhorov Centre that tried to press this question a little further. And it has just been uploaded onto YouTube.


Listening back to myself it stuck me that I have always been fascinated by the case against morality: From Augustine’s argument with Pelagius to Nietzsche’s accusation that morality is a form of sublimated anger (the subject of my PhD), to the sorts of things that I have been writing recently about Cancel Culture in this publication — like this, for instance:

The new, highly secular ‘cancel culture’ represents an extreme form of righteousness that has all the moral power of a certain kind of protestant Christianity, but none of the basic scaffolding of redemption on which such Christianity is built. And morality without forgiveness or redemption is a frightening, persecutory business.
- Giles Fraser, How cancel culture makes liars of us all

It has taken me a while to work out the things that really bother me in life. And I think I am only just beginning to get it. I am bothered by the very institution of morality itself.

Join the discussion

  • October 2, 2020
    This interview may interest: A.D.: Is there a difference between the West and the Greek Orthodox tradition on the problem of the fall, on the problem of evil? N.L.: Augustine, to fight the Pelagians, who gave a scandalous freedom to man - saying that man can do just about whatever he wants and he... Read more

  • August 5, 2020
    Thanks Nick. I wasn't advocating reading an entire book. Like you, I think I have a "feel" for what harm is although I know that many attempting to do good actually end up harming in the long term. Many of those harms keep coming to light decades later. In such instances some thinking outside the... Read more

  • August 5, 2020
    Too much punishment and vengeance for my taste: this is all about terrifying the poor kids into abject conformity, isn't it? Read more

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