At the end of January was a conference, organised by Anglican Mainstream, called What can I possibly say? It had both a pastoral and theoretical focus. The pastoral focus was, in part, on helping people with SSA (Same Sex Attraction) “who accept the Bible’s prohibition of homosexual practice and yet are aware of homosexual tendencies or struggle with other sexual and relational issues” (to quote from True Freedom Trust, one of the charities represented).
Also pastorally there was an aim of helping people understand the dire emotional (as well as physical) consequences of the sexualised culture that is now eroding public life in the West. So one of the many seminars was led by Jenny Taylor, a writer on cultural and mission affairs, whose new book is entitled A Wild Constraint: The case for Chastity. This seminar related particularly to the damage done to women (not least young women) in the current sexual free for all.
The Christian convictions of the conference were well summed up in the conference brochure with a quote from C.S.Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. These are imaginative letters written by the Devil to a lesser devil. So in one letter the Devil writes:
“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense on the Enemy’s [i.e. God’s] ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is [God’s] invention, not ours. He made the pleasures. All our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures, which our Enemy has produced, at times or in ways or in degrees which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.”
Another quote came from J.D.Unwin, the social scientist and historian:
“In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist upon prenuptial and postnuptial continence.”
But how has the present ethical chaos come about? To open the discussion at a theoretical level on how our culture has silenced the church, I was asked to give a short analysis on ‘the lethal combination of an anti-Christian multiculturalism and secularisation’. What follows was my contribution.
“From the heyday of the “Enlightenment” in the 18th century until about 1960 an over confident rationalism influenced Christian Europe as it modernized itself through science and technology. From the 1960s, however, the Enlightenment beliefs that denied sin and affirmed human perfectibility (through evolution and education) have been in retreat giving rise to a post-modern and increasingly irrational world. It has been well said [see David Wells, Losing Our Virtue] that this has produced a distorting four-fold substitution in our culture.
First, there is a substitution of values for virtues, where values may be nothing more than personal preferences, while virtues have been seen as normative for all.
Secondly, there is a substitution of the self for human nature. The self is an identity unique to each individual, defined by choice and often claiming special rights. Human nature, however, has been seen as common to all and, being in the image of God, distinguishable from animals, inviolable, and the ground of all rights - but now no longer.
Thirdly, there is a substitution of personality for character. Personality is the creation of a post 60s, TV, image dominated and morally vacuous culture. It is a staging of ourselves for public view. Character, on the other hand, is what makes the practice of virtue habitual and even unconscious.
Fourthly, there is a substitution of shame for guilt. Shame is the embarrassment felt when seen as we are and for which the psychological remedy is shamelessness. Guilt by contrast is, as David Wells calls it, “the siren of our moral nature”. It relates to who we are and what we have done with God’s moral law.”
All this has been the background for, in turn, a four-fold denial of reality relating to secularization, multiculturalism, an anti-Christian culture and the lethal combination of those three. Let me explain.
First, the denial of reality and secularisation
August Comte, the father of sociology, saw a progression of three stages in history – from the theological to the metaphysical to the scientific. Accordingly until the 1970s secularization theory held that modernization led to the demise of religion.
Since the 1970s that is seen as false with the reality being that secularization is retreating world-wide except in Europe and also for a small band of intelligentsia that circles the world and has dominated modern media, education, therapeutic services and central government bureaucracies. So Peter Berger, a well-known former secularization theorist, now produces such books as The Desecularization of the World and (the very latest) Religious America, Secular Europe. The reality is the world is desecularizing - witness the revival of Islam and the so called, but real, ‘conflict of civilizations’.
Secondly, the denial of reality and multi-culturalism
The global intelligentsia seeks to handle the potential for cultural conflict by the privatization of religion and with a proposal for a syncretistic multiculturalism. The reality, however, is that a ‘naked public square’, where beliefs regarding ‘the good life’ are excluded, is impossible.
Some belief is required for competent administration and just legal arrangements. The creeping totalitarianism of current politics in the UK suggest that this belief is now ‘the good life’ as defined by the new secular religion of multiculturalism, which has its own saints and symbols and is intolerant of a religion like Christianity, which claims some beliefs true while others false, and some behaviours right while others wrong.
Also it not only prevents Christians publicly identifying sins; it now makes them complicit in them – witness the requirement for Christian registrars to register civil partnerships and the requirement for gay adoption from Christian adoption agencies.
Thirdly, the denial of reality and a progressively anti-Christian culture
Thomas Jefferson, a great liberal and a founder of the USA, once asked:
‘Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties were a gift of God?’
The reality is that liberal democracies can only flourish when under a Christian canopy. A nation needs the Fatherhood of God to secure the brotherhood of man. Liberal democracy requires a philosophy that sees three things: one, the importance of the state as a God given institution, exercising power but never enforcing beliefs; two, the importance of the individual as made in God’s image, so needing protection, but also fallen, so needing correction; and, three, mediating communities like churches and, vitally, heterosexual married families, which act as essential buffers between the totalitarian instincts of the state and the anarchic instincts of the individual. Christianity provides such a philosophy.
Fourthly, the denial of reality and the lethal combination of an anti-Christian multiculturalism and secularisation
Such a combination is lethal because, one, it fails to realize that because the modern world is desecularizing, social judgments must be made about the various religions in respect of truth, error and morality. But this it prohibits. It is lethal, two, because it fails to realize that marginalizing the Christian faith is destroying the canopy under which democratic liberalism is possible. Such liberalism is not weak but strong and expects open debate and disagreement. As John Locke, the God-father of democratic liberalism, said in 1668:
‘I would not have [it] understood as if I meant to condemn all charitable admonitions and affectionate endeavours to reduce men from errors, which are, indeed, the greatest duty of a Christian. Anyone may employ as many exhortations and arguments as he pleases towards the promoting of another man’s salvation. But all force and compulsion are to be forborne.’”