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Everything is permitted except morality

We live in a relentlessly secular society. In some ways I am glad that we do. I would far prefer to live in a secular society than a theocratic one. I don’t want laws to be governed by any religion. I don’t want a government to say to me that I can or I can’t do something because of religious rules.  I believe in freedom of conscience and the freedom to believe or not to believe. But I think this freedom should cut both ways. Religion should not attempt to impose its beliefs on society, but nor should society attempt to impose its beliefs on religion.

Is it possible for a politician in Britain to be a practicing Christian? Most certainly it is. Theresa May is a Christian. So are Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. There are many others. There are also politicians who follow other religions. This is generally unproblematic.  Why then has there recently been some controversy over the former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron who resigned because he thought it was impossible to be both a Christian and lead the Lib Dems?

It may have been because Mr Farron is a more high profile Christian than other politicians. Theresa May does not often talk about her faith, nor for that matter did Gordon Brown. It is for them something that is kept in the background. But Tony Blair did indeed do God. He talked about it quite a lot. What is the difference between Blair and Farron?

Tony Blair has been a practicing Roman Catholic officially or unofficially for many years. What would he have said if he had been interviewed about something controversial like abortion or homosexuality? Well Tony Blair thinks that the Pope is wrong about homosexuality and that the Catholic Church is wrong about abortion. As usual he finds a third way.

What about Mr Farron? I don’t know exactly what he believes, but I’m sure that whatever it is, he really believes it. Mr Farron believes in Christianity literally. For him the task is to follow the teachings of Christ. He adapts to Christianity rather than striving to make Christianity adapt to him. That is the difference. I don’t know the denomination that Mr Farron follows, but it would not be at all surprising if the version of Christianity he believes in has traditional teachings about abortion and homosexuality. For nearly two thousand years every version of Christianity had the same teaching about these issues. Most still do.

We have in Britain and the West in general gone through something of a revolution since the 1960s. In 1959 nearly all Christians and most of the population in general thought that marriage necessarily involved one man and one woman, that sex outside marriage was sinful, abortion and homosexuality wrong and that changing sex was impossible. There might have been a few people that disagreed, but they were uncommon. All of the churches taught more or less the same things about Christian morality although there were some disagreements. Christianity in 1959 was still a fixture in the life of our country. People generally conformed at least outwardly to Christian morality even if they didn’t themselves believe in Christianity.

In the past fifty years or so we have started a social revolution almost without precedent. Until the 1960s nearly everyone living in Britain would have believed more or less the same things about traditional Christian morality. We have now reached the stage where almost no-one still does.

What happened? The Christian rules that governed society were rather suddenly thrown off. The reason was that for the first time in history it was possible to have sex without having to worry about having children. This was the game breaker. Consensual sex between adults ceased to be a moral issue and became instead simply a matter of inclination and taste. Until the 1960s a woman who had sex outside marriage risked poverty and having to bring up a child without help. Consequently marriage remained what it had been for centuries. It regulated sex and determined sexual morality. But suddenly there was effective contraception and crucially a welfare state that would take over the role of the husband if there were any accidents and unforeseen consequences of following our inclinations. Love became free, but this really meant that sex became free. Everything was permitted because someone else would pay the bill.

This relation between men and women changed fundamentally. It wasn’t necessary anymore for a woman to marry before she had sex. The connection between sex and having children was broken. What had until recently followed as a matter of course now became a choice. Pregnancy could easily be avoided, but even if a woman did have a child without a father, it didn’t really matter. She would be looked after and the amount she received from the state rose with each child born outside marriage. Apart from rather briefly at the very beginning, men became superfluous. Children born outside marriage far from ruining a woman’s life might instead bring with them a flat, money and idleness. There was no more disapproval, because sex was no longer a matter of morality. Women threw off the constraints of human nature. They could follow their inclination and seek sex in a similar way to men. Not only were men superfluous, but women had achieved equality with them. Now they were superfluous to each other.

The sixties was a triumph of inclination. Whatever felt good ought not to be constrained by an outdated morality made obsolete by progress. The pill in this way made marriage archaic for it fundamentally changed what marriage was. Until then marriage had been a societal necessity and a duty upon those who entered into it. But when sex became a matter of preference it had no more to do with duty than the preference of brown bread over white. For this reason promises about matters that were no longer governed by morality ceased making sense? Tradition kept marriage going, but it no longer constrains how men and women behave. Divorce is easy and the husband and wife stay in marriage no longer than their inclination lasts. The “promise” that is made is part of a ritual, some quaint words from a world that no longer exists. Couples in effect promise to marry until they feel differently. In reality they don’t promise at all, for they don’t think that this promise needs to be kept. They feel no duty to do so. As the amount spent on wedding days increases it has become ever clearer that all those thousands of pounds are being spent on precisely nothing. A few words that no-one much listens too and a white dress that is worn just once. Next time will need a new white dress.

Marriage ceased to be a matter of duty, when it ceased to be a matter of necessity. It was this that opened the dam. If sex before marriage was no longer a sin and simply a matter of inclination, then so too sex after marriage was neither sanctioned by marriage nor made permissible by it. It wasn’t a matter of morality at all. From this it obviously followed that everything was permitted. A couple might stay together, but no morality constrained them to do so. If they felt the inclination to look elsewhere, no-one would say they ought not. But a promise that is unconstrained by morality isn’t anything at all. Least of all can it be described as a promise. Many couples might feel that they are promising for ever, but they are not, they are simply following their present inclination. What could make them keep their promise?  Who today stays in a marriage because of duty or because the church teaches that we must? Who thinks that divorce is morally wrong? Well when something is no longer morally wrong should we be surprised when there is more of it?

Marriage has become a sham. We think that we are following in a tradition. Some of us may even mouth the words of the prayer book. They are quite pretty words about sickness and health and until death do we part. But we are not at all doing what people used to do when they married, because they made promises that they thought they had to keep. We don’t. In no real sense then do we promise at all. A promise that survives only so long as inclination tells it to is like promising while crossing your fingers. If I promise only for so long as I feel like keeping the promise it is as if I get married in a play or a film. It is all pretence. I may repeat the same words as of old, but now they are only a ritual   that used to have meaning but no longer does.

Once one thing becomes permissible it becomes easier and easier to make something else. Soon enough everything is permissible. Man becomes the measure of all things. The Church must bend to the will of man and change to fit in with his inclination. In this way God becomes man not by coming down to earth, but rather by man breaking down the gates of heaven and installing himself on the throne there. No wonder everything is permitted, for it is man himself who decides what he will allow himself to do and he will allow whatever is his inclination.

All this follows from the triumph of inclination over morality. It is this above all else that changed after 1959. Whatever had been a sin up until this point could now be declared not to be a sin.  Inclination was now the only virtue and the sinners were simply those who denied that any particular inclination was virtuous. These would face the Grand Inquisitor known as Cathy Newman and eventually be forced to recant and then repent.

The reason for this is that homosexuality is also an inclination. Why should any morality condemn it? Likewise some men have the inclination to be women and vice versa. What right does morality have to stop them? What right does morality have to stop anything? Everything is permitted.

We have now arrived at a state which would have been unimaginable to someone in 1959. A woman can change into a man and “he” can then marry a man who has “become” a woman or indeed a woman who has become a man. At this point we are unconstrained. Even words mean what I want them to mean. We can marry more or less who we like. But no-one’s promise is to be kept for any longer than they please to keep it. So really the progress we have made in extending who may marry is quite illusory. For not only have we abolished God, we have also abolished marriage. We can’t very well extend it for there is nothing left to extend. The reason for this is because somewhere along the way we lost touch with human nature and the reason why we have marriage in the first place.

Sexual morality and the concept of marriage are not so much derived from Christianity as from human nature. They existed prior to Christianity because they are the building blocks of family life and society. We regulated these things up until 1960 because we had no choice but to do so. Widespread premarital sex prior to 1960 would have led to large numbers of children with no-one to look after them. Marriage has been the foundation of society well before Christianity, because there would have been no society at all without it. Women needed men to help them bring up children. They could not do so on their own. It was morality, whether Christian or not, that compelled men to stay and which regulated their inclination.

We have been meddling in matters that we don’t really understand, just as much as Mr Oppenheimer did. The consequences are with us already. The birth-rate has collapsed in Britain and the West in general. This is fundamentally because we were able to control fertility and make having children a matter of desire rather than a natural consequence of marriage.

The purpose of marriage from the dawn of history was to regulate the birth of children. But we in the past fifty or so years have decided that we know better than the whole of history. Marriage is no longer about children. We have decided that the foundation of human society is prejudice. But we forget that if there were no such thing as having children, if there were only sexual desire that could be fulfilled without consequence then marriage would never have developed in the first place. We have changed what is essential about marriage and relegated the birth of children to an optional extra. But when you change the essence of a thing, you no longer have the thing in itself, just as a candle that burns to its end ceases to be a candle, but becomes just a mess of wax.

Because we have been able to regulate fertility we have been able to pretend that men and women can do exactly the same things in life. They can, but the consequence of this equality is that women less and less can become mothers. Our population falls, but because we now depend on the welfare state to look after everyone no matter how they act so as to fulfil their inclination, we require an ever increasing flow of population to be imported from elsewhere. This either leads to depopulation of other European countries that have the same birth-rate problem as we do, or it leads to importing people from places with a high birth-rate. Gradually the people of Europe are in this way replaced by people from outside Europe. Meanwhile people in Britain complain both about immigration and about any attempts to constrain their inclinations. They appear unaware that the one is a necessary consequence of the other.

I do not wish to impose my morality on anyone else. I do not wish Christianity to force non-Christians to conform to Christianity. But the following must be recognised.

Tim Farron got into trouble because he thinks Christianity is true. What follows from believing something to be true?

If I think that the teaching of Christianity is true, then it is for me to conform to those teachings. If I don’t like something about what the Church teaches it is for me to change not the Church.

The mistake that the Christian churches in Britain and elsewhere have been making since 1959 is that they have adapted to the changes in society rather than the other way round. It is not for the Church to change, rather it is for society to change.

If the Church simply adapts to society what use is it? How then can the Church regulate anything or anyone?

For Tony Blair to say that the Pope is wrong and the Catholic Church mistaken is an act of rebellion against the Church. He is as it were going up to God and saying, sorry God you are wrong. I Tony Blair am right about this.

When Jesus met the woman who was about to be stoned for adultery he said “He who is without sin cast the first stone”. No-one did. He then said “I don’t condemn you either, go and sin no more.” He did not say your sin is in fact not a sin. If she had attempted to argue with him, if she had said, but Jesus I am not a sinner at all, he would have explained, you are mistaken, how can I forgive you, if you don’t acknowledge that you have done wrong?

We have got to the stage where to believe in the standard, traditional teachings of Christianity which almost everyone believed up until 1959 is to risk being called a bigot. Anyone who says that they think it is impossible for homosexuals to marry or for people genuinely to change sex is liable to be condemned.

Christianity is a matter of faith not knowledge. I may believe that I am in possession of the truth, but I cannot know it.  For this reason, I do not believe that it is correct for Christians to impose their views on anyone else. But I also do not believe that society should attempt to forbid views that are a matter of Christian tradition, conscience and faith.

Tim Farron held impeccably liberal views about everything. He did not wish to impose his Christian views on anyone else, but he wanted to be able to believe what he believed without constraint. It is this that is now problematic in modern Britain.

We have replaced morality with inclination in Britain and it has led to the infantilisation of our politics. Politicians can no longer reason with an electorate who are concerned only with finding new ways to fulfil their pleasures and their impulses. We have thrown out the foundation of our society (morality) and the only thing that keeps it intact (Christianity). We are left with law. But if I can break the law and get away with it what morality will tell me that I can’t? Where is the foundation of your morality, where is the bedrock if all is a matter of taste and inclination.

Now it is possible to doubt everything and everything is permissible so long as it fulfils an inclination. The bricks with which over the centuries we constructed our society are crumbling to dust. Meanwhile anyone who criticises this process is condemned, anyone who prefers a different model of society grounded in history, human nature and truth is shunned. This is usually called progress.

This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: http://effiedeans.blogspot.co.uk/2017/07/everything-is-permitted-except-morality.html

About Effie Deans

Profile photo of Effie Deans
Effie Deans is a pro UK blogger who works at the University of Aberdeen. She spent many years living in Russia and the Soviet Union, but came home to Scotland so as to enjoy living in a multi-party democracy! When not occupied with Scottish politics she writes fiction and thinks about theology, philosophy and Russian literature.

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