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Right and Wrong by David Holloway
A number of young people today are incapable of calling anything evil. I read last month of a university teacher, a woman, talking to students about a village where a horrific ritual involving human sacrifice had taken place. She was shocked, however, at their reaction. She found, it was said, that "she was teaching a room full of moral relativists who thought that the ritual might be all right 'if it's a part of a person's culture ... and if it has worked for them'. No one in the whole group of twenty ostensibly intelligent individuals would go out on a limb and take a stand against human sacrifice." But this moral relativism is now in the church. An Episcopalian clergyman had supported the recent consecration, as a bishop in America, of Gene Robinson - a man who has left his wife and daughters to live with his homosexual lover. When the clergyman was asked how he could go along with such behaviour, he apparently said that the movement of the spirit in the community takes precedence over scriptural revelation.
Moral relativism is also in the highest reaches of politics. At a conference last year the UN General Secretary, Kofi Annan, was reported as saying: "Unquestionably, very evil things happen in the world ... [But] if we are intent on naming evil, then let us call it intolerance." That says it all. Of course, in civil society there are a range of things you have to tolerate. But evil is not to be one of them.
Morality and Islam
With regard to sexual morality even the Roman writer Cicero, writing before Christ, seems not to have relativized such behaviour: "nature and reason command that nothing uncomely, nothing effeminate [homosexual immorality], nothing lascivious [heterosexual immorality] be done or thought." But today we live in disordered times. On the 26 July 2006 the BBC Newsnight programme had a discussion on George Michael who was caught "cruising" (trying to pick up a man for homosexual sex) on Hampstead Heath in London. So a discussion was staged. But it was not balanced between someone who thought homosexual sex was wrong, on the one hand, and a member of the gay community, on the other. No! It was just between Peter Tatchell, the gay activist, and another man who ran a gay web-site. The discussion presupposed the acceptability of homosexual sex. The point at issue was simply, to quote the BBC, "is casual sex a natural part of gay culture?" The prophet Isaiah wrote about such disorder when he said: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Is 5.20).
There needs to be change - certainly if we want to live with a level of security in the West. The BBC Panorama programme on the last Sunday of July, "Faith, Hate and Charity", made it clear that radical Muslims are wanting, and expecting, to take over the West. Undoubtedly in Britain these are a minority of Muslims. The majority are peace loving. But, according to a Populus poll, 13 per cent of Britain's 1.6 million Muslims (208,000) believe that the London Bombers of 7 July 2005 should be regarded as martyrs, with seven per cent (112,000) thinking that suicide attempts on British targets can be justified, while 2 per cent (32,000) would be proud if a family member joined Al Qaeda, with a further 16 per cent (256,000) being indifferent. That is a lot of Muslims. Nor is this fanaticism all due to poverty, as is too easily said. It is often because some are committed Muslims who are not economically alienated but morally alienated. Melanie Phillips writes of modern society "bombarding [young Muslim men] with drugs, alcohol, pornography and sexually available young women, and a governing class which constantly rubbishes Britain's bedrock values."
Such immorality leads to distorted perceptions of Christianity for many Muslims. Robby Butler tells of a Kuwaiti Muslim who was asked what he knew about Christians and Christianity. The man replied that a Christian is someone who promotes immorality, pornography and television programmes like Dallas or Sex in the City. Butler then comments, "for a Muslim to say that he has become a Christian is to communicate that he has launched into a secret life of immorality".
Clearly more needs to be done other than helping Muslims economically. There at least needs to be a recovery of intolerance - an intolerance of wickedness and evil, both in terms of Western sexual licence as well as of Muslim violence. Otherwise many young Muslims will continue to be seduced by Islamic radicals who want to wage a world-wide holy war against "western" societies they see as morally corrupt (as well as opposing Mohammed).
QCA and the Moral Law
It is in this context that at the end of July we learnt that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (the QCA) wants to relativize the National Curriculum in our schools. It appears that the QCA is wanting to change the aims of education in key stage 3 - (the first three years at secondary school, 11-14s). And in keeping with this general retreat from objective morality, the QCA no longer wants to help children in "distinguishing between right and wrong". It simply wants them to have "secure values and beliefs" which, of course, may be right or wrong.
The good news, however, was that The Times newspaper expressed outrage - something unusual for these days. Under the headline "Right and Wrong - to teach the distinction is right: to drop it is wrong", there was the following editorial on 31 July 2006:
"The proposal that schools should no longer be required to teach teenagers to understand the difference between 'right and wrong' is as astonishing as it is absurd ... Rarely have officials drawn up proposals so inept, so out of step with current thinking and so likely to stir up public anger ... If there is to be any coherent framework in which young people develop as future citizens, that means abandoning the cultural and moral relativism that has reigned so long in the educational establishment and insisting on a more straightforward teaching of what is right and what is wrong, what is acceptable and what is not."
There was further good news on the first day of August, when Sir Mark Potter, the President of the Family Division of the High Court, refused to legalize in Britain the Canadian "wedding" of two lesbians. In doing so he reinforced the traditional view of marriage. He spoke of "marriage as an age-old institution, valued and valuable, respectable and respected, as a means not only of encouraging monogamy but also the procreation of children and their development and nurture in a family unit, in which both maternal and paternal influences are available ... This form of relationship [marriage] is the one which best encourages stability in a well-regulated society".
But can we be so sure that there is such a thing as "right and wrong"? The answer is, Yes! All civilizations that survive have some idea of right and wrong or a moral law. Paul wrote to the Romans about the Gentiles "who do not have the law [written]", but he said that when they...
" ... do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them" (Rom 2.14-15).
For the Christian believer that moral law is found throughout the Bible but summarized in the Ten Commandments and importantly expounded in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Where the interpretation is unclear, the (16th century) Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England are still helpful. Article XX says the Church may not "so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another." On the interpretation of the law in particular Article VII is helpful:
"The Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral."
The threefold division into ceremonial, civil and moral laws is reasonable. Christ has clearly fulfilled the ceremonial laws through his sacrifice for us on the Cross; a number of local laws or "civil precepts" were obviously for the political system of the time - although the principles behind individual laws can still be relevant; and the moral law is sufficiently self-evident. As the Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen says: "the bible does not always distinguish these usages for us. [But] the differences in the law should be obvious to anybody who has sight. They are evident by their very content to anybody who wishes to be obedient to God." There is right and there is wrong.