Friday 18 November 1994
St Stephen' Lewisham
... BUT DELIVER US FROM ... WHAT?
Does evil matter? A silly question? But wait a minute!
Whenever Christians start drifting away from their faith which has been
revealed, given by God, they fairly soon stop asking the question "Is it
true?" of any article of belief and ask instead such things as "Is it
relevant?"; "Is it helpful?"; "Can we expect Jones to
swallow that?"; "what will ordinary people think if we say we believe
that?; or simply "Does it feel right?".
The "creed" which emerges from this process proves, on closer inspection, to be an hotchpotch of the latest (and not-so-latest) popular nostrums of a small section of society who suppose themselves to be the moral guardians of the population as a whole. Whether the population as a whole accepts this view of the small section is open to doubt! Be that as it may, their Creed is not What God Has Revealed (through Scripture, through our Lord, through the Church and in various other ways) but "What all right-thinking men (and women, of course) KNOW to be the case" This is, of course, pure Gnosticism. One of its concomitants is always the effects that it has upon its adherents' moral attitudes.
"Effects" because it works in two opposite ways.
A minority discovers a whole lot of new commandments, and consequently things to disapprove of in others (is this healthy?; is this fattening?"; "is this politically correct?"; "will this make others feel disadvantaged?"; "Is it Green?"); Most of them, however, just cease to ask questions like as "Is this right or wrong and if so what should we do about it?" in favour of raising doubts as to whether it can be said to be right or wrong at all. Or if it is wrong then it's not necessarily so very wrong as people used to suppose. They therefore urge the Church "to RETHINK its attitude on the subject".
Of course once moral imperatives are equated with "What the Church Thinks" in any given generation then it's goodbye to any moral restraint whatever.
For in an age of Synodical Government it's easy enough to make out that the Church "thinks the same way as I do" - the "Church" for this purpose consisting (would you believe it?) of "those who believe what I believe". A two-thirds majority isn't hard to come by if the incentives are right.
From there it's only a stone's throw to having people behave much as their feelings suggest.
In the forefront of today's gnostics are two kinds of Relativist: There are those who seek to legislate everyone else into behaving in the way that accords with their own current set of morals.
More numerous are those who suggest that behaviour, hitherto universally condemned as immoral, is in fact entirely morally justifiable, necessary even, for at least some people. In other words, evil doesn't matter for the enlightened.
Whom they think they are fooling apart from themselves is difficult to tell. Certainly Joe Public has no time whatever for this codswallop. Ask anyone in the Local what they think of a recent senior ecclesiastical appointment and you'll get a plain answer.
It looks too as though Sam Public across the Pond has delivered a decisive thumbs-down to it as well in the recent Mid-Term Elections. For Clintonism is a prime example of morally muddled relativism.
The trouble is that moral muddle undermines the very basis of moral responsibility on which true humanity is founded. If people are held to be responsible for their actions, and if in the sight of God "no secrets are hidden" and if his Son will undoubtedly "come again in glory to judge the living and the dead" then they have an agenda to work to. They may even be led to discover what Jesus Christ had to say on the subject.
If on the other hand nobody is to be held responsible for his faults, then there seems very little point in bothering about faith or morals at all.
Of course some people get a personal satisfaction from moral improvement in the same way that others get a kick out of Keep Fit Classes. I don't happen to fit into either of these categories myself.
So why listen to the moral imperatives of the Chattering Classes? The answer is that I don't. But I do listen with some considerable interest and diligence to the One who has said Thou Shalt and Thou Shalt Not.
It seems to me that He is rather more worth listening to than they are.
Most of the time He will give a straight answer to the question Should I or Shouldn't I? It may not be the answer I'd like to hear, but at least it's an ANSWER.
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