St Nicholas Plumstead
18th September 2011
‘Critical Judgement’ Part Two
A fortnight ago my homily was ‘Critical Judgement: Part One’. We thought about the popular practice of today’s teachers who replace the idea of ‘Virtues’ with that of ‘Values’, and then encourage their pupils to discover and creating their own ‘Values’. At the same time they let them ignore the whole subject of Virtues (or ‘Morality’). It’s so much easier for one thing to allow bored teenagers to create or imagine their own set of values rather than learn about Virtues. Virtues aren’t things that can be created. They already exist – and either you learn to accept (and ‘adopt’) them, or you don’t.
Then we saw how this policy, sooner or later, always leads individuals (or groups such as a gang) into doing whatever they ‘feel like doing, right now’, regardless of the consequences – unless ‘not hurting others’ should just happen to be the top ‘Value’ in their mind at that moment.
Thirdly we saw the critical need to clear away some of the rubbish which well-meaning teachers and sociologists have heaped upon the word ‘Judgement’, and substitute some good, old-fashioned, simple, Christian thought in its place. ‘Having a right judgement in all things’ is a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Now, you may have wondered why there was so little reference to God in that homily. Well, that’s precisely what this morning’s homily will be aimed at doing.
‘Seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness before anything else’, Jesus told his hearers. Much of the problem facing us is due to the fact that, in the so-called ‘Secular Society’ you and I live in today, most people have simply stopped seeking either God’s Kingdom or His Righteousness. And that means that Teachers, Parents, Priests, Politicians, Economists and most of the academic world, are failing to ‘practise what they preach’. For practical purposes they’ve stopped believing in God except as an idea which other people may find ‘helpful’, regardless of whether it happens to be true or not. Without actually denying His existence they have created a god-less or un-godly nation in which we are the Foreigners!
Well, as we saw in Part One, if pupils – children, adolescents or adults – hear their teachers urging them to have particular ‘values’, but are themselves conspicuously failing to act upon such values in their everyday lives, then those children quickly realise that their teachers don’t really believe what they are saying. Children develop a ‘nose’ for pretence and insincerity. Ask your own children if you’re not sure!
‘But why’, you may be asking, ‘does being a god-less or un-godly nation make any difference to the way people live their lives? Surely people can live good, neighbourly, considerate, and caring lives regardless of whether they believe in God or not?’
Of course they can, and in fact some of them live even better lives than those who believe and practise their belief in God. But the problem is that there is no earthly reason why they should live such lives other than the fact that it may be in their own interest to do so. Many people, for example, recognize that they would prefer to live in a peaceful, caring, law-abiding neighbourhood than living in a noisy, litter-strewn, dangerous one. So they are careful and considerate, whether they fear God or not – because the fear of falling out with their neighbours is all the time uppermost in their minds.
But this value-driven motivation has one deep and potentially fatal flaw. For, when such people are tempted to act according to their own interests and wishes, rather than take into account their neighbours’ well-being, only one question stands in the way of doing so. That question is ‘can I get away with it?’
And there lies the great unbridgeable divide between those who ‘live by their faith’, be it Christian, Muslim or Jewish and those who have no such faith. All three religions teach about a God who is both just and all-seeing, and therefore the chances of ever ‘getting away with anything’ in the long run are nil. Christians, Muslims and Jews believe that, whether in this world or the next, we shall all be held to account for what we have done or failed to do. That is why God’s commandments are phrased in the form ‘Do this’, ‘Don’t do that’, ‘Thou shalt’, and ‘Thou shalt not’ – and not ‘do whatever you feel like’.
So it’s critical for us to use our judgement whenever it becomes our duty to do so. ‘Judging’, so far from being a wrong thing to do is often what we ought to be doing to the best of our ability. Just think how many tragedies and accidents and disasters come about precisely as the result of people’s mis-judgement,!
Let’s look at two cases when secular-minded people who look to their Values for guidance will make a different moral choice from those God-fearing people who are guided by Virtue. The two examples are (1) taking part in Rioting and Looting; and (2) choosing to have an Abortion.
Rioting and Looting
All of us have been disturbed by the recent riots and the spate of arson and looting which went with them. One hears some people ask plaintively ‘Why did this happen?’ and various answers have been produced which vary according to the mindset of the person making them.
To me, they came as no surprise. We have educated a generation into believing that their Values are what matters most. Very well, then. Just suppose someone’s top value consists in ‘getting away with things’ or ‘not getting caught doing them’. Doesn’t it follow that such people, faced with the choice and the opportunity, will be guided, firstly by the risk of getting found out, and secondly by the consequences they will have to face if they are. If either, or both of these, look acceptable to them then there’s no earthly reason why they shouldn’t do what their feelings suggest – the more so if they see others doing it too and seemingly with impunity.
If we ignore the Unseen, but All-seeing God in Whom we believe; if the chances of an over-stretched police force make detection unlikely; and if, in the unlikely event of getting caught the punishment is one we are prepared to risk, then why not allow our Values to decide for us – or rather what we feel our values to be in the excitement of the moment. Start a fire, rob a shop, rape a woman. Do what you want!
Having an Abortion
The Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths all agree that ‘children and the fruit of the womb are an heritage and gift that comes from the Lord. Deliberately to kill a baby in the womb is the same thing as murdering it. ‘Thou shalt do no murder’, the Sixth Commandment, is one which Virtue informs us, must be obeyed. So when Mary became pregnant she, being virtuous, knew that it was God’s will that she should be in that condition, and that Virtue insisted that she should bring Him to birth, nurture Him both bodily and spiritually and rejoice in the words of the Magnificat at the privilege God had given to her.
But if Mary had this experience on earth today, she would have been trained to look at her condition in the light of her values. Her teachers and her fellow-teenagers would point out that she would be ruining her future career prospects, that all this stuff about being visited by an angel pointed to her needing a psychiatrist, that she was throwing away the chance of making a perfectly good marriage with a highly regarded local man (who, we know, was considering calling the whole thing off), and that becoming a single mother was likely to result in a seriously disturbed child who might well turn into a criminal. So why take the risk? Why not pop round to the local Wise Woman (of which there has always been one in every community) and get a quick fix? All those values which her teachers had spent so much time trying to instil in us can, with a little thought, suggest whatever course of action happens to suit us best.
From these two examples we can see why Value-led and Virtue-led judgements can lead people in opposite directions – to do evil or to do good respectively. When inspected closely, when people talk about their ‘Values’ it’s a high-falutin way of describing ‘whatever gives me most pleasure’; not ‘this is what I should be doing or not doing. That’s why there’s a critical need today to teach people how to make well-informed judgements.
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