Providing moral perspective

A letter I’ve just sent.

I picked up a copy of The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Speeches and came across the Wheeling WV speech by Joe McCarthy which seemed so up to the minute that I immediately wrote this post: Where’s Joe McCarthy when you need him?

I have in the last couple of weeks or so read three things that have really brought our current moral predicaments further into the light for me. The first one was a 1913 biography written by John Jay Chapman, someone I had never heard of until about a month ago, writing on William Lloyd Garrison, who derived his entire will to overcome slavery through his Christian faith. And then I came across a book published in 1944 titled The Ten Commandments which were ten short novels in which ten famous authors of the time each wrote a story on one of the commandments. Clear in every page how important Christian thought was in providing the moral perspective in the fight against the Nazis. And then there was McCarthy himself who based what he did and said on the perspective provided for him in Christian thought.

But in discussing all this with others, a few things came to light to make me see how much has changed that make what McCarthy said as recently as the 1950s almost a dead letter today. First, everyone I know is an atheist. That I think of the world as we know it as designed but without any real notion of who the designer was or for what purpose, but almost with certainty not the random outcome of molecular collision, makes me well outside the norms of our modern mis-educated elites, but still not a Christian in any traditional sense. Therefore, the distinction between Christianity and “atheistic” communism is something almost no one I would discuss these things with would understand. I think the absence of Christian morality makes someone in today’s world a leaf in the wind but so what? They don’t think they are and who is anyone else to say they are? Then, as Garrison emphasised himself, slave owners were Christian and used the Bible as the basis to justify what they did. Beyond that, with Islam on the other side of the ledger, however else we might describe them, they are not “atheists” in any sense of the word. They are at war with the Christian world, but which aspect of the Christian world unifies us on our side? And then where is the word that can replace communism? The Soviets completely discredited “communism” but have hardly lain a finger on “socialism”, even though the second “S” in USSR was “Socialist”. It is clear that the anti-Christian left are now teaming up with Islam in one final onslaught against what remains of Christian morality, but few among our elites will defend what passes for morality today as “Christian”, even though that is what it is even if they don’t know or understand it. As I am told, you don’t have to believe in God to be a good person – just look at me, they say, and of course they are right. But then I look at others, and am not as sure as I was.

Meanwhile, the editor of the 20th Century Speeches volume summary begins, “The smear tactics of McCarthy and his philistine contempt for intellectuals …”, and on my blog, even though I don’t publish comments I do get them, and the first one was, “even a stopped watch is right twice a day”. The real difficulty is to know where and how to get a secure footing today in dealing with moral questions. I put this post up a week ago about looking for a book of Bible stories for my granddaughter, but while the Bible as literature is important, the Bible as morality is more important. And now it may all soon be gone.

And then there’s this – “9 charts that prove there’s never been a better time to be alive”

The charts demonstrate that the creativity of our Western civilisation is bringing a new prosperity to the entire planet, but whether it is bringing contentment is a different story altogether. And then, by coincidence, I came across this just today, in Paul Johnson’s Intellectuals, p66:

What Gladstone said, commenting on the increase in national wealth, was: ‘I should look almost with apprehension and with pain upon this intoxicating augmentation of wealth and power if it were my belief that it was confined to the class who are in easy circumstances…. The average condition of the British labourer, we have the happiness to know, has improved during the last twenty years in a degree which we know to be extraordinary, and which we may almost pronounce to be unexampled in in the history of any country and of any age.’

Whether this is the best time ever to have been alive, I do not know, but it is certainly our time. Hope you are making the best of it.

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