I love living in a liberal society I really do, but I'm becoming increasingly concerned about it as well.
By liberal I mean loose and tolerant. It's wonderful to live in a culture that has so few taboos and even the ones it does have are there to try and preserve the spirit of liberalism and acceptance. Wonderful, but also a bit unnerving especially since things move so fast nowadays.
Who knows what popular culture will be prizing and demonising in 50 years time.
It seems that even the most open-minded of people could well find themselves on the 'wrong side of history' if they refuse to keep pace with the flow of ideas and the shifting of values.
Four times. Four times this year I've heard in varying formats the idea that for some people paedophilia is a normal perversion, a birth defect like say diabetes (as one expert suggested in a recent documentary). The underlying point being made in each setting was that since this is a real struggle for some, the rest of us really ought to work harder to understand and empathises with them. Recent findings suggest that paedophilia is the result of a person's hardware and therefore not something that can be helped. I don't recall hearing this idea once in any year prior to this one and so each time it's stood out to me:
- Once in an article in the Telegraph reporting on a study done by Cambridge University.
- Once as a storyline in a recent BBC Drama
- Once in a documentary on Channel 4
- Once in police statement in a recent news article
Now to try and speculate where these recent discoveries and new found sympathy for paedophiles is heading would only sound like apocalyptic scaremongering, so I won't even try. Besides one would hope we can trust the pooled wisdom of society to keep our children safe. One would hope.
But it still concerns me, and not for the reasons some might think.
In the past few decades there has been a healthy amount of balance and correction brought to some of our extremes. Alienated minorities in society are being given a voice, being shown to be fully human and thus fully deserving of dignity and respect. All of these moves have been good things in my opinion and worthwhile and valuable redresses to our social consciences. Therefore it isn't the 'discoveries' that some of these studies into paedophilia have concluded that's the problem for me. Of course paedophiles are human beings and not monsters, of course they're sexually perverse and deserving of help and sympathy. That's not the problem.
What worries me is that more and more as a society we seem to be drawing our conclusions about what 'ought' to be done and how people 'ought' to be treated by looking at what 'is'. What I mean is because some people are... addicted to food, image obsessed, unable to settle down, free spirited etc. we really should allow them to just be like that, we ought to. We ought to provide NHS gastric bands for the gluttonous, cosmetic surgery for the... or be more tolerant and approving of the unfaithful or work-shy. We ought to because that's what life is.
Those are oughts being dictated by an is, and it's worrying because it's no way to make policies or change laws or play with our social conscience. Yes people have been treated badly, ostracised, alienated and abused because of their difference but no that doesn't mean we should swing the other way either.
A friend of mine who's an expert in philosophy points out that the whole 'is-ought' thing is a logical fallacy (an error in our reasoning). It's clear that when our 'is' determines our 'oughts' we can end up in a lot of hot water. It's a case of the tail wagging the proverbial dog.
Now, going further (and again avoiding scaremongering) why this concerns me is because as a society we appear to have lost a clear larger storyline into which we believe our lives all fit and find their meaning. We are adrift from meaning. Add to that an observation that we have become less and less community or society minded and you see why I might be a littler worried. More and more what motivates us is, Me and My comfort. We are being encouraged to embrace our individualism and selfish ambition, encouraged to search for Self-actualisation and Self-fulfilment. Personal happiness is now allowed to lead and motivate us. So we find ourselves not caring what a new piece of legislation may do as long as I can still get the pay rise I deserve for the hard work I've put in at my job. Or we care less and less how the passing of a new law might change things for my kids as long as I can still go on holiday next year with my friends, as long as I can upgrade my standard of living or maintain it.
When I say that we've lost our bigger storyline for living that's perhaps not entirely true. It is instead that we've traded a common, all-in-this-together for the common good, or for God's glory or for human development narrative for a narrow me and mine storyline. We've always had this built into our hardwire it's just that now we've been given permission to promote it and not be so coy about the whole thing. We've been given permission to do so by what our wider culture celebrates. We've been given permission to dream of being famous rather than virtuous or successful rather than helpful. Our attention is allowed to shift from a wide-angled image of history to a narrow and individual one.
So... Britain wants out of Europe, Scotland out of Britain and Cornwall out of England. Independence is prized over Togetherness and My short term happiness over Our long term aim.
That's why for all its beauty and generosity, liberal life gives me cause for concern. If our mantra is 'anything goes' then it can be assumed that in time anything will. We're less concerned with how something might affect us just as long as it doesn't unsettle me.
(now I appreciate that all this reflects a very cynical view of human nature, but I speak my own experience of my own personal selfishness. I may, of course, be wrong to project that onto everyone else but something tells me that I'm not too far off...)
As 2014 draws to a close I'm going to make it my aim to seek my meaning and purpose for living in the larger storyline of what God has created me and called me to do and be:
I am a husband, a father, a son, brother and friend. I am a member of God's family the church, a pastor in it and a part of God's great storyline of redeeming and restoring planet earth, something that occurs when we prize his Son above Our/My ambition.
I have been called to die to myself daily to serve and honour my wife with my life and to bring the power and activity of God to bear on the stuff of my life. And this calling is something I am unable to do on my own...