It is an age of moral delinquency. We stand on a abyss, into which our world will fall.
Such statements are more than simply wrong. They play on the conservative and fearful instincts of the human condition. Spoken from a place of historical ignorance such claims usually hark back to the ‘golden age’ of our parents or grandparents. But there never was a ‘golden age.’ There may have been periods of relative quiet but these have been achieved through the subjugation of free thought: if not through dictatorship, then through tyrannical tools such as religion. But if they achieved peace then aren’t these times to be extolled? The answer to that is a definitive ‘no’ because they achieved only the impression of peace, in all actuality leading to explosions of thought and feeling, as witnessed in the countless revolutions of modern history. And hand in hand with the subjugation of free thought comes the subjugation of the other things which make us human, both the creative and intellectual impulses.
One of great ironies of religion in the Western world is that the virtues and values it extols are at odds with the society we live in. Economic individualism stresses the virtues of winning and of competition. Our heroes are based on coveting what it is they have. We place very little value on original thinking, if any at all. We choose to misinterpret the past. We are told we should re-claim ‘victorian values’, conveniently ignoring the disparity between rich and poor, the existence of child labour, the acceptance of high crime and the environmental ignorance that such values incorporate. A return to ‘Victorian values’ would be a hugely backward step.
At the same time our media is prolific at producing vast quantities of panic. The increased availability of information about what happens in our society is not matched by a public capacity to reflect upon and make sense of it. How, some will ask, can one make sense of such things as the murder of school children or the apocalypse of war?
That is the greatest challenge we face and so far we have failed miserably in our attempts. Until recently religion was used to quiet our society and excuse diabolical acts as the work of omnipotent evil. Staggeringly many folk still believe in the absolutes of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ ,not in secular terms but as external realities which make a mockery of man’s attempts to live a good life. By accommodating this kind of thinking in our culture we deny personal responsibility and the capacity of each of us to think for ourselves. There are indications of a universal morality. Human beings, all over the globe, recognise the depravity of murder and rape, yet many externalise our responsibilities for these acts through faith in absolutes and certainties. Nietzsche recognised the frailty of such categories in his work ‘Beyond Good and Evil’ but failed to replace religious, and some philosophical, explanations, with anything but thoughtless nihilism. In the absence of religion in the contemporary west relativism, or lazy thinking, has come to the fore. So far our reaction has been either the moral preaching of a return to false golden ages, predictions about mythical apocalyptic futures, or the abandonment of free thinking to the ravages of relativism.