Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Independent England: The Moral Baseline

Our Christian Heritage.

England is a nation whose heritage and culture is indelibly linked to Christianity. We may not be a nation of Christians any more (although 70% of people claimed to be in the last census), but we are still a Christian country. Moreover, we are a nation with a heritage rooted in a distinctly different - and peculiarly English - form of Christianity, Anglicanism.

The Moral Baseline

What do I mean by a moral baseline? It is the point at which an individual draws the distinction - for themselves and others - between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. It is linked to, but not the same as legality. Some things may be legally acceptable, but morally unacceptable. or vice versa.

It is my belief that there needs to be - for the successful existence of society - an agreed and shared moral baseline which is considered the minimum standard of behaviour and acceptable standards for everyone. Having a shared baseline helps people to impose self-restraint and self-control on their actions and behaviour. This, in turn, promotes self-reliance and independence.
Without a shared baseline, there is nothing to stop you adjusting your baseline downwards as you go along other than legality. One of the primary drivers for self-restraint is gone.

Self Restraint

Let me try and explain. If you have a system - as we do now - where everyone has a different moral baseline then everyone is free to determine what is acceptable behaviour within the bounds of the law. A lot of people draw that line at the distinction of "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else, it's OK" which sounds reasonable at first. However, that distinction makes that person the moral arbiter - the judge and jury - of what is acceptable; as long as they think it's OK, it's OK - even if others disagree.

So what if you shout, swear and urinate in the street? It's not hurting anyone is it? Well, no - it's not necessarily hurting anyone physically, but most people will consider your behaviour unacceptable. That lack of restraint - and consideration for others - results in a downward pressure on your personal moral baseline. Before long, it's not just "so what if I shout and swear", but "so what if I use drugs and pornography?" This leads to the situation where you get the "if it's OK for him, why not me?" argument and this in turn leads to others abandoning self-restraint resulting in a collective collapse of the moral baseline.

Furthermore, it gives them the right to indignation should anyone disagree with their behaviour. It's one of the paradoxes of morality that those who have let their moral baseline fall furthest are usually the ones who protest must vocally. Just think of all those politicians (no names here) who have indulged in some sort of sordid affair and then expressed moral indignation that their privacy has been invaded.

The Arts and Self Censorship

Believe it or not, I am something of a libertarian. I would prefer a world without censorship imposed by authorities and governments. Censorship would not be necessary if everyone had the same moral baseline. We would all know and agree what is and is not unacceptable. Unfortunately, since the collapse of the moral baseline in the sixties, it has become more and more necessary for governments to impose censorship - because more and more people seek to "challenge" what is acceptable. When Stanley Kubrick made "A Clockwork Orange" in 1970 he soon realised that it was a mistake. It was Kubrick's decision to withdraw the movie as he believed it was morally unacceptable. This is the kind of self censorship that I refer to.

Nowadays, the film looks quite tame compared to many. This is because, since 1970, much more graphic depictions of immoral acts have been portrayed in the cinema by other directors who lacked Kubricks's self restraint and self-censorship. This lack of self censorship - especially in the visual arts - has resulted in a spiralling collapse in moral standards in all the arts which has resulted in more and more efforts to "push the boundaries". Now, swearing is prevalent on TV even before the watershed in programmes which would, once, have been aimed at families while books specifically aimed at children are full of sex and violence under the pretence of being "reality based".

The point I am trying to make here is that the collapse of the shared moral baseline is most apparent in the arts through their lack of self-restraint and self-censorship. Instead, they actively compete to push moral standards ever lower - something which would have been unacceptable to the vast majority of artists not that long ago. What is worse, is that they claim they do this out of a sense of duty to the arts. The fact that appealing to the lowest common denominator makes money is not considered the reason, although I suspect it is.

The Role of Religion

I believe that the moral baseline for England should be based, now and for always, on Christian - particularly Anglican - morality. This is not to say that I believe the nation should not be secular and that there must be a relationship between state and church. I do not advocate that. I believe there should be a relationship between nation (as opposed to state) and church, though, but that is something that should be voluntary, not forced.

The Church of England

You will have guessed by now that I favour a return to a national moral baseline rooted in Anglicanism. However, for that to happen will require the Church Of England to redefine it's moral compass and starting being unequivocal on issues of morality. It can no longer afford to be inoffensive in it's quest to be all things to all people. It has to start making a stand on issues of morality and drawing lines in the sand.

The Role Of Secularism

Secularists have argued that this moral baseline does not need to be a Christian baseline. Of course, they are right to a degree as many nations succeed in applying a common moral baseline without any historic links to Christianity - but all nations have a moral baseline rooted in one religion or another. The stronger that baseline the more cohesive the society.

To try and construct a moral baseline for England from scratch is impossible without relating to Christianity. Whether you like it or not, "Thou shalt not kill" is Christian principle and an agreed moral code even for secularists. More to the point, why bother constructing something new when you have something already in place which is appropriate, substantial and which most people know and agree with? Even if you do not believe in Christianity, it is hard to argue against the principles of it - particularly the idea that you should treat people as you would wish to be treated yourself. This comes down to the simple idea of - and sorry for trampling on Tony Blair's toes here - respect.


What is respect? In this context, respect means having consideration for others. Once again, we have a mechanism already in place in this nation for engendering respect - and, again, it is one that has been largely abandoned. That system is the etiquette of good manners and politeness. Something which the British were once famed for, but which seems to have disappeared over the years. I believe that the moral baseline goes hand in hand with good manners and politeness - in other words, you can not have one without the other.


So, I would like to see an Independent England restore it's moral baseline to those based on Anglicanism. Respect for the beliefs and traditions of Christianity will go a long way to bringing us back to acceptable levels of behaviour for all regardless of their faith or lack of it. With Christian principles we have an accepted moral standard which everyone broadly understands and recognises. It must not, under any circumstances, be forced or imposed by legislation. It has to be voluntary. Those who have the influence - our leaders, educators and the media - do have the responsibility to set an example. It is not enough to say "what I do in my private life is my own affair". It isn't. They have, for the most part, chosen to put themselves in a position where they will be judged by others for what they do in private as much as they say in public and they have a responsibility to maintain the standards in their private behaviour. We can all do our part, though, by simply being polite and well mannered. Say please and thank you. Let other drivers out at junctions. Offer assistance to the mother struggling at the supermarket with a trolley full of stuff and two young kids tugging at her sleeves.

You'll be amazed how good it makes you feel!

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