Moral dilemmas in a liberal society

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

I recently read an article by Alex Kane, a political commentator for whom I have some respect. The point he was making was that when he began writing some 35 years ago, he saw many of society’s problems as black-and-white issues.

As he has got older, and perhaps wiser, he witnessed former certainties weaken and his ‘here-I-stand-I-can-do-no-other’ positions crumble around him.

I admire him for the admission.

Die-hards, on the other hand, tend to take their fixed positions to the grave.

My mind turns to a quotation by Muhammad Ali: ‘Show me a man of 50 who believes what he believed when he was 30, and I’ll show you a man who has wasted 20 years of his life.’

Society has changed. Fifty years ago, the average age of a man when first married was 23; today, according to the Office of National Statistics, it is 36 years. So, if we are talking about the vexed subject of sex before marriage, can we really expect a red-blooded male to keep his trousers on until he is nearly 40?

And what of same-sex marriage? Who would have believed that in Ireland a referendum produced the startling results it did in May of this year? Almost two-thirds of the population voted in favour

As for old fashioned stick-in-the-mud me, do I surrender my long-held principles to the majority view? If my 18-year-old daughter arrives home and tells me that she’s pregnant and moving is with her partner; or if my 25-year-old son tells me he wants to marry his boyfriend, am I really expected to adjust my beliefs in accordance with the oft repeated mantra, ‘the times, they are a-changing’?

Must I come to terms with, or do I want to come to terms with our newly liberated society? Are there no moral absolutes, or is everything I once held dear up for grabs?

To be brutally honest, having brought up seven youngsters, I now understand how it is that the rate and extent of societal change can put acute strain on the most solid of families. Why? Because of the pressure to embrace today’s ‘spirit of whatever’.

The largest political party in Northern Ireland is seen as one that promotes fundamentalist religious views. We’ve seen that in the debates on blood from gay men being refused for much needed transfusions, in the abortion debate, and the Asher’s cake debacle,

In a free society, we are entitled to our opinions, but do those of us who cherish what we see as timeless Christian values have the right to impose our views on an increasingly secular society? I don’t think so. Therefore the deeper question is: what is the Christian’s role in this changing world?

If we’re talking about upholding our values, perhaps we should take as our guide the words of the prophet Micah, who 2,700 years ago asked: ‘What does the Lord require of you?’ And the answer? It is not given to us to protest or counter-protest, or to marginalise or discriminate unfairly against those whose lifestyle we do not share. We are called to ‘act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God’.

I honestly believe that is God’s final word on the matter.