A couple of days ago I wrote about the idolisation of the will, and how we have allowed personal desire, or “choice”, with no reference to what is good and true, to be the lodestar of morality.
Lo and behold, here is someone who agrees with me. Peter Smith, who attended some of the debates at the Battle of Ideas at the Barbican back in October, has the following report from the front line:
John Haldane, a softly-spoken Scots academic from St Andrews … and fellow-traveler Catholic, put forward the proposition that the fundamental cultural debate is between one collection of ideas, called ‘the anti-realists’, and another, those of ‘the realists’, and that this cultural tension is manifest in political and social policy. Real ideas … contained at their core the notion that the universe is natural, objectively ‘out there’, knowable but distinct, and informing views on sexuality, sex, marriage, death, etc. Anti-realist ideas, by contrast, consider everything as human constructs, plastic and malleable, which can be bended and altered but which inherently are unknowable. Realism and anti-realism contain fundamentally different understandings about what is knowable and what is not, what can be change and what cannot, and mankind’s place in creation.
That strikes me as a fair summary of the underlying disagreements that surface in the comment section of virtually every internet posting today. It is, of course, a disagreement that goes all the way back to the ancient Greeks. Was there not a Sophist who claimed that “Man is the measure of all things”, implying that here was no objective pre-existing moral order? We really have not moved on much in the last few thousand years.
But does this matter? Indeed it does. Peter Oborne, ever the perceptive commentator, had this to say recently in the Daily Telegraph:
For almost all of the 20th century, Conservatives were guided by the essential Christian insight that their personal needs, ambitions and egos were the things which mattered least of all. Their lives only had meaning and purpose within the context of the great institutions of church and state. Today’s generation believes that its own feelings and instincts are all that matter. Louise Mensch, Nadine Dorries and the Commons Speaker John Bercow are the most extreme examples of this tendency, but in varying degrees of intensity it is to be found among a large number of MPs.
Mr Oborne is speaking of a particular group of people, but the phenomenon of solipsistic selfishness is widespread. It is not just to be found on the Tory backbenches. Because of this, the idea of sevice has been eroded, as has the idea of sacrifice, and the idea of dedication to an ideal.
Which brings me to Christmas, now fast approaching. When we look at Our Lord, dedicated to others from the moment of His birth, and throughout His earthly life; when we look at Our Lady, who lived for God and that Child; and when we look at St Joseph, who lived for God, Our Lady and that Child… well, perhaps you get my point. It’s not really about us. We are not the measure of all things. We need to escape from our tiny worlds, and discover the great world of dedication to others, to an ideal, and to God.