If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey his father and mother ... all the men of the town shall stone him to death.
These days, even the strictest fundamentalist doesn’t advocate stoning to death for disobedient sons. And yet if we do not believe in the entire New Testament morality, what do we believe in?
In our society there is a ferment of soul-searching about moral issues. Most of the important religions are deeply split over such questions as the treatment of homosexuals, abortion rights and capital punishment. Religious fundamentalists claim the answer is to be found in a never-changing moral code revealed by God, one that has come down from antiquity. Is there a neverchanging morality? In the past, the Christian Church has felt obliged to torture and burn alive heretics and witches. The Christian ethic has changed—drastically. And no other religion can claim a never-changing moral code.
If there isn’t an eternal morality, we need guidance in framing a morality appropriate to our present-day society. Such a guide is available. Over 30 years ago, John Robinson, Church of England Bishop of Woolwich, wrote a book, Honest to God, in which he suggested a rational basis for judgments about moral issues. Robinson denied that Christianity imposes a set of fixed, legalistic, obligatory rules for deciding what is moral and what is not, in any specific situation. Instead, he proposed that any decision must be determined by the specifics
of the situation, guided only by the basic ethic laid down by Jesus Christ—that all that counts is love of our fellow humans.
People who ask what is wrong with their behaviour are not satisfied with being told simply that the Bible lays down Godinspired rules as to what is right or wrong. Instead, Robinson proposed that every situation should be judged according to which decision will best promote happiness. Applied to the divorce issue, a decision—divorce or not?—should be based not on any inflexible rule but on what is fairest for those concerned.
We may look at history and see how morality changes with the times. In Old Testament days, infant mortality was so high that the survival of the tribe was in doubt. The tribal elders felt obliged to condemn unproductive ways like homosexuality. But it was not enough to tell the people to procreate for the sake of the tribe. So homosexuality was declared a sin, punishable by hellfire. Today, with zero population growth the ideal, it is no coincidence that homosexuals are emerging from the closet.
Robinson’s approach suggests a procedure for framing a moral code for Canada in the 21st century. I propose a commission composed of representatives of the major religions, including humanists. It would discuss moral issues and propose an appropriate code of ethics. The sessions should be completely open so that all Canadians might be guided by observing the issues being aired.
Any code issuing from the commission would not be binding on us all. Rather it would be a guide for the perplexed.
The Road Ahead invites readers to advance specific solutions to Canada's political, social and economic problems. Unpublished submissions may run condensed as regular letters or appear on an electronic bulletin board.
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