THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 80
The crumbling certainties
We are witnessing the crumbling of the old certainties before our very eyes.
For some of us it is painful to see it – even more painful to admit what is happening. In fact most of us turn away and try to carry on as usual. We don’t really want to know. We don’t want to look at this post-Christian post-Modernist society. We prefer to ascribe all sorts of reasons to the slide in society, and to hold to the values and ideas we were taught as youngsters, in the belief that they are eternal.
There has been a series recently on television entitles ‘Grumpy old men’ – in which middle-aged men complain about the direction in which society is going. To anyone over fifty it really does sometimes seem a crazy world. Just think of it for a moment.
The most awful crimes against people are done – for example, an aged pensioner is attacked and badly beaten for a ten pound note. When the law catches up with the culprit – if it ever does catch up with the culprit – and the case goes to Court, all the criminal gets is a miniscule sentence. Someone can even kill by dangerous driving – possibly under the influence of drink – and still he will be out of prison before too long and be able to carry on with his life. Where is the justice in that?
Or take the drug problem. An addict holds someone up for money in order to feed his habit, and the Court seems to take a lenient view because of their addiction. They are given a sentence that is wholly derisory by any of the old standards or by commonsense.
Then, on the other hand, someone protects themselves against an armed intruder and they get several years in prison for endangering life! How absurd! The standards seem to be all upside down.
Then take marriage. Nowadays very few seem to wait till marriage before they are at it sexually. They often – usually - live together in the same house or flat for years before they decide – if they ever do decide - to get married. What sort of standard of morality is that? The sexual mores have been turned upside down.
The old certainties that under girded all of life fifty years ago have gone. Blasted away in the last decades and now, it seems, gone forever.
Or take corporate dishonesty. It used to be said in the Square Mile that your word was your bond. Now you are lucky if employees have any loyalty at all! Standards have deteriorated and some employees seem to regard their bosses as a potential gravy train, ripe for suing.
Or take the Press. It appears that one of the most lucrative ways to millionaire yourself is to have an affair with some figure who features regularly in the Press, and then write a ‘ kiss and tell’ story for three quarters of a million! Where is the loyalty or decency there?
Or take television – the in thing at the moment is to make a programme about people confined in some situation which they cannot get out of, and to capitalize on their distress, anger, disagreements with others etc. The more anger and arguments the better and, if possible, mix some sex in as well!
Or take the Church! The story that grabbed the headlines just a short time ago was the way Catholic Priests had committed child abuse. The more it was highlighted, of course, the more people came forward with harrowing stories to queue up for a payoff from the Church. There is no doubt that a lot of abuse took place - but the reaction to the story in the Press was to amplify the problem.
Many people see the acceptability of gay people in public life as a slide downhill. They would hush it up and hide it away. Much better behind closed doors! Indeed, that would almost seem to have been the situation in the Church of England this past decade.
The crumbling certainties! The ‘old’ world of fifty years ago – itself the evolution from a Victorian society that survived for many decades – is rapidly draining away and disappearing for ever. Paternalism has just about disappeared - the new realities are here to stay.
But there are many millions of people who still cling to the old certainties. They regret the passing of the old and don’t welcome the new. In fact, they wonder how long the present situation is going to last before commonsense reasserts itself and society gets back to the good old ways. They are probably mostly in the older section of the population.
They want to get back to decent values again. They want to see a society that is not dominated by hedonism and sex, but rather recognizes that duty and responsibility are the cornerstone of sanity.
Are they right? Were the old values better? And if we decide that the old values were better, could our society ever get back to them?
Perhaps the best way of approaching this subject is to recognize that all societies change, evolve and move on. It is the nature of society to develop according to the ideas, concepts and values of its citizens. It has happened in all the societies of the past. There is a kind of inexorable onward movement (I avoid the word progress) – the society will develop along the lines on which it is formed to the inevitable conclusion of those values. And then new values will come in and a fresh society will emerge. Sometimes it takes just a couple or three generations, sometimes it takes hundreds of years.
If the change comes quickly there will be a real air of excitement in the society as new things, new approaches and new values are tried out. The older people will find this process – or rather the speed of change - comparatively difficult.
One might take any of a number of indicators to measure the changes that take place in a society. One indicator would be the attitude towards the family. Another would be the attitude to sex. A third might be the number of births. A fourth might be the attitude to work and play.
All such indicators show us when society is undergoing a profound change. It is not yet apparent in our society where the present changes are going to lead – but there is no doubt at all that the old values are being overtaken by new values and a radical new outlook on life by the modern generation.
At the same time the reverse is also happening! The young people – for example the young Christians – are very active and vocal and there seems to be a real movement by them towards a counter culture, one that preserves the old Christian values.
The Christian ‘celebrations’ – e.g. Spring Harvest and New Wine and suchlike - are all bursting at the seams with mainly young people who want to celebrate their faith together. There are also plenty of young people attending who are seekers. They have no certainties in their life (except death and taxes) and they are looking to see whether Christianity can provide what they are seeking.
And what exactly are they looking for? They might find it hard to put it into words but I think we may safely say that they are looking for a faith – for certainties. Not cast iron, scientifically provable certainties, but experience-certainties. They want to try Christianity out to see whether it works for them. Any period where there are widespread changes in a society also produces this desire in some of the populace for faith - for certainties.
Can Christianity provide such certainties? Are they verifiable in experience? Do they last or are they merely temporary?
Christianity offers two types of certainty. The first one is the certainty of an experience. It offers an experience with Jesus Christ. Everyone may have a different experience – after all we are all different. But the central experience is the same for all – a sense that one has met with God, face to face. The veil has been pulled aside and you have known, really known, in your heart, that Jesus is real and he is your friend, as well as Lord and Saviour.
The second certainty that Christianity provides is an objective base, which springs from a real person who walked and talked as a human being on this earth as one of us. Where is the evidence? It is in the bible. Although Christians have differing ideas about how to use the bible, they all agree that the New Testament is about a real person and lived and died and who was raised to life again.
In a way, the very topsy-turvey nature of society today is a help, because it points up the need for deeper values and principles to live by. If life were entirely peaceful, and if there were no challenges to the Christian faith, and if no one objected to the Christian witness, then we might all sit back and relax. Instead we are clearly coming into a period when Christians are going to be under attack and when their faith is going to be really tested and strained. The certainties that we have become accustomed to may seem to be crumbling – but the one sure certainty of the reality of Jesus Christ is always there for anyone who turns to him.