Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 15, 1999
Political correctness replaces moral correctness
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
In the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, eight-year old Calvin is stargazing one night with his best pal Hobbes.
"Do you believe that our destinies are determined by the stars?" Calvin asks Hobbes.
"Nah," Hobbes replies.
"Oh, I do," Calvin proclaims.
"Really? How come?"
"Because," Calving explains, "Life's a lot more fun when you're not responsible for your actions."
Calvin is beginning to realize each of us is free to choose. Our decisions are important because they shape our lives. Good choices take us in one direction, while bad choices can have devastating results.
When we make choices, we enter the world of morality. Some things cry out to be done, and often we know we can and should do them. But there are also things we know we should not do.
Furthermore, certain unchanging principles of right action are almost universally held. They form the bedrock of moral action; where people do not accept principles of this sort there is social anarchy. Like all principles they are for the most part very general statements.
For example: "Do good and avoid evil." Without such a basic understanding the moral life is impossible. "Do to others as you would have them do to you" - the so-called Golden Rule. "You may not do wrong in order to achieve something good" - the end does not justify the means.
Such principles do not depend solely on a particular religious belief, but arise also from a consideration of the conditions of human growth and fulfillment.
The reason why Calvin asserts that "Life's a lot more fun when you're not responsible for your actions" is because when we consider responsibility for our actions, we come face to face with boundaries or limitations. Sometimes these limitations are imposed from outside and sometimes they come from within.
Our conscience reminds us of the rightness and wrongness of some actions, especially when we freely and deliberately choose the wrong ones. This quiet voice grows out of our human nature, it is the capacity for judging right and wrong. It is the judgment that this, here and now, is what I ought to do. It is the primary means by which I grow to a greater responsibility for my actions. Obedience to my conscience is the ultimate test of my moral integrity.
The education of conscience is thus essential to growth to maturity and it is life-long. It takes place through the influence of, and personal reflection on, the whole of my experience. This includes upbringing, formal instruction, the influence of others, and the influence of society. Not all of these influences are necessarily good.
It usually includes an attentive and active listening to Church (fidelity), an awareness of and a listening to God (prayer), the experience of making decisions and personal growth of every sort.
Besides the limitations on human freedom imposed by our conscience, boundaries on behaviour are also enforced from without. In growing to maturity there is a gradual discovery of our inter-relationships with others and of our consequent obligations to them. In such growth we become increasingly aware of principles beyond political correctness and that the rights of the individual are constrained by belonging to society.
Because not everyone exercises freedom in a responsible way, we have laws, courts, police and jails. If an increasing number of individuals silence the personal constraint of conscience, society will have to rely on more jails, more police and more laws.
At issue today in so many legislative and moral debates is the question of responsible boundaries for human freedom. Setting those boundaries is never easy and sometimes serious mistakes are made. This is evident in the recent ruling by Justice Duncan Shaw in the British Columbia Lower Court case of Robin Sharp. Shaw ruled that the law against possessing child pornography violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As a recent WCR editorial pointed out, Shaw agreed that sexually explicit child pornography represents a danger to children because pedophiles use it in seducing children. He agreed that exposing children to such material can lead them to accept that the conduct depicted is normal or acceptable.
He agreed that children are abused in making such material and that the photographic record of this abuse constitutes continuing abuse. He agreed pedophiles themselves come to see child-adult sex as acceptable by exposure to such pornography.
Despite agreeing with all these points, he nevertheless ruled that a law against possessing child pornography represents an undue restriction on the individual's right to self-expression. He is clearly mistaken.
In our times a credo of political correctness threatens to replace moral correctness. Rather than deal with contentious social issues on the basis of unchanging moral principles and risk offending those who disagree, it is so easy to say: "These questions are best left to the internal moral compass found within every Canadian."
Mohandas Gandhi, more than a generation ago, listed the seven evils that characterize the lapsed moral condition of our times: "politics without principle; pleasure without conscience; wealth without work; knowledge without character; business without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice." Not a bad overview!
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.