What Happened to Our Morals?
There is a line in the film Sabrina where someone says of the multi-milli0naire: “He thinks morals are painted on walls and scruples are Russian currency”
Now this attitude is not just the province of the likes of the men and women who tipped us into the GFC, but have permeated our whole society. Personal morals, and the sort overarching moral scruples that can make company directors, executives, union officials and “ordinary” workers say something like: “This may be clever, it may be legal but it is immoral: I will not do it!” is rarer than diamonds.
A friend recently posted on facebook a speech by someone I had never heard of before: Rabbi Lord Sacks as he was accepting the Templeton Prize. Sachs was, far more eloquently than me, predicting the fall of the West if we did not change. One of the essential changes was to recreate a personal morality. The whole speech is brilliant and can be found on http://www.rabbisacks.org/danger-outsourcing-morality-read-rabbi-sacks-speech-accepting-templeton-prize/
Let me give you some excerpts: (emphases mine)
“... we have forgotten one of the most important lessons to have emerged from the wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth century and the new birth of freedom that followed. Even to say it sounds antiquarian but it is this: . Without self-restraint, without the capacity to defer the gratification of instinct, and without the habits of heart and deed that we call virtues, we will eventually lose our freedom.
“When you do, (delegate moral responsibility) you raise expectations that cannot be met. And when, inevitably, they are not met, society becomes freighted with disappointment, anger, fear, resentment and blame. People start to take refuge in magical thinking, which today takes one of four forms: the far right, the far left, religious extremism and aggressive secularism. The far right seeks a return to a golden past that never was. The far left seeks a utopian future that will never be. Religious extremists believe you can bring salvation by terror. Aggressive secularists believe that if you get rid of religion there will be peace. These are all fantasies, and pursuing them will endanger the very foundations of freedom. Yet we have seen, even in mainstream British and American politics, forms of ugliness and irrationality I never thought I would see in my lifetime. We have seen on university campuses in Britain and America the abandonment of academic freedom in the name of the right not to be offended by being confronted by views with which I disagree.”
“We owe it to our children and grandchildren not to throw away what once made the West great, and not for the sake of some idealized past, but for the sake of a demanding and deeply challenging future. If we do simply let it go, if we continue to forget that a free society is a moral achievement that depends on habits of responsibility and restraint, then what will come next – be it Russia, China, ISIS or Iran – will be neither liberal nor democratic, and it will certainly not be free. We need to restate the moral and spiritual dimensions in the language of the twenty-first century, using the media of the twenty-first century, and in ways that are uniting rather than divisive.”
I think this calls us to action! To find out what motivations and attitudes made our societies great: The Bible, the statesmen and moral thinkers whose works have survived the test of time. These are the ideals we need to re-introduce.