Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

IS MORALITY A MATTER OF PERSONAL CHOICE? 

Sometimes it's just too much to watch the news these days because so much of it is, well, bad news.

We hear about the Paul Bernardos and the O.J. Simpsons, the deficit and spending problems, holes in the ozone, separatist horn blowing. Opinions sprout like mushrooms. It's all the government's fault; we should give them the boot. Nobody knows what to do. Or everyone knows what to do, but all the opinions clash, and we are left with a hopeless muddle.

Yet, the United Nations insists Canada is among the world's best countries to live in. It seems more a basket case.

It was not supposed to be like this, of course. This was supposed to be a whole new era of progress and freedom, and, especially, material abundance. This was the dawning of a new age of liberation from all the old taboos, especially religious hang-ups. No one can tell us anymore what is right or wrong. We can now choose our own morality, whatever works best for us.

So what happened? Things haven't turned out the way they were supposed to. It seems that defining morality as a matter of personal choice has left us with a lot of behaviour that might suit the person involved, but doesn't exactly coincide with society's best interests.  

It's not just the Paul Bernardos or O.J. Simpsons either. Almost all agree that what they are accused of doing is wrong. It's abandoning marriages when they no longer work for us, never mind what happens to the kids. It's explaining away our responsibilities because it's all the fault of the "system." It's killing abortionists or the severely handicapped because to someone it seems the right thing to do.

And it doesn't end there. We face many other issues where there is widespread disagreement, including workplace issues. But how do we make sense of moral issues if morality is just a matter of personal choice? This is the dilemma that we struggle with when we reject the idea that there is such a thing as absolute truth, an authoritative standard above our personal opinion. We are left with moral chaos; there's no method of determining right from wrong.

The tendency now is to turn to the government to make people behave. But because we are busy telling everyone to "do their own thing," we destroy the very basis of law. That's why so much of the current law-making is only adding to the mess. For example, the government believes that we are racist and sexist and so it tries to stamp out this wrong with the creation of new pay and employment equity laws. But instead of eliminating discrimination, it leads to new forms of it, and more conflict. 

After people are told that they need to answer only to themselves, it will be impossible to establish agreement by persuasion. The natural tendency then will be to rely on force. Not right, but might, will carry the day. Do we really need to be reminded of what happens to society when it is run by force, such as the former communist USSR and fascist Germany?

Fortunately, we have not yet gone all the way on that road. We still reap the benefits of an earlier and better tradition. But we should be aware that we are quickly depleting the reserves of our moral "capital."

Many of the cures now being suggested will only serve to worsen what ails our nation. For we are suffering from a "sickness of the soul" that can be healed only by God, who is the Source of all life. We need first of all the humility and wisdom to acknowledge the reality of what it means to be human.

Indeed, we do have to make choices. But they must be founded on the Truth, which is not of our own making.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1995