Eight of us met on Saturday 2nd November to look at Chapters 3&4 of Godless Morality by Richard Holloway. But first we spent some time remembering Judy Clinton who died last week. Her sudden and unexpected death shocked us all. Her contributions to our meetings were remembered for their deep spirituality. Her son, Graham, who made the announcement, sent us a poem written by Judy and which I have copied below. Written several years ago, it expresses the way she felt about dying. After listening to the poem we held a silence in her memory.
We were pleased to be joined on Saturday by James’ wife, Pamela, who contributed some interesting perspectives on the subject of morality, having been brought up in a traditional Catholic environment. Holloway claims we are living in a post-traditional society where it is OK to challenge authority if it tries to bind us to a ‘God given’ rule for which there is no current reason to think it a sin. Divorce, sexual mores, the roles available to women, gay relationships and equal marriage being among the areas where conservative elements have clung to a sense of sin while the prophets and progressives have found more sin in the misery of unnecessary prohibitions. We agreed that the church has used sin as a lever to keep people in line. We heard about a lay preacher who talks about getting things wrong and doing better in the future, which seemed to work better for us than sin.
The danger of claiming one set of ethics as the word of God is that if those ethics change with time due to new knowledge and different experiences, God risks being thought of as immoral by our own highest standards, or else having changed His mind (or perhaps the church leaders never understood him in the first place!).
We didn’t think there is a God who has a micro plan for how we should behave. We considered Aristotle’s concept of virtue. Virtue avoids prohibitions in favour of trying to find a balance between conflicting ‘goods’. This is the case in regard to the developing law around the consumption of drugs, one example being the availability of cannabis. Virtue isn’t static. We used to think that limiting the hours of alcohol consumption was a virtue because it would keep a check on drunkenness. But when we realised it made matters worse, virtue changed.
At the end, everyone thought we should continue to the final chapters of the book in which Holloway looks at abortion and euthanasia and human fertility and finally comes up with some thoughts on how he thinks ethics and morals should develop. That will be the subject of our December 7th meeting.
PCN news: There’s a Bonhoeffer conference taking place in Manchester this Saturday organised by a PCN trustee. The annual PCN member’ residential conference takes place over the last full weekend of November - 22nd to 24th – at The Hayes Conference Centre in Derbyshire. It will focus on Adrian Alker, the PCN chair’s, book, Is a Radical Church Possible? Do get in touch with me or look on the PCN website if you would like more information about these events, (http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk).
“When my body dies” by Judy Clinton
When my body dies, as die it will, my heart ceasing to beat, my lungs still and flat,
I, the heart of me, will rise in bird-flight at dawn
As the sun silently bursts forth above mountains in the hallelujah of new day.
When my body dies, as die it will, my heart ceasing to beat, my eyes unseeing, my ears unhearing,
I, the heart of me, will dance in gurgling waters of a youthful stream, cascading down hills
Over rocks and grass, in merriment and glittering light.
When my body dies, as die it will, my heart ceasing to beat, no smelling or tasting,
I, the heart of me, will waft in honeysuckle and roses on a balmy dusk evening
Gracing summer with warmth and delight.
When my body dies, as die it will, my heart ceasing to beat, no touch felt on my skin or in my hair
I, the heart of me, will languish in grass at the side of a lake, as the wind caresses the land
Bringing lushness and shimmer on a springtime day.
When my body dies, as die it will, my heart ceasing to beat, no life left in the flesh that begins to decay
I, the heart of me, will soar to the heavens, dive down to the sea-bed, flow with the rivers, roll with the seas