Australian society is fracturing.

We’re now in an age with two competing moral views. Secular-progressive morality is pitted against traditional western morality, as represented (in large part) by the Judeo-Christian worldview.

The Australian newspaper’s editor Paul Kelly writes:

For much of its history, Australia, along with other Western nations, was a society that agreed on core values arising from Christian tradition and this was a unifying factor during bitter disputes over class, income and economic organisation.’

He continues:

But as the Christian tradition weakens and the progressive morality rises, our society is divided at its heart, a process that few want to discuss yet which is set to intensify.’

Chances are you’ve felt this rising division. It’s seen in the advance of sexual politics, not least the push for same-sex marriage, and the introduction of gender theory into school classrooms.

This isn’t a completely new development, however. It’s arguably been going on for the last 150 years, since the dawn of the so-called ‘Enlightenment’ (although it’s accelerated in the last decade or so).

But if we were to go to the ‘source’ of this division – if we were to go upstream far enough to see what’s driving the secular-progressive push for a new morality – what would we find?

According to renowned English theologian Oliver O’Donovan, there are two key beliefs of the modern secular moral worldview:

 

1) Human Beings Determine Reality

We don’t merely interpret it.

We’re Kings who don’t just interpret reality; we make reality. O’Donovan writes:

Behind the…various critiques of modernity…we can detect a theme which recurs persistently. It centres on the notion of the abstract will, exercising choice prior to all reason and order, from [which] springs society, morality and rationality itself.’ [1]Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire Of The Nations – Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996), 274.

So for example, morality isn’t something out there that presses on us: there is no such morality. Instead, we make it up for ourselves (even if it means saying rape is not wrong). I’ve heard this said many times on university campuses.

Poet William Ernest Henley, captured this god-like view of humanity when he wrote:

I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul’.

But there’s more:

 

2) The World is Completely Malleable

We shape it however we want.

Coupled with this god-like view of our power is a play-doh-like view of reality. O’Donovan continues:

Corresponding to the transcendent will is an inert nature, lacking any given order that could make it good prior to the imposition of human purposes upon it.’ [2]Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire Of The Nations – Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996), 274.

He sums up:

To put it theologically: the paradigm for the human presence in the world is creation [from nothing], the absolute summoning of reason, order and beauty out of chaos and emptiness.’ [3]Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire Of The Nations – Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996), 274.

In other words, humanity has replaced God. We’re now the makers. We now determine what’s true, what’s good, and what’s beautiful.

It’s breathtaking in its arrogance. And so unsurprisingly, it clashes with the Christian view of reality:

 

3) Christianity Sees Reality As a Given – As a Gift From God

Which we’re to gladly accept.

The secular view of reality clashes with the Christian view:

[The secular view of reality] does not, of course, honour God’s creative deed, but compete’s with it. Faith in creation means accepting the world downstream of [God’s] Original, justified to us in being, goodness and order. ‘ [4]Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire Of The Nations – Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996), 274.

Modern secular humanity finds it hard to accept the world as given to us by God. And so we’re tempted by the serpent’s words in Genesis 3:5:

You will be like God, knowing [i.e. determining] good and evil’.

But this view of reality is deeply problematic.

4) What happens when we swallow the secular view of reality?

Answer: Revolution.

Once humanity is in the driver’s seat, then reality – including moral reality – becomes whatever we want it to be.

So for millennia, western (and non-western) cultures thought it was obvious – a ‘given’ – that marriage was between two people of the opposite sex. But if we get to determine reality, then marriage is whatever we want it to be.

You may have thought it obvious that gender is binary – male or female. But if we get to determine reality, then gender is as fluid as Facebook’s 50 different varieties.

You may have thought it obvious that we shouldn’t kill other innocent people. But if we get to determine reality, then what’s wrong with bumping off grandpa once he gets a bit too long in the tooth? Sure, we’ll only do it with his consent – but then why would we need consent in the first place, if we determine right and wrong?

You may have thought it obvious that a free society should allow civil discussion about political issues. But if we get to determine reality, we definitely get to determine political reality – including whether people should be free to talk about contentious political issues.

 

An Inconvenient Reality

And yet, reality has a way of rudely imposing itself on us. Take politics as a case in point.

Many messianic political regimes – from the French Revolution to the Soviets – put themselves in the driver’s seat, and tried to change reality – in their case, human nature – without success. Human beings remained stubbornly, well, human. And such regimes’ collapsed under this reality. Of course, not before they caused significant carnage.

Will the same thing happen to current efforts to remake morality, politics, and human identity in modern Australia?

Time will tell.

References   [ + ]

1, 2, 3, 4.Oliver O’Donovan, The Desire Of The Nations – Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 1996), 274.