August 20 Forum on Universal Ethics and the 2013 Elections
2 September 2013
Introduction to the forum
We are gathered here tonight – people of goodwill – and political candidates of goodwill, from the spectrum of political parties – to face the greatest issue of this election – because of the significance of this election. We are all aware that the real issue of this election is not the fine tuning of the economy or even the way most humanely and most sensibly to deal with the asylum seekers. It has to do with the question of where our society, with its basic fabric and basic structures and values, will go after this election. Whether it will follow stark trends which have already been entrenched in legislation in major western societies overseas (England, France and questionably the United States) or whether it will take another route which might take us back to eternal and universal values of the human spirit. What is ultimately at stake is the question of what the human being is and what the ethical guiding lights of human life are. And there are two camps on this question.
I would like to say that these two camps are one an enlightened one and one a benighted one. The problem is that society does not seem to know any more the difference between light and darkness. Let us, however, deal in light. Today I was fortunate to get more strength to supplement my wife’s advice: “less fight and more light”. It came from a parable I read. Let me precede it with an explanation that tanneries – places where leather is processed – in older times used human and animal excretion for the processing of the hides. These places and the poor people who worked in them (at least in the hours of work) stank terribly. The parable goes, the world needs both perfume makers and tanners, but happy is the lot of the perfume maker and less fortunate is the lot of the tanner.
So whilst a terrible stench does ascend from much of what is going on, and much of what is being worked on, in contemporary society, and we do have pay attention to what is wrong, let us at least go towards it with a bottle of perfume, with a fragrance and an intimation of what is good. Or to change the metaphor, let us walk into the darkness with a candle. That candle is the human spirit.
The significance of faith
It is no accident that the candidates of the diverse parties present or represented tonight, who, despite their differences still cohere with a set of basic anchor values for our society, are people of faith. The reason for this is that they are conscious of a spiritual part within themselves – a soul – which resonates with the Divine. The human soul turns all people, in whom it is active and conscious, to the same station – called the “imitation of G-d”. What this means is that the soul, as the mirror of G-d resonates with G-dly qualities and these translate into the forms of moral and ethical conduct which tradition has communicated to us. Indeed, to get on to this station, you don’t even have to be religious. All one needs is humility and recognition that there is something bigger than oneself: as Viktor Frankl, said the person (even the self-imagined atheist or agnostic) who practises genuine self-transcendence is already en route to the end-station which the religious person has reached. This is because humility uncovers the soul, which looks for higher purpose. The root of all the difficulties and the inner malaise of contemporary society is what I have called a hedonistic materialism, which sees in the human being, little more than an intelligent desiring organism. It does not understand the human being as possessing a soul as well as a body, and that the human being is called by the soul to an ethical life in resonance with its Creator in which it finds the true luminous harmony and happy existence of both body and soul.
The first requirement of universal ethics in a political setting is therefore to allow the human spirit to maintain itself, grow and prosper. The National Curriculum should make it possible for all children, who want it or whose parents want it, to acquire a spiritual sophistication which keeps pace with their intellectual growth from childhood to early adulthood. Spiritual literacy is as crucial to the development of a human being. Moreover, law must guarantee the freedom of the human spirit: religious schools and religious old age homes should be allowed to preserve their ethos, without legislative interference; doctors, nurses and counsellors should not be forced by legislation to facilitate abortions in non-life threatening situations to which they have a religious objection.
In the hedonistic materialistic view, sexual relationships are understood solely as a fulfilment of human desire. What counts for this ethos therefore is mature consent, so that there is no harm, no exploitation. This equality of gratification or “love”, it is argued, should therefore have no other strictures, forms or commitments. Beyond homosexual marriage so-called marriage equality or equality of love should therefore logically lead to what exists today in Sweden: marriage between half-siblings or incestuous marriage. When we bring in the spiritual dimension and sense, on the other hand, we appreciate that the human being was fashioned in such a way that he or she comes from the union of a man and a woman (past), moves normally towards the union with a person of the opposite sex (present) and perpetuates him or herself through offspring which come from that biological union (future). You were fashioned with the Divine stamp through the union of man and woman, masculinity and femininity, each with its unique quality, that’s who you are and what you will be. The biological is spiritual and the spiritual is biological. The other arguments – that a child is entitled to a mother and a father, to his or her biological parents, and that women and men cannot adequately substitute each other as parents are all corollaries of this Divine design and investiture of human identity. This bond of man and woman was also meant to be a committed, married one, which best nurtures adults and children, unlike the far more unstable de facto culture.
The homosexual has a soul – like anyone else – made in the image of G-d. Why should it not “come out of the closet”, be free (and helped) to engage in a struggle with bodily urges which draw it away from the Divine norms, which their souls also ratify? Why should homosexuals be told that they are destined to be precisely and only that and locked by a new sex education from early childhood into a homosexual identity? Why should heterosexual activists drive homosexuals to the ravages of one of the most deadly diseases in history, which accompanies precisely this unnatural behaviour? Those who love homosexuals as whole human beings will not bracket and endorse them as a separate species, with their own synthetic marriage, communities and families.
Life and the complete compassion
Another major issue which is again connected to the spiritual perspective has to do with life issues. The hedonistic-materialistic viewpoint which focuses the human being primarily as body, takes as its central perspective the minimization of physical pain and the maximization of pleasure. Euthanasia becomes a prospect of escape from pain. Abortion on demand is meant also to remove a variety of kinds of “suffering” – economic pressures, social pressures and psychological pressures. Whilst acknowledging physical suffering, the spiritual viewpoint, on the other hand, has a view for the soul as well as body, understands the vast value of a soul, as a spiritual presence in the unborn and in the terminally ill and the physically suffering. That higher self is active even in a dependent or suffering body: it was placed there by its Creator for a purpose and it is vastly precious.
The supposed compassion of hedonistic materialism which rushes in to dispose of life – unborn or terminally ill – because of material difficulty or physical suffering alone; which services sexual promiscuity and uncommitted relationships with the disposal of unwanted pregnancy – itself teaches a further disregard for life. To put it positively, true compassion must always realize that it is dealing with bodies and souls, and have profound regard for both. That’s what human life is: the unity of body and soul – and as a whole, it must be protected and cared for to the greatest degree possible.
Before I open this forum to our guest speakers, it is my duty and pleasure to offer thanks not only to the participants (and their staffs) for their time and effort, including those could not be here and are participating by video. In addition to this I would like to make special mention of Steve Campbell, the Senior Advisor to Senator Madigan, for his constant and energetic involvement with the preparation of this forum, Michael Murphy and Damien Brick also of the DLP; to Vickie Janson of the Australian Christians who also helped to promote this forum; to Terri Kelleher of the National Civic Council who put her shoulder to the wheel with this event amongst her many commitments; and Paul Bovolos, who is kindly involved in the filming and technical aspects of this forum.
To view the contributions to this forum by politicians across the political spectrum, click here.