Thursday, 17 March 2016

In a ‘post-Christian’ age, why do we still want our leaders to be moral?

In terms of the practise of Christianity, the majority of the Western world – unlike Africa - has long since entered into an era of religious decline that has all the signs of being terminal.

Children grow up with little understanding of Christianity. Among Catholics, belief in fundamental tenets of Catholicism is markedly low. Generally, belief in the supernatural is widely mocked and ridiculed, the Church has become a peripheral force in society, the cultural left is in the ascendency, and enlightenment ideals of ‘equality’ and ‘liberty’ are being pushed to their breaking point in so far as it is no longer even considered whether their extreme manifestations create more division in society than cohesion.

Values on marriage and gender that were taken for granted for millennia have been overturned on a mass scale across whole Western societies. In many ways, it is hard to disagree with those who would call the United Kingdom – or even the United States of America – ‘post-Christian societies’.

With the marked exception of Eastern European countries like Poland, the transition from ‘Christian societies’ in Europe to ‘post-Christian’ societies that can see even Italy adopt same-sex civil unions with muted and lacklustre protest from even the Catholic hierarchy in Rome has not been an easy one. No bullets were needed during this cultural revolution but nonetheless the transition will continue to claim victims in terms of human tragedies.

The break-up of the family will continue apace. The wounds and divisions inflicted upon families lacking the solid foundation of marriage and respect for life will continue. The rates of abortion will most likely remain at a constant. Drug addiction will continue to rise. Mental health problems are likely to accelerate and society will continue to be ravaged by a moral relativism that denies fundamental or absolute truths as backwards, even foreign concepts that are no longer relevant to that ‘post-Christian society’ to which even the Church, lacking in zeal and humiliated by sexual scandal in the eyes of the world has made its own unique contribution.

Yet despite all of this, despite Western man and woman’s unshakable belief in the universal benefits of human progress, as human beings in an era of instant communication and instantaneous 24-hour news services, we all still agree on something. No matter whether we are on the ‘left’ or on the ‘right’, whether we are religious or not, we still want our leaders to be moral and to show moral leadership. One begins to feel rather sorry, then, for those public figures who fall short of the glory of God.

For this reason, I feel a particular sympathy for Republican nominee, Donald Trump. Mr Trump has been on the receiving end of insults from journalists, politicians, opinion formers, fellow nominees and pundits everywhere. Everyone has an opinion on Donald Trump in a manner that not everyone has an opinion on Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. Yes, Mr Trump has even the Pope’s condemnation, a diplomatic anti-medal that can be claimed by very few politicians in history. When Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were striding across the world stage, what did the Pope of their time say publicly concerning their moral character? As far as I know, not a great deal was publicly said.

Traditionally, Popes condemn morals and distorted, erroneous ideals, rather than individuals and their morals and distorted ideals. In this manner was Nazism condemned, Communism condemned, Fascism condemned. Dangerous ideas are traditionally condemned but on individuals – even those in the full glare of public life - Popes usually maintain a dignified silence. It was impossible for journalists not to take away from Pope Francis’s comment on his return from Mexico that the kind of person who ‘builds walls’ is ‘not a Christian’ was a direct attack on the moral character of the billionaire Republican nominee. This from a Supreme Pontiff who hit the headlines for his now well-known catchphrase that in certain circumstances in a person’s spiritual search, an attitude of non-judgementalism should be adopted by even the Pope.

I think I know why ‘the Donald’ is so disliked. People don’t agree with his personal morality. People wonder if he really has one. I don’t think many people even believe what he says. He’s been described as a ‘con man’. People think he is crass, vulgar, intellectually unfit for high political office and carries himself with all the offensive, arrogant swagger of the billionaire of ‘Trump Tower’ who, having indulged himself in a life-long fantasy concerning his own greatness, finds that he has the money and power and prestige to make his lurid fantasy become a reality for all Americans. When he says he wants to make America ‘great again’, we wonder whether he is just saying he wants to remake America in his own image.

Donald Trump’s bombastic response to the Pope’s unprecedented, barbed personal criticism made it appear that only he – among all mortal men – among even the plethora of security services and methods at Western government’s disposal - could protect Rome from a future invasion of blood-thirsty, Islamic, axe-wielding barbarians. Many don’t like him because somehow, despite the horrors unveiled by the Planned Parenthood scandal, this candidate cannot make his mind up on whether abortion-provider Planned Parenthood is a force for good or evil within US society.

If I was an American citizen, I don’t think I could vote for a man who I see to be a political opportunist who sees his country as he may an ace business opportunity, a man whose narcissism is of such proportions that he either hasn’t noticed it is a part of his personality or has so much money and status that public knowledge of it simply doesn’t matter, a man for whom the excesses of capitalism derided as obscene by most, has become for him a badge of honour.

Yet whatever his faults, or perceived faults, and all the messages we receive from the media concerning him, surely all of this should really be irrelevant today. The West, after all, has moved on from Jesus Christ, the moral law, the objective moral order, the natural law, divine law.

We don’t as one Blairite PR man said, ‘do God’. As Western societies, we don’t condemn self-fascination and self-glorification. We don’t honour humility or the virtues Christ called us to on the Sermon of the Mount. Instead, we raise the false gods of money, sex and power to new ideals to live up to. We don’t value poverty and weakness, instead as a society we hold them in contempt. So why should we hate the man who ‘lives the dream’, rather than the nightmare that is these false and dangerous new ideals?

We British, just like other nations, like to see our politicians or even our Churchmen who so often imitate politicians, exude false humility and pretension because there are public standards to live up to at least in public. We would rather be deceived that the next Prime Minister of our country will be a ‘man of the people’ working ‘for the people’ and then decry our disappointment that they didn’t meet our expectations as we realise that underneath the pleasant exterior lurked a Machiavellian despot who held the will of the general populace in low esteem, preferring the praise of powerful companies, or union bosses or Party benefactors or international agencies.

We want our political leaders to love truth and integrity, to value honesty and dedication to the common good, to defend the weak and respect human life, to live upright personal lives, to uphold those parts of the confused, tattered moral framework that the West proclaims which help us to admire our leaders rather than look upon them with scorn. Many Catholics and many atheists might agree with Donald Trump that he is a ‘unifier’ but only in the sense that he has united the pious and impious in loathing of him and what he stands for. Only Christians, however, can say that in a ‘post-Christian society’, we get the leaders we deserve.

For this reason I feel sympathy for Donald Trump in the attacks he receives that escape many others, including those against whom he will be pitted in the elections. Why pick on him? Why throw stones at him when he, like US politics in general, is symptomatic of an entire culture that has rejected any sense of the absolute and embraced the relative as the accepted social norm? Or as Pope Francis said, 'Who am I/are we to judge him?' By what standards are we judging when we judge? God's law? Natural law? Fashion? The times in which we live?

Western nations have rejected Christianity. We have moved 'beyond Jesus'. We no longer accept as given a universal, traditional understanding of public and private virtue. There is no tangible concept of ‘sin’ or ‘vice’ in the modern mind set. Even within the Church these terms have become unpopular or deemed offensive. As nations we abhor as oppressive any external religious or moral limitations placed on our own personal liberty. As societies, then, how dare we even contemplate asking our leaders to be moral and show moral leadership when we cannot even decide, much less agree on, what morality is? The negative reaction of the press, the pundits, the people and even the Pope to Donald Trump tells us something that could so easily be missed. Our ‘post-Christian societies’ are not quite ‘over’ Jesus yet.

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