In my last post, Why try to be good?, I discussed ethics in our secular postmodern western societies, and ended up with ethicist Peter Singer’s reflection that faith in a good God is the only way to provide a complete answer to the question, Why act morally?
Today’s editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald, Britain looks after No 1, provides an interesting, and somewhat devastating, insight into the practical outworking of relativistic ethics – the recent civil unrest in England.
Britain looks after No 1
The editorial observes that the unrest may have started as a protest, but very soon had degenerated into looting:
“From London rioting and looting spread to other large cities, no longer a protest against police brutality but as an opportunity for theft. “Let’s load up,” they shouted to bystanders as they rode off with their booty.”
The Herald is clear that the looting and destruction was “indefensible”, especially “the ruin of businesses and livelihoods”, but then suggests that in their wanton greed, the mobs had “respectable models to follow”. It then lists some of these ‘models’:
- the scandal of a large mass of politicians found in 2009 to be rorting their expenses,
- tax avoidance and evasion by senior British business figures,
- the dubious practices of many businesses leading up the the world financial crisis and the astronomical salaries paid to some of those responsible for leading the national economy into peril,
- the recent scandal about the Murdoch press tapping phones.
The Herald concludes:
“Britain’s grandees may not break windows or throw petrol bombs, but the worst of them – and they are many, from all walks of life – share the morality and expectations of those who riot and loot. “Let’s load up” could be the motto of them all.”
Why be good?
It is apparent that Peter Singer’s concern is valid. Why be good? is a question our societies can no longer answer very well. We need an objective ethic, something we can all know is true, and we need a ‘meta story’ – something that gives our lives and our society meaning by explaining why we are here and how we should behave.
Christianity once provided both, and of course I think it is still the correct option. But if we continue to depart from that story, we need something better than scepticism and disbelief currently provide.