Moralising with AC Grayling

June 17, 2009

Whenever I go to the smallest room I like to read.  Always have done.  Anything that can be digested in the time-span allotted by nature.  Therefore, I usually go through books of quotations, or reference books, as well as magazines.  At the moment I have AC Grayling’s “The Meaning of Things” close to hand. 

AC Grayling teaches philosophy at the University of London and is popular with the media these days.  He writes newspaper columns and often appears on programmes like “Any Questions” or “Question Time”.  He is a trenchant atheist.

“The Meaning of Things” emerged from articles in the “Guardian” newspaper.  The subtitle is “Applying Philosophy to Life”.  There are short chapters on subjects as diverse as sorrow, virginity, health and trifles (not the pudding). 

Grayling does not suffer from ambivalence.  He knows what he thinks and gives it to you straight.  So you know where you stand with the man. 

His opening chapters on Moralising and Tolerance have forced me to think about my own attitudes.  Grayling says, “A moraliser is a person who seeks to impose upon others his view of how they should live and behave.”  Grayling takes a dim view of moralisers.  While they claim to be the voice of the silent majority, Grayling attributes to them less noble motives.  “Their true motives are that they are afraid of attitudes and practices more relaxed than they can allow themselves to be—their timidity, their religious anxieties, their fear that they might themselves be, say, homosexual or libidinous, and a host of personal motives besides, drive them to stop the rest of world thinking, seeing or doing what they are afraid to think, see or do themselves.”

Is this true?  Have I aired my views about homosexuality as a way of ensuring that I never hop into bed with another man?  Do I call adultery sin because I myself am tempted to stray?  Do I rail against promiscuity from the pulpit because in fact given half a chance I would be playing the field? 

The honest answer to that is “no”.  Fear is not my motive.  Love is.  I truly believe that the Bible is the Word of God, that it’s message is a message revealed from the Living God.  I truly believe that this message includes warnings against those activities which are not only physically harmful to our bodies and emotionally harmful to our minds, but spiritually harmful too.  They contravene God’s perfect plan for our lives. 

And therefore I believe I have a duty not only to avoid such behaviour myself but to do my utmost to persuade others to refrain too.  I cannot force anyone to behave contrary to the way they wish; but surely I have a right to try to persuade. 

Grayling sets up the aunt sally of Victorian values, so easily knocked down—the abuse of women and children, the poverty.  (Though remember that it was evangelical Christians who were at the forefront of the anti-slavery campaign, and the Factory Acts reform.)

I don’t know anyone today who is calling for a return to Victorian values, certainly not me.  I am not calling for a return to anything, because I don’t think there ever was a golden age to return to.  What I am calling for is an honest debate that looks at what we have become as a society.  Are we happy?  Are our children secure?  Do our relationships—sexual or otherwise—fulfil our need for love? 

I’m not seeing a society at ease with itself.  I’m seeing a restless, discontent, dissatisfied society, constantly on the look for something more. 

All I’m saying, is that modern Scots are looking in the wrong places.  Does that make me a moralizer?

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One Response to “Moralising with AC Grayling”

  1. louis Says:

    Ah, the smallest room. Such a versatile space! I used to do my homework there!!


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