'It's a do-it-yourself morality. We've lost our sense of right and wrong'

CAREY'S CRUSADE: THE LORDS' DEBATE; Schools urged to teach by example
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The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, yesterday claimed that the tide was turning in favour of objective morality, and against the notion that moral questions were subject to personal preference. Speaking to an attentive House of Lords, he said that passive immorality was damaging the moral health of the nation.

"Non-smokers may be affected and even damaged by the lifestyle of others who do smoke. The same is true when it comes to the moral health of a nation.

"There is a widespread tendency to view what is good and right as a matter of private taste and individual opinion. Under this tendency God is banished to the realm of the private hobby, and religion becomes a private activity for those who happen to have a taste for it.

"The traditional vocabulary of moral discourse - virtue, sin, good, bad, right, wrong, moral, wholesome, godly, righteous, and sober - all these terms have come under acute contemporary suspicion."

However, having painted this picture of moral desolation, the Archbishop said: "When we see how people react to an event such as the Dunblane massacre, we see that the assumptions of moral relativism do not reflect what virtually everyone actually believes."

He urged schools to teach morality by example as well as exhortation. "The moral and spiritual dimensions of education should be present in the teaching of arts, music, literature, science, and the use of science."

Dr Carey dealt only briefly with the question of whether the values missing from society should be religious: "We take it for granted, my Lords, that you cannot play a game of football without rules. Rules do not get in the way of the game; they make the game possible. Rules which make life worthwhile and keep relationships faithful and true are inextricably linked to the deepest things we believe about God and the values which transcend us all.

"Our nation, steeped deeply in the faith and values of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, has been shaped by the Ten Commandments, and the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. We are in danger of squandering this inheritance."

Other peers were franker about the difficulties of such a project. Lord Morris of Castle Morris wanted religious education to be in the hands of teachers who practised and believed one of the great faiths. However, he confessed that this would be impossible in practice: there just weren't enough believing teachers.

The chamber, which had been nearly full for Dr Carey's speech,thinned out rapidly as speakers took their obsessions for a Friday morning canter.

Lord Longford, for example, spent four minutes congratulating those who had spoken before him. He then moved on to sex, a subject Dr Carey had carefully avoided.

"If you ask 10 humanists about adultery, you will get 10 different answers," he stated. The mind reeled. What sort of answers? No? Depends on the circumstances? Tuesday next week all right?

The noble Lord continued: "On sexual morals there has been a steady decline. Sex before marriage leads to divorce. Divorce leads to broken homes. Broken homes lead to crime."

I twisted around to see how the packed public gallery was taking this. Most just looked bewildered. But one middle-aged woman was rubbing tears away from her eyes with a fingertip, as if pierced to the heart by Lord Longford's analysis.

Her anguished face was a sudden, violent reminder that even the most plonking public discussions of morality are really about private lives and private pain.

Humphrys versus the Archbishop

The Archbishop found himself in difficulty over the Ten Commandments yesterday when he was interviewed on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

John Humphrys: There you are attending the House of Lords this morning to make this important speech and the newspapers are full of reports on the Royal Divorce.

Dr Carey: Well, yes, it is quite accidental. I want to say that the Royal Family have my total support ... The two things must not be seen as tied together in any sense, although issues to do with faithfulness and all these things, include us all, and each one of us are responsible to God.

JH: That's the Christian approach but should not the Archbishop be a little more forthright and say adultery is wrong?

Dr Carey: I don't really want to get into that.

JH: Why not?

Dr Carey: I am focusing on a very important debate in the House of Lords. I think it's important for us all to help young people grow up as moral responsible beings and that's what I'm trying to do. I'm not involved ... in a debate about the Royal Family.