LETTER : When is a sin not a sin in the varying religions of the 20th century?

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The Independent Online
From Mr Jonathan Sedgwick

Sir: Alan Storkey ("Where to find sin in the modern world", 8 June) writes persuasively about marriage as a "given", an institution ordained by God which must be respected if we are to flourish. His analysis, however, leaves out much that should be answered and admitted.

While much that he says about the dangers of individualism and the destructiveness of the commercial pressures upon us all will ring true for many, he does not provide us with any sound reason for agreeing with his central argument. This is that, of all human arrangements and institutions, marriage is not the product of human reflection, wisdom and experience, but is instead an immutable law of creation.

Mr Storkey's case, in fact, rests on a particular view of biblical inspiration, and he should be honest enough to admit it. Furthermore, he fails to recognise that the characteristics of marriage he describes derive, at least in part, from the social structures and economic arrangements among the people of Israel in the centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Many people have found good reason to demand that this "givenness" should develop a little, not for reasons of self-indulgence, but simply to take account of their experiences of life and of the social and economic realities of 20th-century Europe. These mean that most people are unlikely, indeed perhaps unwise, to marry for a good 10 years after puberty. This is a reality that the church simply must recognise if it is to speak with a voice that people hear and understand. Some have found that they cannot love a person of the opposite sex but have discovered just the same joy, fulfilment, faithfulness and stability in loving a person of the same sex, as others have found in the very best of traditional marriages.

By all means call this individualism, if by that you mean that society should reflect upon the experiences and needs of individual people. It is of course dangerous, and it will bring harmful things in its wake. We can, in part, counter what is negative by trying not to give such weight to each person's experience and needs that we fail to take account of what is needful for a healthy society in which we can all flourish. All freedoms have their risks and their costs, like the child leaving the protective care of a parent for the first time, or, on a larger scale, the black voters of South Africa experiencing democracy. It's called life.

Yours faithfully,

JONATHAN SEDGWICK

Reading, Berkshire

8 June

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