All Saints Sydenham

30th October 2011

‘Critical Judgement’ Part Two

Although it is All Saints Day on Tuesday my sermon this morning is the conclusion of the one you heard a fortnight ago. Then we thought about Judgement: how teachers today use the idea of ‘Values’ to replace the concept of ‘Virtues’. They encourage their pupils to discover and create their own list of ‘Values’, as if Virtues and Values were one and the same thing. But they aren’t. You can create new Values till the cows come home. But Virtues already exist – and either you accept (and ‘adopt’) them, or you don’t.

Sooner or later, this confusion (between Virtues and Values) always leads individuals (or the group, or the gangs to which he or she belongs) into doing exactly what they feel like doing, here and now’.

Which means that there’s a critical need for the likes of you and me to clear away the rubbish which well-meaning teachers and sociologists have poured over the word ‘Judgement’, and substitute some good, simple, Christian morality in its place. ‘Having a right judgement in all things’ is a gift of the Holy Spirit.

Now those of you who were here a fortnight ago may have wondered why there was so little reference to God in that sermon. Well, this morning’s one will make good that deficiency.

‘Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness’, Jesus told his hearers. Much of the problem facing us today is because most of our contemporaries have stopped seeking either God’s Kingdom or His Righteousness, in the so-called ‘Secular Society’ of today,. Which, in turn, means that many teachers, parents, priests, politicians, and much of the academic world, are failing to ‘practise what they preach’. They’ve stopped believing in God, except as an idea which some other people may find ‘helpful’, regardless of whether God exists or not. They don’t deny His existence, but they choose to ignore Him and, as a result, have created a god-less or un-godly nation, in which we Believers are the foreigners!

Well, what can one expect if pupils – children, adolescents or adults – hear their teachers or parents urging them to have particular ‘values’, but who are themselves failing to act upon such values in their everyday lives? Such children quickly realise that their parents and teachers don’t really believe what they are saying. Children have a ‘nose’ for insincerity. Ask your own children if you’re in any doubt!

‘But why’, you may be ask, ‘should being a god-less or un-godly nation make any difference to the way people live? Surely people can live good, neighbourly, considerate, and caring lives regardless of whether they believe in God or not?’

The answer is that of course they can, and some of them live distinctly better lives than some who believe in God. But the problem is that there’s no earthly reason why they should live such lives other than because it’s in their interest to do so. Most people value a peaceful, caring, safe neighbourhood rather than living in a noisy, litter-strewn, dangerous one. So they have the motive to be careful and considerate, regardless of whether they fear God or not – because they know what their neighbours will think of them if they don’t. But, for those who don’t value such things no such motive exists.

But value-driven motivation has another deep flaw. When people are tempted to act to suit their own interests and desires, rather than take into account the welfare of their neighbours, only one consideration exists to prevent them of doing so: the Question, ‘Shall I get away with it?’

Do you see what has happened? The Virtues like Honesty, Chastity and Obedience (to name but three) have been replaced with the Value ‘So long as I don’t get caught’, which itself is a matter of Probability rather than Principle. Therein lies the great unbridgeable divide between those who live ‘by their faith’, be it Christian, Muslim or Jewish and those who live ‘by something else – namely self-interest’. All three religions believe in a God who is both all-seeing and just. So the chances of ever ‘getting away with anything’ in the long run are non-existent.

Christians, Muslims and Jews all believe that, either in this world or the next, we shall all be held to account for what we have done or failed to do. That is why God’s commandments are phrased in the form ‘Do this’, ‘Don’t do that’, ‘Thou shalt’, and ‘Thou shalt not’ – and not ‘do whatever you feel like’.

So it’s critical to use our judgement whenever it’s our duty to do so. ‘Judging’, so far from always being wrong is something we should be doing all the time, not least about ourselves. Just think how many tragedies and accidents and disasters come about precisely as the result of people’s mis-judgement,!

Let’s now look at just two of many examples where the secular-mind (which looks to its own Values for guidance) will inevitably make a different moral choice from the mind of those who are God-fearing and guided by Virtue. The first example is Rioting and Looting.

Rioting an1d Looting: Many of us were disturbed by the recent riots and the spate of arson and looting which went with them. One hears some people asking plaintively ‘Why did this happen?’ and various answers have been forthcoming according to the mindset of the person making them.

But why be surprised?. We’ve educated a generation into believing that their Values are what matters most. Very well then. Just suppose someone’s top value consists in ‘getting away with things’ or ‘not getting caught’. Faced with the choice and the opportunity, and as surely as night follows day, such people will be guided by answering three questions: What’s it worth to me; What are the chances of getting caught; and, if so, what consequences would I have to face? If the risks look acceptable and the rewards sufficient then there’s no earthly reason to prevent them doing what their feelings suggest – the more so if they see their friends and relations doing it too, with seeming impunity.

If we ignore the unseen, but all-seeing God in Whom we believe; if the chances of an over-stretched police force make detection unlikely; and if, in the unlikely event of our getting caught, the punishment is one we are prepared to risk, then why shouldn’t we let our Values to decide for us – or rather what we feel our values to be in the excitement of the moment. Start a fire, rob a shop, rape a woman. Do what you want!

The second example of a ‘parting of the ways’ between those who are Virtue- and those who are Value-led is Choosing an Abortion. The Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths all agree that ‘children and the fruit of the womb are an heritage and gift that comes from the Lord [Ps. 127:4] . Deliberately to kill a baby in the womb is the same as murdering it after its birth. If children are a gift from God, then destroying them because they are inconvenient isn’t just rejecting God’s gift but depriving that child of the right to live.

When the Virgin Mary became pregnant she, being virtuous, knew it was God’s will that she should be in that condition, and her Virtue informed her judgement that she should bring God’s Son to birth, nurture Him both bodily and spiritually and rejoice at the privilege God had given to her, however inconvenient

But imagine Mary being faced with this choice today. She would have been taught at school to see her condition in the light of her values. Her teachers and her fellow-teenagers would point out that she would be ruining her future career and promising academic prospects. Her GP might well have advised St Anne (her mother), that all this nonsense about being visited by an angel pointed to her needing a psychiatrist; and worldly wisdom and statistics alone would indicate that becoming a single mother was likely to result in a seriously disturbed child who might well turn into a criminal. So why take the risk? Why not pop round to the local Wise Woman (of which there has always been one in every community) and get a quick fix?

From these two examples we can see why Value-led and Virtue-led judgements often lead people in opposite directions – to do evil or to do good respectively. When people start talking about their ‘Values’, closer inspection suggests it’s just high-falutin’ way of describing ‘whatever gives me most pleasure’; not ‘this is what I ought to be doing or not doing.

That’s why there’s a critical need today to teach people how to make well-informed judgements.

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