Abortion, Ireland, What Next? (Part 2)

A tectonic moral shift

What was, and is, behind the fact that in the abortion Referendum in Ireland at the end of May 2018 the majority voted to legalize abortion? And why are the latest official annual figures for abortion in England and Wales those shocking figures with which I concluded Part 1? The simple answer to those questions of 'what?' and 'why?' is that a tectonic moral shift is taking place in Europe and in other parts of the Western world. And it is this moral shift that is behind the "dramatic and utterly unforeseen collapse of Catholicism in Ireland in little more than a generation", to quote Professor Richard Rex, the Cambridge historian.

So Roman Catholics in Ireland, buying into this moral shift, undoubtedly caused their Referendum's green light on abortion. But, of course, this is not just a Roman Catholic problem. It is affecting Protestants as well. However, Rex also says this tectonic moral shift has to be seen in the light of world history. For it harks back to two other such crises in the church. The first of these was the Arian crisis and the second was the Reformation. The Arian crisis centred on the deity and manhood of Jesus Christ. That was in the 4th and 5th centuries AD, from the Council of Nicaea to the Council of Chalcedon.

"This was an agonized and church-rending argument over the question, 'What is God'."

The crisis was resolved, of course, with the mainstream Church's doctrine of the Trinity of one God, but Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the Son, Jesus Christ being fully God and fully man. And this doctrine is expressed in the Athanasian Creed. However, Rex goes on like this:

"The second great crisis was that of the Reformation … an agonized and church-rending argument over the question, 'What is the Church [and Salvation]?' Our [contemporary] crisis, at least as great as those, is all about a question that would once have been expressed as 'What is man?' The fact that this wording is now itself seen as problematic is a symptom of the very condition it seeks to diagnose. 'What is it, in other words, to be human?'"

So abortion is just one aspect of a much wider argument about the nature of humanity, human life and human sexuality. Rex reminds us of "tensions in Western culture as a whole, relating to an entire alphabet of beliefs and practices: abortion, bisexuality, contraception, divorce, euthanasia, family, gender, homosexuality, infertility treatment." And he adds, that the way these issues are playing out indicate "a moral shift of an epochal nature."


What then has led to this moral shift? Looked at philosophically one thing was this. The Western world of the 20th century developed "habits of the heart" and a belief system that was "subjectivist". That is to say, somehow it has allowed what are classed as "values" – the things we label "good" or "to be desired" etc. – to be seen as just the result of our subjective feelings. So it is said, "there is nothing inherent in what is 'good', or 'to be desired'. It is simply what we 'like'. So I can like one thing; but you can like another."

C.S.Lewis was provoked into writing The Abolition of Man in 1943 over this issue, in the middle of the Second World War with Hitler still doing his worst. He had been sent a complimentary copy of a book on English intended for "boys and girls in the upper forms of schools". In one chapter the authors refer to the poet and philosopher, Coleridge, at a waterfall with two tourists present. One called it "sublime" and the other "pretty", with Coleridge mentally endorsing the first judgment but rejecting the second with disgust. The authors of the English book comment:

"When the man said This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall … Actually … he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word 'Sublime', shortly, I have sublime feelings … This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.'"

Lewis' entire little book, The Abolition of Man, follows on from that. But his initial reaction included this:

"the schoolboy who reads this passage … will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of values are statements about the emotional state of the speaker; and, secondly, that all such statements are unimportant … And [the schoolboy] has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they [the authors] put into his mind but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all."

So when people like these boys, one, later are persuasively told that some lives "are not worth living"; two, are asked to vote on abortion; three, have ceased to believe in objective values; and, four, have had no biblical and traditional Christian teaching at home or at school on abortion (see the June 2018 Coloured Supplement), they will vote "Yes", feeling abortion to be a good thing.

The doctrine of objective value

However, the Bible is so clear about 'objective value'. Paul in Romans 1.19 argues that human beings all have had some knowledge of God and the reality of his holy divine nature:

"what can be known about God is plain to them [human beings], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened."

Paul then argues in verses 24-32 of Romans chapter 1 that in their folly fallen men and women have "exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator." And, importantly, they no longer affirm common sense traditional values and morals – objective values. For their darkness has led to the divine removal of restraints resulting in sexual decadence, particularly same-sex decadence – yes, Paul highlights that. This, we are told, then leads to further serious moral and social breakdown. But there is no suggestion that the moral law and objective values have gone into hibernation. As Romans 2.14-16 says:

"For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus."

It is obvious that once you read key writers from other faiths and philosophies, ("Gentiles" such as Aristotle, Cicero, Mohammed etc.), not only is there that with which we have profoundly to disagree, there is also evidence of that universal moral law "written on their hearts". But it is also obvious that once you flout God's moral law – our Creator's design for the good life – and the belief, as Lewis puts it, "that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are," there will be serious trouble. Interestingly, Holland was the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage on 1 April 2001 and also latest statistics show annual deaths by euthanasia in Holland increasing by 10% to 6091. Is it, then, a coincidence that on the 30 July 2018 a headline in The Times newspaper was, "Amsterdam is lawless jungle after dark"? The report went on:

"Arre Zuurmond, the ombudsman said, 'Criminal money flourishes, there is no authority and the police can no longer handle the situation … Mr Zuurmond moved into the heart of the tourist centre for two weeks to see for himself the problems of the city known for its red-light district. 'One night we counted 900 offences,' he said. 'There's violence but no action.'"


But to believe we live in a moral universe that is subject to divine law is just a start. The modern crisis requires a return to a truly Christian humanism – the subject of Part 3.

Back to top