Are you baffled by the modern world and its alarming transformation of values? I certainly am, but now I’m reading a book which explains so much of what is going on.
Douglas Murray’s The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity was published to acclaim last year, and this autumn it came out in paperback. It really clarifies so much of the change we have experienced – implying, “a new metaphysics, a new religion”, in his words.
Social values have altered throughout history, but what is striking about the past 20 years or so is the unprecedented speed of change. The impact of the printing machine, says Murray, is but a footnote in comparison to the shattering influence of the internet and social media, which has so dramatically accelerated and transformed all values.
Take the example of gay marriage. The idea of homosexual marriage was first mooted in about 1995. But once it got traction, it became, almost overnight, an orthodoxy, endorsed in every significant quarter.
Politicians like Nicky Morgan who had voted against equalising the age of consent between straight and gay people, suddenly embraced gay rights.
Indeed, tabloid newspapers which had railed, rather nastily, against gay men in church life, with words like “pulpit pooftahs”, switched to atttacking anyone as a “homophobe” who wasn’t flying the gay pride flag.
I saw this myself in the Irish same-sex marriage referendum of 2015 (pictured). Anyone who had doubts about changing a matrimonial (and dynastic) arrangement which had existed for millenia, was accused of being a “homophobe”.
As Murray – himself a gay man – says, big social changes need time for reflection, yet everything now is rushed through instantly.
His analysis of gay couples “becoming parents” is serious and thoughtful: there are genetic and ethical complications.
Among the changes we have been asked to accept is that biology doesn’t meaningfully exist. A man can become a woman, or a woman, a man, and anyone who challenges this is “transphobic”.
Many of these new orthodoxies are full of contradictions. But if we try to explore them we’ll be accused of “hate speech”.
Murray shows how these new orthodoxies began with cultural Marxism in the universities (and Foucault’s “post-truth” theories) and then spread immediately through the internet. His book is a brilliant exposé of so many of the falsehoods and fictions on a range of issues, including feminism.
Perhaps in the aftermath of Covid, and of terrible events like the slaying of French schoolteacher Samuel Paty, we will come to see some of the dangers of our instant technology.
In his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis urges us to follow more closely in the spirit of his namesake, St Francis of Assisi. There are times, indeed, when I wish I could emulate Francis of Assisi completely, throw off all possessions and go and live in a cave.
The life of St Francis was inspiring, though I think some 13th-century contemporaries saw his devotion to nature as a form of pantheism (worship of nature).
Now his environmentalism is up to the minute. Another example of social change – over some eight centuries!
It is distressing for many Irish Catholics that Ireland is the only country in Europe where Mass in church has been unavailable since mid-September. This closure is now likely to last until December.
At least in England there is Sunday Mass, in Covid-restricted circumstances – although I still regret there are no hymns, by command of the bishops. Surely one suitably-distanced cantor could be allowed?
Things are different in Sweden. On a short weekend break to Stockholm in October, I visited the classically designed 18th-century Lutheran church near my hotel, the Adolf Fredriks Kyrkan.
The young woman in charge of services (the Swedish Lutheran Church is largely run by women) told me cheerfully: “Oh, yes, we have at least five hymns for every service. We couldn’t do without them.” Their congregation had come to no harm. (The church maintained sensible social distancing, but as is normal in Sweden, no masks.)
I may have to go back to Sweden to hear a live church choir.