Wednesday, July 01, 2015


While the Confederate flag is being lowered in parts of the US the rainbow flag is being raised on UK Government buildings and I suppose on US Government buildings too. If not, then I suppose it is only a matter of time. The policies are different but the thinking behind this difference is the same. The Confederate flag is being lowered because flying it encourages racism, it is said. The rainbow flag is being raised because doing so allegedly encourages ‘inclusivism’, a culture in which many expressions of gender are not only tolerated but actively supported, and at the highest political levels support is given for gays, the governments showing pride in gay pride by raising their flag. But every 'included' supports an 'excluded',  remember.
In our society there is a shocking ignorance of the relation between morality and law in places where one would expect better. And the talk of 'inclusivism' is an example of it. Melvyn Tinker recently publicly protested at the draping of a rainbow flag on the steps of York Minster, and at the plan to offer prayers at the Minster in support of gay pride in all its various hues by a Minister clergyman. This create a stir, and when Melvyn was interviewed on TV the courteous BBC TV presenter ended the interview by referring to Melvyn's possible punishment, despite Melvyn's assertion that he was upholding the present position of the Church of England, and of Scripture, and the legitimacy of civilised discussion of such matters, and of protesting.

The interviewer's remark, and the earlier line of questioning, and the piece in thDaily Telegraph, shows the failure to grasp two elementary points. The first is that even raising the legitimacy of Tinker's action is a muffling of the fact that there is a fundamental distinction between the law as it stands at any one time in a society, and morality, of what is regarded as expressions of what is morally right and wrong, morally better and morally worse, about which the members of that society will, in our current pluralistic culture, have varied and conflicting ideas. Without the recognition that a law may possibly be morally wrong, or that one law may be a moral improvement on an earlier law, there can be no prospect of improvement, and likewise no moral degeneracy, in what a law permits. Or it may be more accurate to say that  the distinction between law and morality is recognised so long as what are regarded as discriminatory laws are being dismantled, but forgotten thereafter. So long as it is forgotten, the situation is characteristic of fascist and communist societies, of having to regard what the law at any one time embodies what is morally right and wrong at that time. In such a situation it takes only a little propaganda to create the illusion that a government’s legislative programme is inevitably making a society more and more inclusive and equal, morally better and better.

In a ‘free’ society, it is possible for a citizen who is a critic of the government to openly, that is publicly, to offer, in print or in speech, a critique of some law passed by the government of the day. This is called ‘freedom of speech’,  and has been the historic position in England since at least the late seventeenth century. But we have reached the position today in which the BBC and other media shut down the prospect of such debate by assuming that the government’s current position on some matter of marital or sexual ethics is the correct one, sidelining or ridiculing views that express a dissenting opinion. This is a curtailing of free speech, and a violation of the BBC’s raison d’etre to report the news objectively.

This odd and unacceptable state of affairs is currently compounded by the widely-held opinion that opposition to some ethical position the state/government enacts  is an the expression of hatred towards some group or other. So the law about morals is buttressed by further expression about the moral position of an objector to that law, that not only is the objector at fault because he is an objector, but that his objecting must be an expression of hatred of his fellows. And who decides whether or not the objector to the law is also a hater – why, the one who gains by the law! If he is offended by his fellow citizens’ free speech, that that expression of opinion may be judged ipso facto to constitute a hate crime. And the evidence that is relevant to establishing this is the say-so of the ‘offended’ party.  If someone expresses the opinion that he is offended by, then the person who has expressed the contrary view is his 'hater'. A triple lock on the suppression of freedom of speech.

Which brings us to the second elementary point. This is that two or more matters can be similar in some respect without being the same. An orange is in the same category as an apple in being a fruit, but that does not mean that an orange is an apple. So Melvyn Tinker’s protest is faced with this headline from the Daily Telegraph running roughshod over that simple distinction: 

A vicar is facing a storm of protest after likening homosexuality to paedophilia and serial adultery as he attacked plans to drape a giant rainbow flag from the steps of York Minster in solidarity with lesbian, gay, and transgender rights.

Well, yes and no. Melvyn Tinker was asserting that it is the Church of England's position, and that of the Bible,  that practicing homosexuality, like paedophilia and serial adultery, is a seriously immoral activity. Nothing less and nothing more. The further question of how these three immoralities should be ranked in respect of their immorality, was not and is not being discussed. But of course it is a moral question well worth discussing.

**For the link to Melvyn Tinker’s interview on Look North, courtesy of St. John’s Newland, Hull,  see  code SJN2015