The erosion of morality and its legacy
Between the idea and the reality … falls the shadow.” So wrote TS Eliot in 1925.
The European Values Study is a pan-European research project focusing especially on values associated with work, religion, lifestyles and other issues. Its most recent data gathering exercise was in 2008, the fourth of its kind. This study focuses on changing religious values in Ireland over the span of the EVS (1981-2008) and examines the rise in secularism and the rapid decrease in church participation that brings Ireland much closer to European norms. In the 2011 census, it emerged that 84% of the people of the Irish Republic described themselves as “Roman Catholic”. The number of atheists and agnostics and diverse other faiths was up too, but Roman Catholics remained the vast majority.
If religious and social values and attitudes are changing, what are the implications for Irish society? As we become an increasingly educated society, what is happening to our value and belief systems? Does the erosion of church practice mean the erosion of values or are we simply witnessing transference of allegiance from institutions to something else? Like drugs, sex, murder, pornography, or social media. Some suggest that the reduction of care and concern for others, a reduced sense of God, and a minimised approach to things religious, along with a rise in liberalism, are not of themselves a forerunner of prosperity and joy for society; the opposite many people believe is true, and will result in decreased happiness and increased isolation especially for the elderly, the poor and the disabled. Is it undeniable that Ireland is fast becoming different from even thirty years ago, and will be different in the future? Society will have to take into account the diversity of immigrants and people disenfranchised by society. This is becoming especially true in relation to institutional religion. As the Irish let go of things deeply rooted in their culture and tradition, is this simply implying that we are becoming a “mature” nation amongst the nations of Europe? Or have we come to accept that “anything goes” at the peril of future boundaries and happiness.
When it comes to personal morality, the gap between what people say and do is often equally unclear and difficult to understand. Just look at all the lame promises from those in power to address the many problems in our country, from health, education, finances and the total lack of accountability to the detriment of taxpayers who are at their wits end to support a corrupt governance. Disapproving of a thing is not the same as not doing it. Many disapprove of the actions of others but end up doing it themselves. It is still mesmerizing to see what people in Ireland consider to be beyond the moral pale and then what they shrug off as unimportant. At opposite ends of that spectrum lie two very different worlds. One is pre-marital sex, which has clearly lost its stigma and nearly a requirement now before marriage. It is accepted by old and young that this is modern living. We look at how quickly moral values can shift once a society starts to change. It was not so long ago that Catholic Ireland would have taken a much dimmer view that this was considered unwise, unacceptable and sinful. On the other end of the scale, there is drink driving, which attracts a disapproval of the vast majority, and there is almost universal disapproval of the practice.
Though one does have to ask: has the shadow fallen once more between the idea and the reality?
In recent years an erosion of what was once an absolute requirement for public servants appear to be totally lost with neither integrity, honesty or truthfulness being given, and as work practices are questionable to the detriment of our citizens. Or how equality and justice in health services, education, and the workplace appear to be non-existent? Or the lack of services that are required for mental health, poverty, and social injustices. The total lack of compassion and truthfulness for people suffering from errors made in many organizations, including banks, hospitals, the Gardai, and our politicians. All of these equate to the erosion of morality.
We never hear any more preachers giving homilies about the Ten Commandments, The Corporal Works of Mercy or the Seven Deadly Sins. These were all recognized as a way to bring clarity to how we should live in a just society. They were the signposts for a happy and inclusive living and encouraged people not to infringe on others or cause pain. What are the values, qualities, and parameters are we leaving for another generation, or for those coming down the tracks? Is life going to be a free for all, get all you can, do what you like, abuse others or take away someone’s happiness? This is where unhappy citizens, unhappy childhoods, unhappy marriages, or unhappy families are fostered and left to decay. Or will it be too late to row back from the precipice of sinking under a non-redeemable life of lies, dishonesty, lack of accountability, deceit, and debauchery?
The time has come for every person, young or old to take stock and see if all this free-living and “anything goes” becomes the norm, and start with themselves to affect change in their own homes. When all levels of immorality and injustice will be the acceptable order of the day. It will be a very tragic day, groping in the darkness of human failure, for those hoping to live happy and fulfilled lives in the future, on this glorious island where we are lucky to live.
Peg Hanafin, MSc.
Author of Getting More out of Life, Thoughts for your Journey, Never Give Up, and I Wish I had Known. A columnist with newspapers and magazines.