“Everyone did as they saw fit”

History rolls on, and our worldview constantly changes. The 17th and 18th centuries saw the beginnings of rationalism: tradition was rejected, the supernatural was dismissed, and observational science began its inexorable rise. People might have had differing opinions as to what the truth was (did God exist, or not?), but they shared the underlying assumption that an objective truth existed.
This was the mindset in which I was educated (during the Sixties and Seventies). But things have changed since then – and the cultural shift is epitomised by the new Guide Promise (introduced in 2013). No longer are young Girl Guides obliged to pledge their allegiance to a deity or even to their country; instead they aspire to “be true to myself”. The aim of course is to be all-inclusive, because such a promise cannot possibly offend anyone. But what are the underlying implications?
Few of the younger generation now believe that there is such a thing as objective truth; rather, everyone has their own personal ‘truth’. You can believe in anything you like, so long as you keep it to yourself – but woe betide you if you try to impose your beliefs on anyone else! Many people pride themselves on being ‘spiritual’, but reject any systematic, thought-out set of beliefs such as are embodied by the major world religions. Post-modern religion – ‘fashionable’ religion – is a pick-and-mix of whatever you fancy.
Now it is not only truth that is being relativised, but also morality. Moral codes such as the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are all very well, but there are some bits in them that have always been unpopular and difficult to put into practice. “Be true to yourself” is a much more attractive manifesto than “do as you would be done by”. But what happens when everyone steers their lives by their own individual moral compass?
It’s not as if this hasn’t been tried before. One of the more unsavoury parts of Biblical history is the period when the nation of Israel had neither a strong central government nor a widely shared commitment to their national religion. “Everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 17:6) – and the result was a downward spiral in moral standards, culminating in behaviour that is shocking and abhorrent to read about.
Human society is like a complex interweaving dance; if we do not all keep to more or less the same steps and the same tempo, we will quickly end up colliding with and tripping over one another. Improvisation works only if the basic underlying rules are still observed by all parties. It is somewhat reassuring that the girls making the new Guide Promise are still expected to observe the Guide laws. But what happens when their turn comes to revise the Guide laws? If in some not-so-distant future the fabric of society starts to unravel, it will be because our generation started unpicking the hem.

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