Are you a cannibal? You might very well be. Imagine that you happen to belong to a cannibal tribe. You have been taught from infancy that the only way to secure the tribe is to eat its enemies. Doing so prevents their sprits from bringing harm. Or perhaps that it enables you to to be strengthened from consuming the enemy’s spirit. It’s a pound to a penny that you would go with the flow.
This reminds us that, in addition to our genes and our upbringing, there is the influence of society and – more particularly that part of society within which we ordinarily live. And we tend to be less aware of that third influence. I suppose I would describe myself as a bourgeois liberal with intellectual aspirations. So I spend much of my time with such people. Indeed, here I am – writing in a bourgeois liberal way.
We should of course expect this. Evolution requires that there should be harmony within groups because a harmonious group leads to greater survival and greater success. So it survives and breeds. We are programmed to have the same values as our group.
A way of testing this is to look back through our lives and note the changes in our attitudes. I don’t only mean the changes which come about through the maturing of age but the changes which are vulnerable to exterior society. This may be clearer to Catholics than to some others because it is easier to spot changes as they occur.
In my formative years (1940s) the Church took pride in its rigidity. Doctrine was firm and unchangeable: you did not question, you accepted. Moral teaching was specific, extensive, and required unquestioning obedience. Conscience was a simple matter: the Church told you what your conscience said. The smoke of Hell was always in the nose. But then came Vatican II and, later, the question of artificial contraception. As you may know, I believe that the latter was the first essential influence on comprehensive change. We suddenly found that we actually had a real conscience. It will never be the same again.
Some of you will react to this by holding that all these developments have been disastrous. The Church has lost its authority, individual Catholics are confused, it will be difficult and perhaps impossible for the Church to get back to its true authority and, more importantly, its true identity.
Others will say that it is only now that the Church is finding its identity. Yes, there are problems and confusion. Some liberals go to extremes, of course. But we are at last beginning to reform the Church so that it can be a real reflection of Christ amongst his people.
In calling to mind these alternatives I am not arguing the case either way. I am asking in what ways have your values changed from those of your youth? And to what extent do you find yourself in company with Catholics who are broadly in agreement with your views? Can you make a list of your specific dogmatic and moral values which have changed over that time? And do you agree that it is important to ensure that the values you hold are your own rather than merely accepting the values of others.