Listen, Don't Panic
01 April 1997

Greater personal liberty does require greater individual responsibility, obeying one's conscience may help towards that.

The Times, 18 February 1997: 'Drug and alcohol abuse and violent crime are rife... Although Billie-Jo's murder has shocked residents, many say that after five murders last year, she was an inevitable statistic... There is 14 per cent unemployment and 11 per cent of homes are unfit for human habitation...'

Similar or worse descriptions could be written about districts of many cities across the Western world. But this is not Brixton or the Bronx. It's Hastings, where King Harold met his Norman match and genteel Victorians came for their holidays by the sea.

The number of 'Hastings' seems to be increasing. Yet those who put antisocial behaviour down to poverty are ignoring the fact that areas with few economic problems are seeing symptoms of moral malaise. In fact Britain's epidemic of substance abuse, short-lived marriages, crime, corruption and greed is happening at a time when the economy is strong and unemployment is falling.

The social cohesion that has by and large held in Britain over the centuries is being increasingly tested. As community and family ties weaken, behaviour that would previously have been banned becomes normal. As laws become more liberal and the church loses its authority, people's view of what is permissible continually broadens.

Few would want to return to the days when unmarried mothers were ostracized, petty criminals were deported and much abuse went unreported for appearances' sake. But greater personal liberty does require greater individual responsibility, and it is here that we seem to be wanting.

Such sentiments provoke charges of 'moral panic' from cynics, but an anything-goes culture of amorality leaves people floundering without reference points. Finding valid moral guidelines is important for society and individuals.

Somewhere within the heart of all human beings there lies a conscience. The signal we pick up from it may be dimmed through lack of practice, or distorted by prejudices and fears. That is why Moral Re-Armament recommends absolute honesty, purity, unselfishness and love as a mechanism for filtering out as much of the mental dross as possible. By persisting in seeking and obeying conscience, we may find ourselves empowered to help launch the kind of trends we long to see.
Kenneth Noble

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