Loosing and Binding

By: John Thorp  

This paper is a reflection on the shift in popular morality, in Canada, in the last half-century or so. In particular, it explores a striking pattern in that shift. Of course, this pattern holds more widely than just in Canada, but the Canadian case is the one I know. The 1960s began an era of liberation, on many fronts. The Churches – mainly Christian – had long been the keepers of the moral code, sustaining broadly acknowledged restrictions in the sexual sphere – extramarital sex, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, etc. – and on the consumption of alcohol and on gambling. The secular moral mood of those years was that of casting off these constraints, loosing these bonds. In part, the population drifted away from religion, and in part, too, religions themselves began to loosen their strictures. Secularization was, in a sense, a negative movement, negating the old rules, casting off the bonds. But now, several decades on, the picture is different. Secular culture has asserted positive moral values, different from, and often at odds with, those of traditional religion: values concerning human rights, women’s autonomy, non-discrimination, securing public safety, bodily health, safeguarding children’s innocence, environmental responsibility…. In some cases, the Churches have scurried to sign on to these values, albeit with some internal struggle. In other cases – as for example sexual harassment – the new secular strictures are in decidedly more severe than the old ones. First we loosed, and now we bind.

Secularism Religion Morality
Religious Community and Socialization
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

John Thorp

Associate Professor, Philosophy, University of Western Ontario, Canada
Ontario, Canada

John Thorp is a member and former Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Western Ontario, as well as a member of the core faculty of the Graduate Program in Theology. His interests lie in ancient philosophy (particularly Aristotle) as well as in metaphysics and in the philosophy of religion. He is a former Chair of the Department of Classical Studies at the University of Ottawa, and a former President of the Canadian Philosophical Association.