Faith in the World Week: Is there a moral crisis in Britain?

Woman praying Expenses scandals, the banking crisis and the Leveson enquiry - is their a moral crisis in Britain?

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Do we need rules to follow or do we instinctively know what's right and wrong - and just find it harder to follow these in practice? Does cynicism breed contempt for conventional morality? This is the focus of Radio 2s faith in the world week this year.

Producer of Says Who? Peter Everett, shares some ideas and thoughts on the areas they covered.

At the age of 28, Geraint Anderson was making £300,000 a year working for a bank in the City of London. He gave it up because, he says, "I didn't like the person I was becoming".

Geraint has harsh things to say about the culture of 'greedy ruthlessness' that has come to dominate the financial sector during the last quarter-century, but the worst of it, he believes, is the effect on the rest of us.

Says Who?

"These bankers have created the biggest financial crisis in living memory, yet no-one seems to be being punished. You combine that with the MPs' expenses scandal, with police being corrupt, with journalists doing very underhand things.... I mean every conceivable part of society.

He added: "It creates this extraordinary cynicism. Everyone who used to get respect, actually they're just after their own ends. It's just an appalling situation."

Pastor Edward Adiagbo, a London-based evangelist who has studied gang culture, sees this same cynicism about society as a factor in last year's riots: "Young people, they look at morality, especially within the black community, as related to issues of social justice.

"They read the headlines in the newspapers and they ask themselves 'What's going to become of me?' So there is a moral crisis today, and part of the riots last year was simply questions being asked about society at large." he told us.

The culture of shallowness

The 'moral crisis' that Edward Adiagbo talks about has many causes and many consequences - far more of both than we could even list in our hour of Radio 2 airtime; but some themes came back time and again in our interviews.

Faith in the World Week

Each year around this time on BBC Radio 2 the Religion and Ethics Radio team launch a designated week across the network called 'Faith in the World Week'. It is a fantastic opportunity to plug into what matters to people and explore it from the perspective of faith across different traditions as well as talking to people with no religious belief at all. This year we felt the subject which everyone has been most caught up with is morality in society, and more particularly morality both in the workplace and family setting. Having watched one scandal after another unfold in banking, journalism and politics, we decided we should look at whether we needs rules to follow or whether we all instinctively know what's right and wrong - it's just harder to live it out in practice.

On Monday night at 10 pm former Communards band member, turned priest and broadcaster Rev Richard Coles will present the documentary 'Says Who?' the Radio 2 'Faith In The World Week' documentary. He went on the road with Producer Peter Everett to talk to sixth formers at Bradford Grammar school - a multifaith, multicultural school in the middle of an area which has Muslims, Christian and atheists living side by side in community. They also visited The City to talk to ex-bankers and fund managers about the culture which preceded one of the worst crises in the history of banking and they explored the world of celebrity with one of the best known mentors in the business, Carrie Grant who is a Christian.

The first is the media, which take the blame for promoting not only the cynicism but also 'celebrity culture'.

"In our press we celebrate shallowness," voice- and life-coach Carrie Grant, mentor to the famous, points out. "You're either an inspiring person, you're amazing and you've done great things, or suddenly you are absolutely hated.

"That's not helpful because most people have both good and bad within them. I think it is dangerous if we are saying this is what gives worth. Because it doesn't give worth, it gives status."

The second big theme is the wide - and still widening - gap between scripture-based morality and the ad-hoc rules of thumb that secular Britain seems to be working out for itself.

In the programme we found a dramatic example of this when we talked to the writer Catherine Hakim, author of a recent book about marital infidelity.

Catherine thinks that Britain (where, according to surveys, the number of people having affairs has doubled in recent years) is becoming more like continental Europe, where affairs are 'winked at' rather than seen as taboo.

What's more, Catherine thinks this is a good thing, and that the virtue of honesty in marriage is overrated: "The French approach is - if you're going to have an affair, it is absolutely required that it should be so discreet and so invisible that you would never ever embarrass or hurt your partner in any way. And I think the French approach is actually a fair and valid one."

From Bishop to Buddhist, other speakers in our programme took exception to that one. Even so, the morality-gap is there and the churches (and temples and mosques) will have to decide how to respond to it.

One response would be to change. As Sarah, a sixth-former at Bradford Grammar School put it: "Society changes and religion has to adapt to that. It can't just be the same traditional values. Christianity is quite a flexible religion, and I feel like it can change with the times; for example gay marriage: I think that gay marriage is absolutely fine, because I think marriage evolves with people's traditions. The point of Jesus was change; he changed the long-held Jewish traditions. And because Christianity started out as a changing religion, I think it's fine for it to continue changing."

The opposite response would be to stand firm and insist that the rules are not to be bent, let alone broken.

And (perhaps surprisingly) that policy too found support among the young people we interviewed. As one young Muslim put it: "Normally I wouldn't be in favour of tradition, but when it comes to religion, I think there should be some things that should never change.

"They should stay the same for all ages, so that whenever the time or age, there will always be something that we agree on."

Geraint's cynicism about the lack of ethics in the banking sector is a view that was shared by lots of people we spoke to. But that doesn't mean they don't want to move on to find solutions to the issues.

In the words of the Bishop of Bradford, Nick Baines: "To be cynical is to believe the worst about everyone and everything, to have a negative view of the world... It damages relationships; it creates a sort of pessimism about life."

On either side of the debate we found an earnest striving for principles that would work in the real world, a desire - even a desperation - for answers to this 'moral crisis'.

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