The Purvis Society was delighted to welcome back Canon Nigel Nicholson, after an absence of two years, to address the Upper Sixth Scholars. Taking ‘The Limits of Acceptability’ as his title, Canon Nicholson treated his young audience to a stream of challenging ideas and questions based on his long service as a clergyman during which, as he said, he had the ‘privilege of dealing with a wide variety of people’ some of whom, he admitted, left him ‘gobsmacked!’ by their attitudes and sense of responsibilities.
Starting by referring to our interest in times past (many television programmes certainly reflect this), he wondered if we really were better off today and whether we had lost some of our identity; do we belong? He suggested that we need clear guidelines and that sometimes, when we lose sight of the greater good, we lose direction. Drawing on his experience as a priest he referred to his discussion groups when preparing young people for marriage by asking, ‘What is it?’ and ‘What is its purpose?’ He suggested that in our modern days ‘it’s all up for grabs; anything goes’. But is it? Our present generation doesn’t think it unusual for a couple to live together before marriage, yet there is a huge increase in divorce and thus broken families. There are same-sex relationships that baulk at the word Marriage; single women want a baby without a father figure and at a very late stage to satisfy their motherly instincts. He proposed that there is always a point at which the situation gets out of hand and a sharp ‘No!’ is the order of the day. But who says no; whose decision is it; is it personal, or is it due to the demands of society?
Canon Nicholson informed us that he remembered the ‘60s. Carnaby Street, The Beatles, long hair, experimentation, liberation, drugs, sex, Mick Jagger (now very much ‘establishment’ as Sir…): the traditional values seem to have been turned upside down, to have been challenged, to be irrelevant. ‘The Church,’ he said, ‘no longer has a voice as it once did, as the guardian of morality and ethical values.’ We seem to have opened Pandora’s Box with little chance of getting everything back inside. It would seem as if the individual now matters more than the community and one wonders where today’s limits and boundaries are? Are we moving into anarchy? Are there limits and, if so, who arbitrates? No one is above the law and yet there are changes, massive changes, particularly in Faith. The individual should be allowed to be free, but surely not to the detriment of the greater good. ‘It can’t be me, all the time,’ Canon Nigel said. He suggested that this egocentric approach began at home with parents who seemed no longer to take responsibility and who do not set a suitable example. Divorce is so easy; there are a lot of lost childhoods out there.
Canon Nicholson went on to remind us that ‘we live in a permissive society’, but how far do we go? Paedophilia? Homosexuality? Prostitution – should this be legalised because (as Jeremy Corbyn believes) we live in a civilised society? All the taboos have been discarded; abortion is now legal, how long before euthanasia also is? ‘Where’, asked Canon Nicholson, ‘is the respect for the human being?’ Should there be a new code of human behaviour with a belief in its dynamics but ensuring that we don’t cross a bridge too far?
Not surprisingly, a splendid discussion ensued with excellent contributions from virtually everyone in the audience, particularly when the Deputy Head laid the blame for a lot of current values firmly at the feet of social media!
Dr Christopher Mann