In the United States, the 1960s marked the beginning of a breakdown in sexual mores and a rise in family disruption, joined with a culture of dissent as many tried to rationalize deviations from traditional morality. The United States witnessed a massive social experiment linked to genuine progress for which the Church was not prepared — discrimination against African-Americans and women was coming to an end, and Catholics were ever-increasingly undergoing assimilation into contemporary culture. As a result, Catholics began placing their spiritual lives in one compartment and their daily activities in the secular arena in another, commencing to treat their Catholic faith as an entirely private matter, open to a “pick-and-choose” approach to doctrine. Many theologians, religious educators and clergy succumbed to the same temptations. So it was hard for the doctrinal teaching of Vatican II to be heard; what did get through was often not the true council, but a “spirit” of Vatican II, of which I have discussed at length in my book, The Smoke of Satan in the Temple of God.
How did the Church fare in the Sixties in Britain? There has been an interest in this decade recently as we commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival here in 1964, and so I became enchanted by an essay written last year by former atheist A N Wilson in The Mail. Here are some reflections:
I’ve lived through the greatest revolution in sexual mores in our history. The damage it’s done appalls me.
By A. N. Wilson
….the 1960s were a turning-point, and the decade did undoubtedly herald the Sexual Revolution.
I was born in 1950…. And far from being ‘rather late for me’, the revolutionary doctrines of the Sixties were all readily adopted by me and countless others.
The arrival of a contraceptive pill for women in 1961 appeared to signal the beginning of guilt-free, pregnancy-free sex.….
But if the propagators of the Sexual Revolution had been able to fast-forward 50 years, what would they have expected to see? Surely not the shocking statistics about today’s sexual habits in the UK which are available for all to study.
In 2011, there were 189,931 abortions carried out, a small rise on the previous year, and about seven per cent more than a decade ago.
Ninety-six per cent of these abortions were funded by the NHS, i.e. by you and me, the taxpayer. One per cent of these were performed because the would-be parents feared the child would be born handicapped in some way. Forty-seven per cent were so-called medical abortions, carried out because the health of mother and child were at risk.
The term ‘medical abortion’ is very widely applied and covers the psychological ‘health’ of the patient.
But even if you concede that a little less than half the abortions had some medical justification, this still tells us that more than 90,000 foetuses are aborted every year in this country simply as a means of lazy ‘birth control’. Ninety thousand human lives are thrown away because their births are considered too expensive or in some other way inconvenient.
The Pill, far from reducing the numbers of unwanted pregnancies, actually led to more.
When women neglected to take the Pill, there seemed all the more reason to use abortion as a form of birth control.
Despite the fact that, in the wake of the Aids crisis, people were urged to use condoms and to indulge in safe-sex, the message did not appear to get through.
In the past few years, sexually transmitted diseases among young people have hugely increased, with more and more young people contracting chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and other diseases, many of them unaware they were infected until after they had been sexually active with a number of partners.
The divorce statistics tell another miserable story. About one third of marriages in Britain end in divorce. And because many couples do not marry at all before splitting up, the number of broken homes is even greater.
This time of year is when the painfulness of family break-up is felt most acutely. January 3 has been nicknamed ‘divorce day’ by lawyers. In a moving article in the Mail recently, Lowri Turner, a twice-divorced mother of three children, wrote about the pain of waking up on Christmas morning without her children. She looks at the presents under the tree, with no children to open them, and thinks: ‘This isn’t the way things are supposed to be.’
Every parent who has been through the often self-inflicted hell of divorce will know what she means.
So will the thousands of children this Christmas who spent the day with only one parent — and often with that parent’s new ‘partner’ whom they hate.
I hold up my hands. I have been divorced. Although I was labelled a Young Fogey in my youth, I imbibed all the liberationist sexual mores of the Sixties as far as sexual morality was concerned.
I made myself and dozens of people extremely unhappy — including, of course, my children and other people’s children. I am absolutely certain that my parents, by contrast, who married in 1939 and stayed together for more than 40 years until my father died, never strayed from the marriage bed.
There were long periods when they found marriage extremely tough, but having lived through years of aching irritation and frustration, they grew to be Darby and Joan, deeply dependent upon one another in old age, and in an imperfect but recognisable way, an object lesson in the meaning of the word ‘love’.
Back in the Fifties, GfK National Opinon Poll conducted a survey asking how happy people felt on a sliding scale — from very happy to very unhappy.
In 1957, 52 per cent said they were ‘very happy’. By 2005, the same set of questions found only 36 per cent were ‘very happy’, and the figures are falling.
More than half of those questioned in the GfK’s most recent survey said that it was a stable relationship which made them happy. Half those who were married said they were ‘very happy’, compared with only a quarter of singles.
The truth is that the Sexual Revolution had the power to alter our way of life, but it could not alter our essential nature; it could not alter the reality of who and what we are as human beings.
It made nearly everyone feel that they were free, or free-er, than their parents had been — free to smoke pot, free to sleep around, free to pursue the passing dream of what felt, at the time, like overwhelming love — an emotion which very seldom lasts, and a word which is meaningless unless its definition includes commitment.
How easy it was to dismiss old-fashioned sexual morality as ‘suburban’, as a prison for the human soul. How easy it was to laugh at the ‘prudes’ who questioned the wisdom of what was happening in the Sexual Revolution.
Yet, as the opinion poll shows, most of us feel at a very deep level that what will make us very happy is not romping with a succession of lovers.
In fact, it is having a long-lasting, stable relationship, having children, and maintaining, if possible, lifelong marriage. [emphasis mine]
An amusing Victorian historian, John Seeley, said the British Empire had been acquired in ‘a fit of absence of mind’. He meant that no one sat down and planned for the British to take over large parts of Asia and Africa: it was more a case of one thing leading to another. In many ways, the Sexual Revolution of the Sixties and Seventies in Britain was a bit like this.
People became more prosperous. People were living longer. The old-fashioned concept of staying in the same marriage and the same job all your life suddenly seemed so, so boring.
But in the Forties and Fifties, divorce had not been an option for most people because it was so very expensive, in terms of economic as well as emotional cost. So people slogged through their unhappy phases and came out at the other end.
It is easy to see, then, if the tempting option of escaping a boring marriage was presented, that so many people were prone to take the adventurous chance of a new partner, a new way of life.
But the Sexual Revolution was not, of course, all accidental. Not a bit of it. Many of the most influential opinion-formers of the age were doing their best to undermine all traditional morality, and especially the traditional morality of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, which has always taught that marriage is for life….
The wackier clerics of the Church of England, the pundits of the BBC, the groovier representatives of the educational establishment, the liberal Press, have all, since the Sexual Revolution began, gone along with the notion that a relaxation of sexual morality will lead to a more enlightened and happy society.
This was despite the fact that all the evidence around us demonstrates that the exact opposite is the case.
In the Fifties, the era when people were supposedly ‘repressed’, we were actually much happier than we have been more recently — in an era when confused young people have been invited to make up their own sexual morals as they went along.
The old American cliche is that you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube; and it is usually a metaphor used to suggest that it is impossible to turn the clock back in matters of public behaviour and morality. Actually, you know, I think that is wrong.
Our generation, who started to grow up ‘between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP’ got it all so horribly wrong….
We ignored the obvious fact that moral conventions develop in human societies for a reason.
We may have thought it was ‘hypocritical’ to condemn any form of sexual behaviour, and we may have dismissed the undoubted happiness felt by married people as stuffy, repressed and old hat.
But we were wrong, wrong, wrong.
Two generations have grown up — comprising children of selfish grown-ups who put their own momentary emotional needs and impulses before family stability and the needs of their children.
However, I don’t think this behaviour can last much longer. The price we all pay for the fragmentation of society, caused by the break-up of so many homes, will surely lead to a massive rethink.
At least, let’s hope so.