Ideas Have Consequences: Sodom Prophesied and Revisited

Ranald Macaulay

The fact that we find ourselves living in Sodom should come as no surprise. Almost a century ago to the day (8 April 1906) Lytton Strachey of Trinity College, Cambridge, wrote to Maynard Keynes, the future economist,

“We can’t be content with telling the truth – we must tell the
whole truth: and the whole truth is the Devil…..It’s madness
for us to dream of making dowagers understand that feelings
are good, when we say in the same breath that the best ones
are sodomitical….our time will come a hundred years hence.”

Well, the hundred years have elapsed and what do we find? An award winning Hollywood film ensures the growing acceptance of homo-sexuality even if it doesn’t extol it, prominent celebrities and politicians flaunt their ‘partners’ as if this is a ‘normal’ state of affairs, and sodomy is now incorporated into the legal fabric of the nation. Even the established churches speak with an uncertain voice in the matter. Lytton Strachey was right. He was in fact a secular prophet. He realised that ideas have consequences and that the rise of atheism during the 19th century would in due course subvert the institutions created and sustained by the Judaeo-Christian faith. So the ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ of today would have come as no surprise to him any more than the hetero-sexual revolution of the sixties. Remove the foundation and the walls come tumbling down. It is now assumed that teenagers will be ‘sexually active’ and that men and women will be ‘partners’ rather than spouses. Why not! Isn’t this a more exciting and liberating way of doing things?

Interestingly, the historical background of today’s heterosexual promiscuity is as clearly traceable as its counterpart. Already a century before Strachey we find William Godwin – later to become Shelley’s father in law – advocating free love along with his newly acquired atheism. He had trained to be a dissenting minister but had turned away from his faith first to deism and then to atheism. Shelley followed suit after reading Godwin’s ‘Political Justice’ as a pupil at Eton. It was a case of ‘like father, like son’. Meanwhile, Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft – the West’s proto-feminist one might say – had become ‘partners’ in the mid 1790s. That was what the new philosophy required - which explains why, when they later married, they apologised to their friends for their ideological inconsistency. Marriage was simply a convention to be ignored or reluctantly tolerated until better times. But Mary was pregnant and there were practical considerations to be taken into account. Sadly Mary died in childbirth leaving her equally famous daughter, also Mary (the author of ‘Frankenstein’), who later eloped with Shelley around 1814. Shelley meanwhile was expelled from Oxford for his tract ‘On the Necessity of Atheism’ (1811). And “…such was his notion of marital fidelity – free love was part of the Godwinian ideology – we find him after the breach with Harriet Westbrook (his wife) inviting Harriet to join him and Mary Godwin on a visit to Switzerland”. Not surprisingly Harriet committed suicide shortly afterwards.

The pattern, in other words, was established long before condoms and contraceptive pills came on the scene. Why? Because a more potent force than technology had entered the equation. Ideas had changed. The Judaeo-Christian God was non-existent. ‘All change please!’ Hence the end of the story today: sexual licence endemic throughout the western world.

Yet it is merely atheism’s appropriate fruit and we should not be surprised. Nor should we be ‘shocked’. Jesus wasn’t shocked by the immorality of his own day. In his encounter with the woman at the well he provides us with a model of how to conduct ourselves in such settings. He is both clear and compassionate (John 4). The woman’s cycle of partners is inexcusable and destructive: she lacks ‘water’ to quench her thirst. She must turn from her ways and from the inadequacies of her Samaritan ideas for ‘salvation is of the Jews’. Doubtless he would have said the same had it been a homosexual male before him at the well, for heterosexual promiscuity is no less serious than homosexuality. From God’s view neither is ‘natural’ and he is not partial about sexual ‘sin’.

But we should not easily forget that contemporary Sodom began in Europe a long time ago. Once atheism was widely accepted it was all over bar the shouting. And if some object that polytheism has displaced atheism nothing is in fact changed for a radically subjective, self-styled religion is also a result of the rejection of the Biblical God. So whether our task is subverting philosophical or practical atheism, we should not lose focus – for ideas have consequences both ways.

Ranald Macaulay
Ranald Macaulay, 17/04/2006