The Cambridge Union Society’s Bicentenary Debate yesterday, which according to the invitation was about ‘celebrating 200 years of free speech’, has moved me to some sober reflections about the impact of political correctness over the past thirty years. When I became a life member of the Union in 1984, it would have been possible for the then President to have held a debate about the spiritual, moral and psychological impact of abortion on British society.
If there had been attempts to stop or disrupt the debate, the authorities would have backed the Union. At the very least, it must be questioned whether that would happen now.
The moral climate has changed radically and nowhere is that more clearly illustrated than in what happened to Harry Hammond in 2001. He set up a stall in Bournemouth town centre with some banners criticising homosexual practice. Members of an angry crowd broke his banners and in fact assaulted the late Mr Hammond.
The police arrived but it was the Christian street preacher who got arrested, not his assailants. The ascendancy of political correctness since 1984 is unquestionably threatening freedom of speech in our country.
To reflect briefly on the cultural climate in 1815, there is no doubt that the secular intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment was a factor in the foundation of a debating society like the Union. But much more important in relation to the flourishing of freedom of expression in this country was the providential decision of Almighty God, who is the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, to unleash on the peoples of these islands the Authorised Version of the English Bible in the early 17th Century. That was followed by the evangelical revival of the 18th Century, which saturated British culture with Christianity.
The inconvenient fact for the influential proponents of political correctness present at the debate is that it was Christian Britain that gave birth to the Cambridge Union. But now it is far from inconceivable that risk assessments on the expression of Christian convictions in university debating societies could soon become compulsory.
The motion being debated at the Bicentenary was ‘This House is not what it used to be’. That unfortunately would appear to be true, not because of anything the Union has done or desires to do but because a toxic, socially Marxist, anti-Christian ideology has possessed the soul of Britain’s political and cultural leadership. Tragically for freedom of thought and expression, university debating societies cannot escape the consequences.