Sex, Drugs And Rock N’Roll
I entered the Sixth Form in the autumn of 1962 and a month after term started the Beatles released their first single, Love Me Do. An enterprising lad, Steve Whitaker, who later worked as a lawyer for the London firm who handled Mick Jagger’s legal affairs, arranged a group in the form room to render this new song at lunchtimes.
We had mastered this and the subsequent Beatles singles, Love Me Do and Please Please Me, when in June of 1963 the Rolling Stones issued their first single Come On, a version of the Chuck Berry song released two years before. Although there had been syncopated popular music in the U.S.A. for some considerable time and this had been heard on the British radio channels, along with the music of Lonnie Donegan and Tommy Steele, now for the first time fully-fledged rock music was flourishing on our own soil and on a grand scale. A revolution was under way.
I went to university in the autumn of 1965. By now rock music was a flourishing business. A fellow member of a college poetry group happened to be friend of Eric Clapton, who was coming to play in the newly-formed group Cream at a college ball. Eric asked him to find him some pot for when he arrived. He did.
By then my closest friend Pete Everett, later to be a Radio Three producer, sometimes smoked cannabis and I knew people who had taken L.S.D., but it was all part of a small, rather experimental phenomenon. Nobody I knew was, or became, an addict. It was a stylish diversion for those by no means short of cash.
I was at university with fifteen of my school contemporaries. We talked openly about most things. By the time we were twenty, only a small minority had had any significant sexual experience. I wondered then if we were a rarity, but years later I was talking to a very attractive vivacious woman who had been a nurse on a cruise liner in the late fifties and early sixties. She said that not once, to her knowledge, was any female member of the staff the subject of sexual propositioning or the offer of a ‘cruise affair’.
To think of all unmarried young people then as celibate would be absurd, but very many had little or no sexual contact with others and the social structure almost guaranteed that state of affairs for most. Regular sexual activity began with marriage, or not very long before. By the end of the sixties sex, drugs and rock n’rock had made enormous strides. We now live in a world, in this country at least, where most young people feel free to enjoy at will all three, and more, without inhibition of any kind.
Several powerful forces were at work until the ‘sixties, limiting the range of activity of young people in many respects. Most lived at home; most respected their parents, accepted social standards and obeyed the law. The great influence behind society, parents and the law was the Church. Though many rarely went to an act of worship, most viewed the standards and teaching of the Christian Church as a kind of gold standard, an indicator of how a virtuous person should act. In other language, most wished to be, and to be seen as, wholly respectable.
The origin of the Church’s teaching was the life and the sayings of Jesus Christ. His own celibate life was mirrored in the life and teaching of St Paul, who, like his Master, allowed marriage only as a concession to weakness in a faith inseparable from a vision of the approaching end-time. More than this, the New Testament appears to treat pleasure and personal gratification as profoundly undesirable things, largely to be rejected as sources of temptation and the substance of sin. This characteristic, indeed, separates early Christianity from Judaism, which sees all good things enjoyed in a context compatible with the Law as gifts from God.
It is apparent that much of British society no longer holds the classic teaching of the Church as binding or even wise or helpful. Theism is itself diminishing and the idea of an authority external to self is widely rejected. Indeed, close to the heart of the later twentieth-century social and ethical revolution is the notion that one’s mind and body belong entirely to oneself, with no other being having claims upon them.
What characterises this era of sex, drugs and rock n’roll, therefore, is the idea that all sources of pleasure are to be seen simply as recreational tools, there to be taken without inhibition or any sense of guilt as the fortunate source of, in principle, limitless personal gratification. We are, therefore, talking here about hedonism, the placing of personal pleasure above all other considerations.
The problem with such a world-view is, however, that quite different forces are also at work in human life. There is a great need for predictability, loyalty and stability. Many people feel powerful allegiances to others, whether as friends or partners. Children are born and require care and nurture. The elderly and dependent do not just look after themselves. Many people find themselves performing selfless acts without even thinking.
Thus the underlying issue in all matters of personal moral choice is that of the relationship between self and others. The enduring Christian argument must be, that all forms of true hedonism are inherently anti-social because radical considerations of self inevitably drive out every appropriate concern for others.
It seems, therefore, that a Christian view of human motivation and behaviour accounts for much more of human experience, need and expectation than many today would like to admit. Does that mean that the ‘old’ inherited Christian attitude was wholly correct?
We encounter today many outworkings of the social and moral revolution. All around us are people taking drugs for recreational purposes. Dancing, music film and theatre can be erotic or deal explicitly with sexual themes, People have sexual encounters and live together without marrying. Divorce is very common. Gay relationships are widely accepted as part of society and formally recognised. It goes without saying that most of us will have family members whose lives are part of this new world.
It is almost certainly the case that we will have been disturbed by the behaviour of someone close to us, but equally probable that we will not have openly condemned or rejected them. The Christian face has become more one of understanding and compassion than revulsion and condemnation. Yet we still desperately lack an adequate contemporary rationale of moral assessment.
The New Testament marks highly dangerous territory with a big red flag. At the same time it emphasises our obligations towards God and neighbour. There is, though, no corresponding word about human life as inevitably somewhat exploratory or as a legitimate source of pleasure; no sufficient word about what could form part of good working human relationships. If we compare the Christian faith with, say, Hinduism, it is utterly lacking in any positive account of human sexuality. It seems that we must be engaged in a work still in progress. With our own minds let us play a constructive part in that work.