You can't legislate morality

Discussion in 'Free-For-All Archives' started by rufus, Sep 11, 2004.

  1. rufus

    rufus
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    You can't legislate morality

    www.probe.org/docs/pol&rel.html

    Nearly everywhere you go, it seems, you hear statements like, "You can't legislate morality," or "Christians shouldn't try to legislate their morality." Like dandelions, they pop up out of nowhere and sow seeds of deception in the fertile, secular soil of our society.

    Unfortunately, I have also heard these cliches repeated in many churches. Even Christians seem confused about how they are to communicate a biblical view of issues to a secular world.

    Part of the confusion stems from blurring the distinctions between law and human behavior. When a person says, "You can't legislate morality," he or she might mean simply that you can't make people good through legislation. In that instance, Christians can agree.

    The law (whether biblical law or civil law) does not by itself transform human behavior. The apostle Paul makes that clear in his epistle to the Romans. English jurists for the last few centuries have also agreed that the function of the law is not to make humans good but to control criminal behavior.

    But if you understand the question in its normal formulation, then Christians can and should legislate morality. At the more basic level, law and public policy is an attempt to legislate morality. The more relevant question is not whether we should legislate morality but what kind of morality we should legislate.

    Much of the confusion stems from our country's misunderstanding of democratic pluralism. Our founders wisely established a country that protected individual personal beliefs with constitutional guarantees of speech, assembly, and religion. But undergirding this pluralism was a legal foundation that presupposed a Judeo-Christian system of ethics.

    Thus, in the area of personal ethics, people are free to think and believe anything they want. Moreover, they are free to practice a high degree of ethical pluralism in their personal life. To use a common phrase, they are free "to do their own thing." But that doesn't imply total ethical anarchy. Not everyone can "do his own thing" in every arena of life, so government must set some limits to human behavior.

    This is the domain of social ethics. To use an oft-repeated phrase, "a person's right to freely swing his or her arms, stops at the end of your nose." When one person's actions begin to affect another person, we have moved from personal ethics to social ethics and often have to place some limits on human behavior.

    Government is to bear the sword (Rom. 13:4) and thus must legislate some minimum level of morality when there is a threat to life, liberty, or property. An arsonist is not free "to do his own thing" nor is a rapist or a murderer. At that point, government must step in to protect the rights of citizens.

    Perhaps the most visible clash between different perceptions of ethics can be seen in the abortion controversy. Pro-choice groups generally see the abortion issue as an area of personal morality. On the other hand, pro-life advocates respond that the fetus is human life, so something else is involved besides just personal choice. Thus, government should protect the life of the unborn child.
     
  2. Gup20

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    I think we can and should legislate morality. However, we can't make someone believe in God through law. That is precisely what our constitution protects (and that is ALL that is said about 'separation of church and state'). We already have laws that legislate our behavior - laws that protect against rape, murder, assult, speeding, etc. If our behavior is already dictated in that way, then I would surmise that WE ALREADY LEGISLATE MORALITY. We just try to decide on where the line should be drawn. Is the speed limit 50 or 70? Is it a fetus or a life? Some of our laws are not as important as others, and since we already have laws governing behavior it is not a matter of creating new laws to govern morality, but rather sustaining or moving the line at which something becomes wrong. THAT is what morality has become in this country - where is the line. Each generation will always try to push the door open further. The problem is many don't see the difference between societal morality and religous morality. If you try to legislate or force a religous view on someone you are basically taking away their God given right to choose that religon (the abcence of alternatives is not freedom of choice). Morality is an agreed upon list of don'ts. We can certainly move that line close to God's concept of morality with our votes in elections... but I think it is important we make the distinction between legislating morality and legislating religion. But where is the line drawn? If we as christians stand up for the things we believe on in masses (quantity that is) - we can move the line closer to what we believe is God's definition of morality. Christians still make up a good portion of the population and we could have a loud voice if everyone would do their part come voting time.
     
  3. The Galatian

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    You can legislate morality. Of course you can. You can also outlaw hailstorms.

    The point is, if a large number of people don't agree with the legislated morality, it isn't going to work.
     
  4. The Galatian

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    Gup, just when I'm about to write you off completely, you post something sensible like that. I couldn't agree more.

    My question though, is what make you think that Bush with his changing opinions of homosexual marriage, abortion, etc. is likely to help with this?

    If a large number of Christians go to Peroutka, it could make the republicans realize that they aren't going to take it anymore.

    If not, republicans will realize that they will continue to take it.

    Give it some thought.
     
  5. Pennsylvania Jim

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    Actually, morality is about the only thing you can effectively legislate.

    "Thou shalt not steal"
    "Thou shalt not murder"

    etc. etc.
     
  6. The Galatian

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    As long as people agree with it. Consider how the war on drugs is doing, or how prohibition worked out.

    Laws reflecting a general consensus of the community are usually effective. Those that aren't, aren't.
     
  7. TomVols

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    This begs the question, though. When is the general community consensus right or wrong?
     
  8. Daniel David

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    People, God's law couldn't legislate God's people. Somehow you think you can come up with a way to legislate the human heart better than God. I expected PJ to support this hilarious idea.
     
  9. KenH

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    This verse apparently sums up Daniel David's approach to legislation -

    Judges 21:25 (ESV)
    In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

    Daniel, do you advocate anarchy in human governmental affairs?
     
  10. Daniel David

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    Very well thought out Ken. I can see you are still thinking through things before your posts.

    It is obvious you failed to comprehend what I did say.

    Morality is determined by God. The heart of man is corrupt.

    Make all the laws you want, people will still break them and not be governed by them. Duh.
     
  11. KenH

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    Sounds like you are saying we should not have laws because people still break them and are not governed by them. Therefore, you sound like you are advocating anarchy in human governmental affairs. You sound like you are advocating a very extreme form of libertarianism.
     
  12. Daniel David

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    You should know by now that I am a federalist Ken. The original post was about legislating morality. You can't.

    There needs to be laws to attempt to hold back the evil. However, it will not succeed. Men will always be more evil than the laws.
     
  13. KenH

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    Actually, I think you are an centralist, not a federalist, when it comes to the relationship between the States and the federal government based on your posts about the War Between the States.
     
  14. Daniel David

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    The feds have the rights over the states. Always have, always will. We had to beat down some hicks to prove it awhile ago.
     
  15. KenH

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    Nope, the federal goverment has powers, not rights, and then only those powers granted to it by the people. You need to read the preamble and the X Amendment to the federal constitution. Powers come from the bottom up in these United States, not from the top down.
     
  16. Daniel David

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    I respectfully decline your invitation to join in your delusion.

    I wonder why the president doesn't ask the people for permission for all of his decisions? Hmmm. Oh yeah, because he doesn't have to.

    Sorry Ken, the civil war is over and the south was treated like Nicole Brown Simpson.
     
  17. Aaron

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    Perhaps you would favor the legalization of prostitution. After all, those laws aren't very effective either.

    Neither consensus nor effectiveness is the object of law. Punishing the evildoer and protecting the innocent is the object of law.

    Prohibition relegated the sale and consumption of alcohol to the back alleys and criminal segment of society. No law-abiding, moral citizen needed fear coercion by Gangland. It was usually those already in league with the Devil. Neither did he need to worry about a liquor store opening up in his neighborhood bringing that vice into the open and the daily life of his family.

    I live in the low-rent district. That drug sales occur at the filling station down the road is common knowledge on my block. I sometimes ride to work with a fella that lives right across the road from it.

    But it's hidden. There's no sign that says Diesel 2.05, Unleaded 1.89, Crack 100.00. I drive by that station daily and often with my girls. In fact, my girls have walked by it to the Dairy Queen on the opposite corner. They're quite safe from being exposed to that vice.

    The drug house on my block was demolished by the state. It's an empty lot right now, right next to the elementary school building.

    Are the laws stopping drug abuse? No, but they're protecting my family from it.

    We can't go a mile down the road without passing at least three liquor stores, and I mean hard liquor, and just as many bars.

    I wish I could drive down the freeway just two miles from my front door and not be accosted by an billboard advertising the Satin Dolls strip joint with its sultry "lady" licking her finger. My girls see that and I agonize over their exposure to it. As Milton said, "For hee who tempts, though in vain, at least asperses
    The tempted with dishonour foul."

    And they are dishonored so because sometime around the turn of the 20th Century, some Darwinistic sap-headed atheist began teaching law as mere utility (Much as you think it is).
     
  18. The Galatian

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    I'd hate to live in your community. In mine, people generally agree that it's a bad thing, and the laws seem to be working very well.

    In fact, the Constitution requires that laws must be generally and equally enforced to be valid.

    Indeed. But law, if it is to be respected and useful, must be effective and have the consent of the public.

    Too bad that's not all it did. Because it was a foolish law, and not supported by a huge number of Americans, it was widely violated and sneered at. Even by normal people, much the way office football pools are done today.

    That's wrong, too. Prohibition gave organized crime a wedge into American society. And it spread out into things like extortion, prostitution, etc.

    Every neighborhood had a speakeasy. The cops knew it, and were generally paid off, or just didn't bother with it.

    You think? Maybe they're smarter than you give them credit for being. Your very demeanor when you go by tips them off. And they are protected only as long as you have them in sight.

    If they couldn't stop someone from opening a crack house next to a school, I'd say it's not working very well.

    I share your concern and agaony. I have a daughter of middle-school age. We talk a lot. She knows the world has a lot of evil, and she knows what God expects of her. I spend a lot of time on that, but at some point, it's up to her. I know what you mean.

    The idea is neither atheistic nor Darwinian, and it's older than the 20th century, and older than Darwin. In fact, Darwin once expressed amazement that anyone could imagine his theory was about such things.

    Nevertheless, it is true that laws not supported by a large number of people are going to be ineffective, and breed disrespect for the law in general.

    Ever taken part in a football pool?


    (Much as you think it is).
     
  19. Pennsylvania Jim

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    Sure, there will always be lawbreakers. But the law is necessary to have order. God established human government for that purpose. Even though laws continue to be broken, we'd be in a bad state of affairs with anarchy...don't you agree?
     
  20. Daniel David

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    Of course PJ. Again, that wasn't the original point. To say that you cannot legislate morality does not mean you are in favor of anarchy.
     

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