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February 16, 2012

Comments

This is all quite superficial. The conclusion of the post is, “Christians have a right to impose their morality on society.” In the main body of the post, however, there isn’t even a hint of an awareness that sometimes Christians imposing their “morality” on society can amount to an objectionable restriction of individual liberty motivated by sectarian religious reasons. Would Alan, for instance, support criminalizing same-sex sexual activity on the grounds that God told him that homosexual sex is immoral? No sensible Christian possessed of clarity of thought would. Reasonable folks will see in such laws an objectionable form of paternalism that unjustifiedly restricts the liberties of others. A Christian that supported such laws (e.g., Santorum, if I’m not mistaken) on the grounds that Christian morality pushes him that direction would be wrong on multiple levels. First, there is nothing at all in Christian morality that lends support to anyone restricting the liberties of others in that fashion. Second, even if there were it would not matter, since it is unreasonable, when trying to agree upon principles for the general governance of a pluralistic society, to offer as a public justification for a law sectarian religious reasons that are hardly incumbent upon those outside of your sect to recognize. But I doubt all Christians are even interested in offering such justifications to the public. Perhaps some Christians feel no need to offer justifications to those whose liberties they are restricting. If so, they are thereby failing to love their neighbor as they love themselves and are disrespecting the rational dignity of others.

Maybe Alan thinks that each religious and non-religious sect ought to vote all aspects of their morality into law, and whoever has the most votes wins the day. Is this tyranny of the majority Alan’s idea of a well-run democratic society?

I'm weak on political issues, Malebranche...what are the alternatives to tyranny of the majority in a well-run democratic society?

Have to disagree. You write:

For example, we have laws against stealing for one reason: it’s immoral to take someone’s property. So, we take that moral rule and establish it in law.

We have laws against theft because theft is an offense against property. We have laws against rape and murder because rape and murder are offenses against the person. Not because they're "immoral" per se. One of the chief functions of the state is to safeguard the person and property of its citizens. That function is the legitimate basis for restricting liberty; not Christian morality.

Contrast laws against rape and murder with a law that criminalizes blasphemy. The blasphemy law restricts liberty just like the laws against rape, murder and theft, but not in the service of protecting person or property. In that sense it is a purely moral restriction. The laws communicates, "We're going to put you in jail for blaspheming because we think blaspheming is wrong, not because blaspheming actually hurts anyone." It's patronizing and offensive to anyone whose beliefs differ with respect to the significance of blasphemy.

That's the sort of "moral" legislation I believe the Bible compels Christians to oppose instead of supporting.

I have to echo what JPH said...

Laws against murder and theft are not legislated because they are immoral per se. Rather they are legislated and enforced because each of those acts infringes on the liberties of the individual- namely the inalienable rights of life and personal property.

It's why nobody thinks we should legislate against lying, or cheating in a board game, even though those are both considered by most to be immoral. The Constitution (and our country in general) exists to protect individual liberty, not to positively restrict most personal decisions.

I will concede, however, that these concepts refer to the powers of the Federal government. As long as it doesn't conflict with the rights of life, liberty and personal property, it is perfectly permissible for local governments to legislate morality, and that's how I think it should be.

Ditto to the above.

Don,

The "alternative" is what we have-- a constitutional republic. A pure democracy will always revert to mob rule- whatever morality the majority believes will be legislated and enforced at the expense of the minority. However, our Constitutional Republic was set up for the very purpose of protecting the liberties of even the smallest minority- the individual. Of course, we don't really follow the Constitution anymore, which is a shame because it is a slippery slope in the wrong direction.

What the OP is saying is:

1. Almost all laws are based on morality (welfare of society being a moral good) in some aspect (I’d add practicality as well)
2. Christians have morals (many based on their Christian faith many that would be maintained if they abandoned Christianity tomorrow)
3. Christians don’t forfeit their political voice simply because they are Christian
4. Christians have as much a right to advocate law by means of the democratic process as non-Christians

Francis Beckwith sums this up nicely here:

“This is where we find ourselves: the sophisticates are confronted by what they have been told simply cannot exist in a liberal democracy--real live, well-educated, thoughtful theists and social conservatives with actual arguments offered in a public setting without the benefit of special revelation. But here's where the bait and switch comes in. You see, in a liberal democracy, we are told, arguments, no matter how sound or strong, cannot be placed in the public square if their advocates are citizens motivated by their theological sensibilities.

Rather than putting us in literal internment camps, they choose a less expensive alternative: categorical internment campus. We don't even have to leave our homes! As long as we speak only when spoken to, and sit quietly in the back of the secular bus with our hands gently folded and saying "yessir Mr. Secularist, thank you very much," we will be fine. “ – Francis Beckwith (Jan 30, 2007)

Christians have as much a right to advocate law by means of the democratic process as non-Christians

This isn't disputed. That we (Christians) have the right, however, does not mean we should.

Austin,

“Laws against murder and theft are not legislated because they are immoral per se.”

Would you not classify “individual liberty” as a moral good? If so, anything that infringes unjustly on “individual liberty” is immoral (e.g. murder). There is no other reason to outlaw it.

Murder is against the law because it is immoral to infringe upon others individual liberty by ending their life. Let’s not pretend morality and individual liberties are foreign to each other. Divorcing those two concepts would be totally nonsensical to the legal justification of enforcement and keeping the peace.

Just because all immoral acts are not illegal (thankfully), it doesn’t follow that laws can’t prohibit acts solely for the fact they are immoral.

KWM,

A few things:

Yes, I believe individual liberty to be a moral good, and obviously so did our founding fathers, but I consider it to be a very basic and axiomatic moral good. Whether you agree with this or not, the founding fathers clearly drew a line for what was and wasn't OK for the federal government to legislate and enforce, and they put this clearly in the Constitution.

Now, like I said, I think it is perfectly fine to legislate more specific morality at the state and local levels, but if we keep allowing the Federal government to legislate things, we will inevitably revert to, at best, a mob rule democracy (think Iran) or at worst a totalitarian state.

J.P.H.,
Are you saying at 7:38 that Christians shouldn't advocate law?

J.P.H

“This isn't disputed. That we (Christians) have the right, however, does not mean we should.”

That isn’t being claimed (by me or the OP). Of course, that’s the case. Just as atheists or other types of religious believers should be restrained in the same manner. This is hardly remarkable.

JPH - I agree that it is undisputed that Christians have the right to advocate for morally grounded law. However, I think the point is that the opportunities for Christians to exercise this right is often restricted in the public square.

As to your question of whether Christians ought to exercise their right to voice their opinion regarding the moral underpinning, and therefore appropriateness, of specific laws, I would offer that Christ voiced His opinions regarding these types of issues, such as the moral exercise/enforcement of various laws.

Austin,

I’m fine with all that. I’m just pointing out that we cannot divorce morality and individual liberty. That’s my claim. It’s that simple. Acts can be prohibited (and should be) for their immoralness.

Laws don't restrict liberty. They legalize violence against people who 'violate' the law.

Violence is only morally justified when it is defending against aggression. Laws authorizing violence against law-breakers are only morally justified when the law-breaker's action was aggressive.

Murder, theft, fraud etc are aggressive, so it is moral to pass a law permitting violence against those who murder etc.

Drug-taking, and homosexual acts between consenting adults, aren't aggressive; so it is immoral to pass a law permitting violence against those who take drugs or commit such acts.

JPH,
You are makeing very fundamental errors in your argument. Calling a moral proposition (like do-not-murder) an offense does not make the proposition amoral. Renaming moral to offense does not help.

If murder is wrong because it offends a person, then why not homosexuality because it offends a person (and society as a whole)?

Your example of Blasphemy simply does not stand. Blasphemy applies to believers, not non-believers. So a Church can have a rule against its members not blaspheming. It makes as much sense to apply blaspheming to the public-at-large as it does applying Barmitzvah to the public at large.

It may surprise atheists/agnostics here, but our constitution very explicitly declares that all our laws are grounded in "theism" - inalienable rights granted by our Creator. That creator ain't nature - nature does not inherently imply equality of all men or the freedom of all men. That we have such strong moral intuitions of the same only underscores the point made in Rom 2:14,15. You may protest that it ain't so, but I've got full warrant to believe it and the evidence (resurrection for instance) to back up the claim.

kpolo:
"It may surprise atheists/agnostics here, but our constitution very explicitly declares that all our laws are grounded in "theism" - inalienable rights granted by our Creator."

The statement, "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…" is found in the Declaration of Independence (1776).

The United States Constitution (1787) does not contain any mention of "God" or "Jesus" or "Creator".

kpolo,

It may surprise atheists/agnostics here, but our constitution very explicitly declares that all our laws are grounded in "theism" - inalienable rights granted by our Creator.

You are mistaken. The Consititution says nothing about inalienable rights, a Creator, or theism. What it actually says is that it was written in order to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity"...

Obviously I bolded the part I did because it's important. The more power we give the federal government (and if we're honest, that power is increased nearly every day), the less liberty we have. The constitution was written to prevent this from happening and we are ignoring it.

PS. I should note to anyone who hasn't seen me on here before that I am in fact a Christian theist who believes in morstly orthodox doctrines (at least in all the "essentials").

I think that the key question here is does moral law trump individual liberty in the libertarian sense and I think it does. This is why we need to have a clear understanding of the nature of compatibalist form of liberty or we can't make any sense of the tangled mess that combining the legal system and morality presents.

Louis, how is it moral to violently punish immoral acts when those acts are non-aggressive?

And what is 'compatibilist' liberty when it's at home?

Somehow I doubt Jesus died on the cross so that you could survive to post weekly blogs finding novel and clever ways isolate homosexuals from the word of God. It's the wrong approach. Would Jesus be spending his time on this issue? Funny, he didn't much bother with it in the Bible. He was too busy preaching love. Small potatoes. Why not write about promiscuity? Isn't that a far greater offense? Why not spend all of your time blogging about promiscuity -- about loveless, meaningless sex derived from immoral, lustful, carnal desires rather than splitting hairs about alternative lifestyles -- particularly when speaking about the oh-so-damning characteristics of long-term, monogamous homosexual unions to culminate in marriage? Oh, wait. Isn't all sin the same? Certainly a heterosexual harlot does not receive a hall pass from salvation, but she can get married. Find something else to write about. All that intellect being tunneled into a politically correct form of hate. Shame. Shame.

Cam,

“Laws don't restrict liberty. They legalize violence against people who 'violate' the law.”

If you want to get really technical - laws don’t restrict liberty – people who make liberty restricting laws and use force to fulfill those restrictions restrict liberty.

Ultimately a person or people must be responsible for unjustly and immorally restricting liberty.

M,

“Why not spend all of your time blogging about promiscuity -- about loveless, meaningless sex derived from immoral, lustful, carnal desires rather than splitting hairs about alternative lifestyles”

What if promiscuity is someone’s alternative lifestyle?

My apologies for the above post, I got pulled away from the OP.

I hate when that happens.

I like your point about legislated morality. Atheists are often confronted by perplexed Christians who wonder where atheists’ morals come from, and yet they ignore the obvious example that you bring up.

Obviously, I have no problem with Christians expressing their views or even trying to get their views enacted as laws. My only complaint is when they imagine that a biblical reason is meaningful in the secular public square. It might be valid to fellow Christians, but it means nothing to a government prohibited from acting on religious motives.

As for the question of homosexuality, I’ll be brief here and leave just a pointer: Confused Thinking About Homosexuality.

This is a meta question: is there no way to get an email or some other ping when someone replies to a comment? As it is, I usually forget to come back to check to see if there's been a reply, and an automatic notification would be a nice improvement.

Wow, I just wrote a really long comment that I thought really hard about, and the internet ate it... Ugh.

In short, I agree with others above who have argued that our laws are not grounded in morality, per se. Rather, they are grounded in protecting individuals from violence being done to them by other individuals.

More to the point, though, I find STR to be grossly and blatantly inconsistent in its application of Christian sexual ethics to US law.

For the sake of conversation, I will grant that STR is right about the morality of homosexuality and other sexual ethics (even though I don't actually agree on many of those points).

In my view, the New Testament explicitly and directly prohibits infidelity in marriage, divorce for any reason other than infidelity, and remarriage after divorce (unless the divorce was because of infidelity).

And in my view, the NT is much more clear on these three things than on committed, monogamous homosexual relationships (heck, the NT is more clear on divorce and remarriage than lots of things. There's just no getting around the NT teaching on divorce. It's crystal clear.)

Yet, I do not see STR on the forefront of a campaign to outlaw any of those things.

Why in the world not?

Also, if you're a Republican values voter, and you are supporting Gingrich, you're a hypocrite.

Yet, I do not see STR on the forefront of a campaign to outlaw any of those things.

We're not on a campaign to outlaw committed homosexual relationships, either. Or homosexuality.

As far as I'm concerned, the Church should heed Christ's words "my kingdom is not of this world".

We should adopt more of a Mennonite or Amish attitude towards secular affairs. The world (political social order) belongs to the Devil.

We affect change on the spiritual level by drawing people out of it and are only giving aid and comfort to the enemy Satan, when we try to bless and further his kingdom with God's moral laws.

@Daron:

Are you saying at 7:38 that Christians shouldn't advocate law?

Not at all. In fact, my position is near to the opposite of that. I feel the believer is compelled to advocate for justice in the political arena, and, in general, to seek to advance for policies that benefit the citizenry as a whole, subject to the constraint that this advocacy honors the biblical principle to love one's neighbor.

Including neighbors who want to engage in a variety of sinful and self-destructive activities.

@kpolo:

If murder is wrong because it offends a person, then why not homosexuality because it offends a person (and society as a whole)?

Murder is wrong because God declares it so. Homosexual acts are wrong because God declares them so.

Murder is illegal, generally speaking, because it represents an infringement on the fundamental civil rights of the victim.

@kpolo:

Your example of Blasphemy simply does not stand. Blasphemy applies to believers, not non-believers. So a Church can have a rule against its members not blaspheming. It makes as much sense to apply blaspheming to the public-at-large as it does applying Barmitzvah to the public at large.

Blasphemy applies only to believers? That wasn't the opinion of the various state legislatures that passed laws against it in the years immediately subsequent to the ratification of the U.S. constitution.

If you don't like blasphemy, then consider laws that once existed prohibiting private homosexual acts between consenting adults.

Do you support such laws? Why or why not? Do you think there are any Christian principles that speak for or against Christian support of such laws, or is it pretty much up to the individual believer?

Personally, I agree with Malebranche at 5:22; Christian principle enjoins the believer to oppose such prohibitions.

J.P.H,

“ Murder is illegal, generally speaking, because it represents an infringement on the fundamental civil rights of the victim.”

Which is immoral - crimes usually are. Describing why something is immoral doesn’t make the immorality go away – it’s okay to call it by name. Things are immoral in different ways. We make things illegal depending on the nature of the immorality (e.g. does it adversely affect others?). We still make things illegal, for the most part, because they’re immoral. Could we not just as easily say that we make things illegal, depending upon the nature of the immorality? Murder is illegal because of the nature of the immorality (i.e.” an infringement on the fundamental civil rights of a victim”)

If someone asked me why I don’t lie to my wife, I probably wouldn’t respond – because it’s immoral. I would most likely talk about my love and care for her, and how I would never want to hurt her. But lying to her is immoral – I’m simply describing the nature of that immorality (and my motivations) so as to personalize it and give more detail. That’s what we do with law – but ultimately everything falls under the umbrella of immorality.

Again, to repeat, I realize all immoral acts aren’t illegal. I’m thankful for that. The nature of that immorality, practicality of enforcement, and the effects on society are all important aspects of this.

We're not on a campaign to outlaw committed homosexual relationships, either. Or homosexuality.

That's a helpful clarification, especially after a post dedicated to defending the eagerness of Christian evangelicals to impose "their morality" on society.

Although, if the campaign isn't to outlaw "committed homosexual relationships" (committed for how long? Life? Three weeks? Any point in between?) Or "homosexuality", then what exactly are we outlawing? Strike me that since the law necessarily allows gay people to be gay, to have whatever kind of relations they want in their own homes, and so on, all we've managed to outlaw is the form of gay relationship *least* counter to the Christian ethic. Might as well just keep our hands off altogether and accept that the State is the State.

Bennett,

If you ever come to Kentucky, I'll buy you the first beer.

President Obama is the perfect example of a Christian trying to impose his morality on society.

At the recent prayer breakfast - we find that Christ led him to Obamacare and Dodd-Frank. Ah yes, a perfect example of how not to impose religious morality.

Mr. President, please keep your religious views off of my body and out of my wallet.

Every law is an enforcement of a moral principle. To say that theft and murder are only illegal because they infringe on the liberties of others doesn't change anything. Infringing on the liberties of others in those ways is immoral. So, the laws are still moral principles. I say, "in those ways" because liberty must have limits. Unlimited liberty would be tyranny for some and oppresion for others. Freedom for all is really a balance between individual liberty and the common good.

We are the light of the world because Jesus is within us! We need to shine that light for others to see! We don't want to be Secret Agents! See "Secret Agent" at www.lightenload.wordpress.com

Mal,

LOL -- Funny enough, I did my grad work at UK. Goooo C-A-T-S!

Isn't the Bluegrass State known more for some good ol' bourbon whiskey?

As far as the position that crimes against person or property cannot be just called immoral, why?

In other words, why is it wrong to hurt person/property? Because the state said so[?], a cultural convention[?], just because it seems wrong, or a popular vote akin to a straw poll with a wink by the elite?

Brad,

Lemme just say first, if it's an open bar, I'll take whatever's free ;)

To the serious issue of crimes vis a vis morals, bear in mind that the State often doesn't take a stance on the morality of a thing with regards to its legality. Some things are moral, but illegal (resisting the draft, for example), others are immoral but legal (for example, hurting your grandmother's feelings when she makes you a special dinner and you turn your nose up out of spite).

The State can properly adjudicate when it's playing referee, but you'll find that laws often reflect *all* of the things you mention, and quite a few other factors. Heck, places with Sharia law don't make any distinction between church and state, whereas Communist regimes hold religion to be illegal and put you in a camp--precisely for following your religious morals.

It's actually a very compelling and largely open question, what kind of things a government can and should regulate, as well as the hows and whys, but morality and law most certainly do not enjoy a healthy 1:1 overlap.

Hi Bennett, I think my point was not as clearly made as I would've wanted. I'll try to simplify.

Lets say the state has the duty to protect life[as in the case of outlawing murder]. Some earlier posts are making the point that this is so and right because it is wrong to harm person or property. What I'm asking is why is it wrong to harm person or property? Just

"because the state said so[?], a cultural convention[?], just because it seems wrong, or a popular vote akin to a straw poll with a wink by the elite?"

My reason for asking for justification is that it is wrong to do those things because it is a sin against God. As image bearers, we misrepresent Him, and this is an immorality that we cannot escape from or separate from our duty to God to obey him. Thou shall not murder, steal, covet, etc... This is the only basis that has sticking power.

Since goverment is Gods minister for good, and does not bear the sword in vain, its legitimate use is to govern in the civil arena by promoting good and punishing evil. The fact that the particular standard of good / evil is not directly attributed to Gods law, or that the standard is not called moral / immoral, one cannot escape the necessity to ground that standard in an eternal, immutable, Being for it to be universally binding on all men.

KWM, thanks for the extra point. Yes, those who violently enforce laws punishing non-aggressive acts are just as immoral as those who pass such laws.

Brad,

Your point may indeed be quite correct, but it isn't really germane to how governments actually make or enforce laws. And they often don't have to defend this dissonance, if they exist in a democratic or pluralistic setting.

Brad,

The reason murder and theft are against the law is because our federal government was set up in such a way as to maximize personal liberty as a response to what they saw as English tyranny. Murder and theft both nevessarily infringe upon the liberty of another individual. So, like I said before, murder and theft are not illegal because they are immoral per se, but because they deprive another of liberty.

Hi Austin, I think you just pushed the question back one step, so why is it wrong to deprive another of liberty? [again:]

""because the state said so[?], a cultural convention[?], just because it seems wrong[?], or a popular vote akin to a straw poll with a wink by the elite?"

Brad,

Your question to Austin is what I’ve been trying express – see my post at 3:10 yesterday.

Austin, you write:

“So, like I said before, murder and theft are not illegal because they are immoral per se, but because they deprive another of liberty.”

My translation:

So, like I said before, murder and theft are not illegal because they are immoral per se, but because… (describe nature of the immorality here).”

Ultimately, murder is illegal because it’s immoral to kill someone.

You can accidently kill someone and deprive them of their liberty. Let’s say a construction worker knocks his buddy off the scaffolding 25 stories up – and he falls to his death. So what? The immoral intent wasn’t there. I could just as easily say, it’s not the deprivation of liberty per se, it’s the immoral intent that makes it illegal.

I don't actually remember writing that, Alan. I am not denying I did. In fact, I suspect I did. But could you give me the reference?

Oops. I didn't mean "Alan." I meant KWM.

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