The Moral Majority

We pick up again today with the thought of legislating moral behavior. (As a note on the title, I have no intention to affirm or disparage Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority – other than to say that I fully support the right of Christians to organize for political purposes; we’re citizens of this country too.)

Legislation on personal behaviors, handed down from the government, must come from the seat of government power. (Where else?) In a kingdom, it is the king alone who makes these decisions. If you happen to be the subject of an unjust king, well, you’re just stuck. The same holds for dictatorship or just about any other totalitarian regime. You must rely on the moral edicts (and moral whims) of those in power.

In a democracy, things are different. Perhaps better, but certainly different. Leaving the quirks of voting trends, habits, and eligibility aside; the morality legislated in a democracy must be morality agreed to by the majority. (For those who will now protest that we live in a republic, I agree, but it is still a democratic republic.) There are obvious conditions to the statement. Certainly a majority can oppose or favor a particular government policy without caring enough to vote on that basis alone (see coming post on “Single Issue Voters”). However, if a majority of the citizens agree on a particular definition of morality, and agree vehemently, then it is unlikely you will see government policy in direct contradiction to the agreed upon morality.

This presents both an opportunity and a pitfall. First, the opportunity. The battle for morality as understood by the masses can be taken directly to the masses. We wage a battle for the hearts and minds. This is good. As Christians, this is a natural battlefield for us. Not that we wish to promote Christ through logical discourse alone (I Cor 2:1), but making a broad appeal to all who will answer the call is certainly consistent with the history of the church.

The pitfall is quite sinister though. It is well within the nature of man to rebel against God. With this comes the realization that morality as agreed to by the majority may be no morality at all. In fact, it may be direct rebellion against God. History is replete with examples of majorities agreeing to “morality” that is in direct contradiction to the word of God. It is the fallen nature of man.

To trust now the moral discretion of the masses is to open the way for deception, corruption, and abuse. Do I then promote theocracy? Absolutely not. That hasn’t worked out very well for us either. What I prefer is a government that stays out of these decisions, a government that doesn’t force a preferred (dare I say “politically correct”) worldview, a government that doesn’t interfere with personal morality that violates no one’s rights, and a government that resists the urge to define any and everything as a human right to achieve their goals via the back door.

Lastly, let me offer a word of caution. As we build the necessary infrastructure to allow government to enforce moral behavior, we may be building the very tools necessary to oppress our children in future generations.

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3 Responses to The Moral Majority

  1. anon says:

    A few thoughts come to mind (apologies for the lack of coherence, and please don’t take any of this the wrong way. It can’t be easy to write this down)…

    a) Your last two posts seem to ignore the potential for efficiencies in government. i.e. “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” Infastructure projects (roads, bridges, etc…) are an easy example of this, albeit not entirely relevant to your post. Privacy is perhaps a better example. Theoretically, a government can protect us better if we are all willing to concede some of our privacy rights, or so the argument goes. We’re also now hearing it when it comes to government-lead health care. Obviously, both of these issues are very controversial, and it’s not hard to be opposed to either (or really, really cynical). My point, though, is that you’ve ignored this concept to date — and really, it strikes me, philosophically, as a fundamental of government. (I guess this comment really belongs in the last post which was more financial and straightforward, but I think it’s relevant to legislative morality)

    b) In the last post you chose to paint government as, well, our neighbors to make your point. In this post (your note of caution), our government became an evil oppressor of our children. I don’t know if either is right, but I’m concerned that the definition changed.

    c) On that note, I’m going to pick on your absolute-ist tone. The example that comes to mind is drugs. If I read your post properly, then there is no reason the government should criminalize drug possession / use, i.e. the government has legislated morality on me when it comes to drug use, and they should back off. Certainly, if drugs were legal, then the government would be stripped of another tool that could someday be used to oppress citizens.

    The thing is, however, I believe I am comfortable ceding the government this tool. I like living in a country where marijuana is (mostly) illegal, and criminalized by the government. I prefer my kids to grow up in this environment, and not one in which pot is treated like nicotine/cigarettes. I believe the governments involvement in drugs benefits society (vice one in which drug laws were minimal/nonexistent), and am comfortable with the risks associated with government having this power. I think it’s capitalistic behavior of country to enact these laws, since I think it makes our citizenship healthier, and ultimately benefits our nation.

    Your last two posts have been strong advocates for minimalist government. I think my point is that in order to prove this (to me at least), there needs to be more data disproving the theoretical gains associated with the concept of government, and practical benefits we think we experience living in this country in current state.

    • nomasir says:

      Anon, sorry for the delayed response – I’ve been getting the house ready (my parents are coming in tomorrow)

      (a) The roads & bridges notion is the obvious one. The libertarians have yet to produce a realistic model of privatized roads that isn’t silly. Privacy, on the other hand, is indeed the tricky one. Most hard core privacy advocates take mistrust of government to new levels. I’ve always thought that if you had nothing to hide, you had nothing to fear. Since my general posting tone could give you a different impression, let me note that I am not a radical anti-government at all costs type.

      (b) Not my intent to paint government in general as the oppressor of the children. But I will note again that the story of humanity is one of the potential for us to do evil to one another. That governments could take part in such behavior is just an extension of government as a representative of the people. The counter-point also holds true. The existence of governments is testament to the inability of humans to function in an anarchist society. Thus Paul’s admonition to obey government authority, and that such authority is ultimately granted by God.

      (c) Drugs is an interesting case. First, yes, pulling the thread on the principles I’ve discussed in this blog does lead one to the place of supporting legalization of illicit drugs. A position that I support. I don’t necessarily support on the position that society will be better off (though it may be). Nor do I support the notion that there is nothing immoral about drug use – there is. Rather I note that if our government seeks to protect us from ourselves, then there’s no telling where it stops. Will we outlaw refined sugar, or fried chicken next? Would society be healthier if we did? Probably, but I think we’re better off if people can make those decisions for themselves.

      (c2) On the note of drugs, I think there is a role for empiricism. I don’t think empiricism should trump principle, but it does have a place. I would argue that the “war on drugs” has done more harm than good. Do fewer Americans use drugs because of it? probably. But in the process we have seen the rise of drug cartels which have destroyed law & order in central and south America. Terrorists in Afghanistan make a pretty penny producing the herion used in America (I’m just down the road from Baltimore – where estimates are that one in 10 adults is addicted to heroin). Much of this oppressive evil collapses if drugs are legalized. The massive payday goes away, and there’s no more need for gangs to shoot each other (and innocent bystanders) in the streets. Do we have other issues to deal with? sure. But I seriously doubt they’d be worse than the current situation.

      “Your last two posts have been strong advocates for minimalist government. I think my point is that in order to prove this (to me at least), there needs to be more data disproving the theoretical gains associated with the concept of government, and practical benefits we think we experience living in this country in current state. ” – a worthy challenge indeed. I will note that I’m not a total minimalist though. There are things that government can do well and should do. However, I think much of what the government currently DOES is outside of that realm.

      Good to hear from you again …

  2. Anon says:

    I appreciate the response — much was cleared up for me. Very good points regarding drug policy.

    Government effectiveness has always struck me of having an iterative feel to it. The convergence rate may suck, but it is trying to get to the right place. I like your thesis that government should try to minimize it’s involvement in our moral lives, but the concept of “we’re all in this together” also resonates strongly with me.

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