Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sacred Laws in a Secular World

While I'm on a roll tonight, I figured I would bring up another sore point that has been on my mind recently. I think that most Christians have this view of law and society that doesn't really work. A very notable case to me is the idea of pornography being legal.
This was brought up to me by a friend--he said that he was in church, and the pastor said he wished that pornography was illegal. My friend does not use pornography, but he told me that he is glad pornography is not illegal because it reflects the citizens having rights to free speech.
Where does a Christian realistically draw the line between trying to make laws that fit their desired moral structure and trying to make laws that really represent the opinion and the desires of the populace? It's easy to argue that fornication is not the best idea ever. However, is it right to stop members of society from fornicating if they don't prescribe to the same world view as I do?
Let's move into two larger issues here. Abortion is a huge topic today. Most Christians I know would agree with me: I hate it. It diminishes the value of birth, the value of the human construction, the sacred protection of a baby within the womb, and a lot of other things. But as we know, not enough people in this country have a problem with it for us to make it illegal. I have a huge issue with abortion because it also involves murder, so that makes this particular topic a little bit more straightforward for me.
Here's the second larger issue: gay marriage. I don't think it's right, but I am also, for the sake of society, willing to accept the possibility of it becoming legal. I have a couple of gay friends, and I love them--but I would never wish that they would get married. I feel that strongly about it. However, if I were in the position to pass law regarding it, I would probably end up making it legal because that is what represents the desires of the populace best.
It seems like as Christians, we have a couple of hard things to remember when it comes to our country. First off, it's not my country, nor is it your country, nor is it the gay couple's country, nor is it anyone else's country. It is, collectively, OUR country. That means that our own impressions of morality and ethics (which, through the Word, are often correct) cannot be forced upon members of society just because we think it's better for them. That sort of law only creates division, hatred, and more lawbreakers.
In addition, it means that if we want to actually do something about the country we share, we can't simply go around trying to get laws passed. It's worthless. You have to change the minds of the people using love and truth, hand-in-hand. It's a lot less simple, but it's the only way I could see going about it.


Dan Lower / KKairos said...

Here are my thoughts.

If you still want to talk to me after reading this, tell me and I'll send you a book or something, because I'm probably going to be kind of mean.

You say you're fine legislating on abortion, because it's murder. But based on your argument for legalizing gay marriage, maybe you shouldn't be. You see, not everyone's moral framework actually says that abortion is always murder, including a good number of conservative Protestant thinkers who maintain exceptions to the rule against direct abortion. (We haven't talked about this in some time, so you might even be among those thinkers) Should we really push our absolutely anti-abortion worldview on them? But suppose you don't even want an absolutely anti-abortion stance. Let's say you allow for direct abortion when the mother's life is in danger, but no further. But there are others in the USA who don't even think a fetus has the same rights as a human being that has left the womb, or that it is somehow not fully human, or even (in the lesser stages) not human at all, at least not specifically so. So to those people, abortion (at least up through the second trimester) isn't really murder at all. Should we really push our humanity-of-fetus worldview (this one I know we're the same on) on those people? What gives us the right to do such in a pluralistic society?

If only God had taken some time and naturally laid down some kind of law that was written on the hearts of all humans, and transcended proper philosophies and religions...

If only...

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

Sorry if the opener to that made no sense. By send you a book I meant as kudos, not necessarily to talk about.

A. Scott / Xeirxes said...

I think that you bring up a great point, and something that was missing from my post. I meant to add somewhere that it seems like there is something we can all agree on as humans. Killing is wrong, stealing is wrong, hurting people is wrong, lying is wrong. Stuff like that is not necessarily up to interpretation. The abortion points are well-made also. I did not want to take the risky step of saying that perhaps we should not be legislating abortion out of our own views either, but you have taken it for me :) Bravo.

Dan Lower / KKairos said...

Let's push this one step further.

More closely analogous to the issue of gay marriage is the issue of incestuous marriage. Now we can probably find general agreement that incestuous marriage is wrong, but why? Our society seems to agree that marriage need not result in children--or at least, that it need not leave open that possibility--and we have agreed on this in our secular society. (I don't agree on it, but society does.) Should we anti-incest people really push our views on others? Remember, we've agreed that marriage need not leave open the possibility of procreation at any point in time, from start to finish. Regardless of what Christians have agreed on, this is what secular society now agrees to. So what's wrong with socially sanctioned brother-sister marriages? Just to clear possible blocks, let's agree (to be cautious) that we're still agreed that children should not result from said marriage, at least not by both parents, for reason of genetic defects. Now, assuming permissibility of some sort of sterilization, why shouldn't brothers and sisters be allowed to get married? Certainly not because the Bible forbids it--after all, we're living in a secular society, right?

Kev Johnston said...

I might sit out on this one and see where it goes...

M.A. Schmitz said...

I have a few observations regarding the nature of law and the legislation of morality. And they're not completely systematized. Just a few observations.

Firstly, I would posit that government (and thus law) exist for two major reasons, which can be summed up as ensuring justice: 1) Recognition and defense of human rights, and 2) Protecting the common good (not to be confused with the 'greater' good)

Secondly, I would posit that there is a moral order which is 'transcendent, absolute, universal, and equally binding upon all.' (From a scriptural perspective, I don't see how this could be otherwise...else how could God judge us according to our actions? cf Ez 18, Mt 25:31-46)

There will of course, not always be agreement on what constitutes the moral law,since our consciences are dulled and our reason darkened due to sin.

But the point is that the moral law is at some level accessible to all.

The law of the nation has a duty to uphold the moral law. This is part of providing for the common good.

To quote John Paul II, "If, as a result of the tragic clouding of the collective conscience, scepticism were to succeed in casting doubt on the basic principles of the moral law, the legal structure of the State itself would be shaken to its very foundations, being reduced to nothing more than a mechanism for the pragmatic regulation of different and opposing interests." i.e.- the duty of political authority and the rule of law is not so much to reflect the desires of the populace as to ensure justice, and this includes upholding the moral law (of course, this is where democracy gets tricky, and incidentally, why Plato and Aristotle hated it...I'm more of the the, 'while its pretty bad, it's better than the other alternatives').

John Courtney Murray, SJ, was an American theologian of the past century who was very interested in the socio-political philosophy and theology's perspective on it, once observed that the reason the idea of America worked is that despite all the various religious differences, the people shared a more or less common morality (note that the one major time this wasn't the case resulted in civil war).

The Christian has a duty, in ensuring the common good, to work to make sure that the law is in conformity with the common good. (And I would agree, this will more often work much better through changing hearts and minds than merely legislating).

The question becomes, when should the government legislate morality? It would seem generally agreed that fornication, for example, should not be a target of the civil law. So why not fornication, and why pornography or abortion?

Abortion, I would posit, because it deprives someone of a human right- that to life- and the government is in the business of protecting lives.

Pornography because it is hugely detrimental to the common good in a way in which fornication is not. Fornication has more to do with damaging the relationship between a small group of people, and is thus best handled on a smaller social scale than that of crime and punishment. Pornography, on the other hand, has a hugely detrimental effect on society as a whole, and it would thus be in the government's interest (and indeed, its duty), to ban it.

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