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Archive for August, 2009

ArrowsHello, dear readers. Sorry for the long hiatus, but it has been a very busy summer here in my Sleepy household. Time has been so short and things have been changing so quickly in our republic that it seems to write in depth about any one event would be to do injustice to all of the others. Instead I have been watching events unfold, as I am sure you have, and intend to speak to some of the larger issues in the near future.

Today I had a brief online conversation with a young aspiring politician whose acquaintance I have made. Our topic was the legitimacy of the laws prohibiting the use of marijuana. Early in the conversation he made the following statement:

Fortunately we still have a government that (somewhat) believes in the rule of law, protecting its citizens, and upholding morality–which is, after all, the purpose of government.

I was passingly disturbed by his claim that “upholding morality…is…the purpose of government”, not to mention the absurd claim that “our government believes in the rule of law”, but I let it pass at the time, as the debate was headed in a different direction. However, I feel that this sentiment is shared by many who have not spent a lot of time carefully thinking about the shape of American morality and the government’s role in promoting it.

Let’s go back in time for a moment. It is indeed true that our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. It is also true that many (but not all) of our founding fathers were practicing Christians or Deists, although in some cases I am playing it a bit fast and loose with the term “practicing”. For the sake of brevity I will not go into details, but do a little research on the personal lives of Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin and you will get the gist. The point is that the United States was founded by men who believed, though didn’t always practice, the Christian concepts of morality. In this sense the United States has been, from its birth, a Christian nation.

As time passed, Americans tried several times to unsuccessfully legislate “Christian morality” from the seat of government. The most obvious example was the 18th amendment to the Constitution (repealed by Amendment 21) which outlawed intoxicating liquors. Other issues held dear and vehemently defended by early Americans on moral grounds such as slavery and exclusive male suffrage were overturned as well. In our own time the prohibition of recreational drugs (though not tobacco, which is responsible for over 400,000 deaths per year) has been hailed as a victory of national morality.

There is a clear line where issues of morality and government should meet. Laws prohibiting murder, assault, rape, and theft come to mind. These laws are clearly in line with Christian moral principles and they also prohibit one citizen from forcibly abusing the rights of another. As such, these laws are legitimate methods for the government to legislate morality. On the other hand, there are areas where the government should steer clear of enforcing morality through law. This is where I think things may get a little sticky for my friend, the young politician.

If we believe that the purpose of the government is to uphold morality, then it becomes clear that we must establish a solid and workable definition of the term “morality”. For many this is easy; they automatically jump to their Christian faith for this definition. They believe that the purpose of the government is to uphold, under established law and threat of force, the Christian values on which their faith is based. This would be perfectly agreeable if all Americans were Christians, or if all Americans were extremely easy going, or if the United States was a dictatorship, but none of these is the case. We are a land of many races, creeds, religions, and philosophies. Many have similar moral codes; some have very different moral beliefs or none at all. Fortunately for each of us, we are all still at liberty to believe what our families have believed for generations, or to head in a completely different direction. As thoroughly diverse Americans sharing and subject to the same laws we can not all possibly be forced to hold the same government mandated Judeo-Christian moral standard. We have declared ourselves to be the land of the free, not the land of the same, and, shockingly, not the land of the good.

By way of example, let’s look briefly at the issue of drug abuse. I hesitate to broach this subject because so many people I know will immediately jump to the wrong conclusions. Based on my Christian worldview, I do not believe that using recreational drugs is morally right. I believe that my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and should therefore be treated with the utmost respect. I know from the experiences of family members and close friends how devastating drug abuse can be. However, I also am able to see that the way drug law has been implemented in the United States has been an absolute disaster. Billions of dollars have been wasted in the futile attempt to stamp out drug trafficking and distribution. Billions more have been spent feeding and clothing incarcerated non-violent drug abusers in America’s prisons. Still the situation is as bad if not worse today than the day Ronald Reagan declared the “war on drugs”. The facts are clear, his war has failed. On the other hand, hundreds of private treatment centers exist across this country that are making a difference in the lives of those affected by drug addiction. These centers often do not receive any public funds, yet somehow they are phenomenally successful. How on earth do they turn drug abusers around without tossing them in jail? The answer, of course, is morality.

That’s where my young friend, the politician, gets it so wrong. He still sees government as the enforcer of morality, the warrior of goodness, the savior of souls at gunpoint. He does not yet realize a key fact: government = force. You can not force morality on people. Christian morality is shared and taught through one on one communication of kindness, compassion, and love. That is why faith based drug rehabilitation programs are so successful. They teach abusers to respect themselves as servants of God. Private secular programs like AA and NA are also overwhelmingly successful because of personal transmission of clear moral principles. While they do not focus on Christ, they still impart to their members the importance of respect for the body, mind, and soul. Our morality is personal, not political. It should never be forced, by governments or individuals, on anyone who is not freely willing. The function of government is not to uphold morality through force of law. The function of government is to protect the rights of its citizens and give them the freedom to choose their own road. I happen to believe that those who freely choose a moral path will have a better life. I also believe that the more Americans turn to God to establish a moral heading, the stronger our nation will become. But Christian morality should be forced on no one; each should have a choice.

So don’t make the same mistake that my friend did. The next time you find yourself thinking “There should be a law against…” what you think is someone else’s moral shortcoming, remember that the government has not been established to enforce your moral standard. Each of us is free to choose; not even God forces us to follow Him.

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