Friday, November 05, 2004

Church and State

Mark Shea, again I like this so much I'm gonna quote it, and not just link to it.
"You can't legislate morality" is such an empty phrase to me. What on earth is law but legislated morality? We think it immoral and wrong to oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow and so we pass laws protecting immigrant workers, street kids, and 9/11 widows, for instance. We believe the purely mystical doctrine "all human beings are created equal" (a doctrine which, to Aristotle, would have been completely contradicted by the empirical evidence of the senses) and pass laws against slavery and giving women the vote. Voila! Legislated morality. Good government or social engineering? The only basis from which to judge is the basis, ultimately, of natural law and revelation. Otherwise it's whatever the majority thinks it is, according the whim of the zeitgeist. It does not follow from this that all morality should be legislated. I don't want a law making sure everybody honors the Sabbath. I don't think homosexual activity should be criminalized. I don't think we need laws commanding people to pray without ceasing or to believe in the Lord Jesus and be saved. Civil law is floor of human behavior, not the upper atmosphere. It is supposed to guard against the lowest aspects of human behavior so that a civil society can function. What we really mean when we say you can't legislate morality is that the Law cannot put the things of the Spirit in the heart. It cannot instill love of neighbor, for instance. But it can and does punish those who can't even bring themselves to keep from harming their neighbor. It says, if you can't love your neighbor, at least don't beat him to death with a baseball bat or cheat him out of money. That's a really moral function. It's just not the highest moral function.
Mark's emphasis is in italics, and my additions are bold. Mark also observes that "The Right tends to look for converts. The Left tends to guard against heretics." It needn't be so, but today, it is so.

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