28 June 2013

Part 1: Morality in politics

In some form or another, the word "morality" is bandied about quite frequently in politics.  What are we even talking about?  Let's clarify a few things.
  • I am a Christian, so don't even start with that about me.  Not only that, I'm a very devout Christian, and well-read and studied in theology.  I was catechised from a very young age, and continue that study to this day.
  • Christians do not have a monopoly on morality, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either a liar or has never read the Bible.
  • A Christian who has read the Bible would tell you that God has written His law on everyone's heart--and that law is what we call natural law.  Those of other faiths, or no faith at all, would tell you this ended up there in a different way, but that isn't the point.  The point, rather, is that everyone knows right from wrong in the physical realm (on the spiritual plane, it is a whole 'nother matter, probably for a different blog).
  • Because Christians don't have a monopoly on morality, the "religious Right" needs to get off their darn high horse and start arguing natural law in politics logically and effectively, rather than with Bible-thumping emotionalism (then again, since emotionalism is the heresy de jour, maybe that's easier said than done...).
Morality certainly has its place in politics, and to deny that is silly and wrong.  However, many seem to confuse morality (natural law) with behavior control (the use of government force, i.e. coercion and/or violence or the threat of violence, to enforce a certain behavioral code).  That is where we run into trouble.

Without getting too much into the theological weeds, let me briefly lay out why I believe it is wrong for a Christian to argue behavior control is the appropriate role of government.  I have already written on this topic on my theology blog, so let me make new arguments here and let you go read my previous post for the rest.
  1. This is a fallen world.  If you accept that premise and understand Original Sin, you know there is no way for humans to not sin while on earth.  No number of left-hand kingdom laws can change or stop sin, and while sometimes they might curb bad behavior, we all know there are those who will just not follow the law anyways.  So why bother having laws at all, right?  Well...
  2. Because governments, theologically speaking, derive their just powers and authority from God.  This authority is very specific, particularly: police and military powers (power of the sword), and laws to keep order (to curb behavior that either encroaches on another person, or breaks your word--the basis of common and contract law, and our understanding of natural law).
  3. The left-hand kingdom, or the kingdom of man, is governed by morals and reason, not faith and Scripture.  Essentially, an atheist, a Buddhist, a Muslim, and a Christian should all be able to cast the same vote based on reason and morals.
Another interesting point that was raised in the Facebook discussion that prompted this series of posts is the nature of morality, and the "lesser of two evils" argument everyone makes in politics.  Accepting the premise that this is a fallen world, all political choices would essentially be a choice between lesser evils.  That is where morality comes into play--meaning who will better understand and uphold natural law, rather than who will enact my idea of behavior control.  

As one of my friends put it, "You speak about morals and then relent that it's the lesser of two evils. Please elaborate on how evil is necessary."  The problem here is that the idea of "morals" being discussed was not morality and natural law, but behavior and/or thought control.  The only way to have morality in government is to enforce natural law, not behavior and thought control.  As soon as you cross that line, then it's fair game for anyone to enforce their idea of behavior, and we get into the regulatory mess we are in today in the United States.  You can't legislate the sin out of people, and that is too often what happens in politics, with liberal progressives trying to curb greed, gluttony, and envy, while conservative progressives attempt to curb lust, and sloth (I'm not entirely sure where, if anywhere, pride and wrath fit into either side's legislative agendas, as it seems a problem both sides have personally...).  That's simply unreasonable.

In summary, morality is natural law (do not encroach on any person or their property, and do all you have agreed to do--the basis for common and contract law), not behavior or thought control.  Until we understand that distinction and start to govern in a way that shows we understand it, we will remain in this mess we have today, and continue to use words that don't mean what folks think they mean.

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