A Note on Defining Legislating Morality and Justice In any ...

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A Note on Defining Legislating Morality and Justice In any ...

distinctions between mechanisms (voluntary or coercive) and anticipated outcomes (mutuallybeneficial or not) will still serve as a useful model.Second, both justice and morality issues involve costs imposed on others. (In fact, everythingwe do or don’t do affects other people. 5 ) Proponents of LM often argue that other parties areindirectly harmed by gambling, prostitution, etc., and thus, that government activism iswarranted. 6 However, their view becomes untenable if extended very far. 7 For example,consider a new college graduate who enters a profession. Although he enters into a mutuallybeneficial trade with his employer, he indirectly harms other workers in his field bycompeting with them and lowering the market wage. Moreover, when you buy somethingfrom X, you decide not to buy it from Y, making Y worse off. In a word, if we were to usethe government to prohibit all (consensual) economic activity that has some negative impacton others, we would never be able to engage in trade-- except that decision would harm Xand Y! 8At the least, this framework is helpful in distinguishing between more and less significantand direct costs-- from murder to second-hand cigarette smoke. Clearly, there are importantdistinctions between the size of the costs imposed on others from a variety of sins-- forexample, by not being charitable to the needy, driving too fast, believing in the central tenetsof a false religion, being a serial rapist, and eating an extra piece of pie. Should thegovernment legislate against all of these sins? When do the costs become significant enoughto allow Christians to righteously invoke government solutions? To the extent that these costscan be mapped on a spectrum, one could argue that as the costs become larger and moredirect, there is a greater potential role for government activism. 9 Likewise, on a practicallevel, it will be much easier to advocate the reduction of clear and direct costs than subtle andindirect costs (or whose definition as a significant cost requires Biblical revelation.)In sum, I recognize that morality and justice are connected in practice, but given the need forsome sort of framework, for the sake of convenient labels, and recognizing their popularusage, these terms would seem to be a reasonable framework for our discussion.A Few Other Points...First, we must distinguish between instances when the government allows people to sin andwhen the government forces believers to sin (through omission or commission). And we mustdistinguish between what the Bible calls for in terms of the behavior of believers and whatGod expects from non-believers. In discussions about God's standards and our response tothe authority of government, believers are often unclear, or at least sloppy, about the Biblicaldifferences between these concepts.Second, abortion is too complicated to cover in the LM/LJ framework without furtherdevelopment, and thus requires a separate treatment. Further, the discussion of abortion andsubsequent prescriptions is rather voluminous, and thus requires a separate section with two2


3chapters. I will cover this topic after developing the LM and LJ sections of the book.Third, proponents of LJ typically focus on equality of outcomes as opposed to equality ofopportunity. There is a good reason for this: it is difficult if not impossible to directly observe“opportunity.” Unfortunately, outcomes are only a proxy for opportunity. Moreover, apreoccupation with outcomes is equivalent to a focus on the ends rather than the means tothose ends. Do any means justify godly ends? Instead, Christians are called to think throughthe question of whether the prescribed means are godly and practical, as well as whether theends are godly. As Jim Wallis notes, "We need a...commitment to justice...but to shape a newfuture we must find the moral foundations and resources for a new social vision." 10Unfortunately, many Christian prescriptions for government activism fail to have thosefoundations.Fourth, the frequent comparison of homosexuality and other LM sins to murder and other LJsins is inappropriate and amounts to sensationalism. The former sins involve consent andvoluntary behavior where both agents believe that they benefit; the latter sins involve the useof force and coercion where one party is clearly and directly made worse off by the actions ofthe other. Of course, all sins are equal in that they require the blood of Christ for atonement.But if one insists on treating all sins the same politically, they are stuck in the untenableposition that all sin should be punished (equally) by government.Fifth, proponents of LM are fond of noting that “all laws legislate morality by definition”--thus defining LM as all-encompassing. But there are a number of problems with such a broaddefinition. Although the statement is true, it does not prove that Christians should engage inany particular legislative agenda. Again, we must study the means to the ends. Moreover, thefact that government policy can affect behavior is also not a proof that Christians shouldpursue such restrictions. For example, the government could “crack down” on Buddhism andco-dependent relationships, but that doesn't make it an ethical or practical method. ong>Noteong> thatdespite their immorality, many sins are not the subject of any Christian legislative efforts. Ina word, such a broad definition of LM gets us no closer to studying this important question.Hopefully my definitions will allow us to reason through what God wants us to do-- and notto do-- with the tool of government.Sixth, failing to invoke government solutions-- as in the above examples-- is not equivalentto the government endorsing the behaviors. Thomas Aquinas said that “Human law cannot,therefore, prohibit whatever is contrary to virtue; it is enough for it to prohibit whateverdestroys social intercourse, allowing everything else to be permissible, not in the sense ofapproving it, but of not attaching a penalty to it.” 11If you're not satisfied with my definitions of LM and LJ, find your own. But distinctions mustbe made; as noted above, an all-encompassing definition for LM is of no use in forming aconsistent Christian philosophy of government. 12 Without a viable alternative framework, a


ejection of the LM/LJ model-- a spectrum of the costs that a variety of sins impose onothers-- implicitly equates rape and murder with smoking marijuana, eating too much junkfood, and going to the horse track too often. After all, each of these impose costs on otherpeople. 13 Likewise, people often throw around the terms “justice” and “social justice”without defining them or wrestling with whether they have found appropriate means to thesevague ends.It is crucial that we believe the right things for the right reasons. As Greg Jesson notes,"When people abandon truth, all they are left with are personal feelings expressed inindignant and self-justifying language...We are left with phrases such as, 'I just personallybelieve it' or 'That's the way I feel, so that's the end of it.'" 14 If you find yourself saying thosephrases in the face of legitimate questions about your beliefs on political activism, Iencourage you to wrestle earnestly with the issues that follow. Paraphrasing Plato: “Anunexamined faith is not worth having.”ong>Noteong>s1. John Paul II, “Reconciliatio et Paenitentia”, #16, 1984; quoted in The Social Agenda: ACollection of Magisterial Texts, ed. R. Sirico and M. Zieba, Pontifical Council for Justice andPeace: Vatican City, 2000, p. 88.2. L. Spooner, Vices Are not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty, 1875, chapter I. Spoonerthen argues that “unless this clear distinction between vices and crimes be made and recognizedby the laws, there can be on earth no such thing as individual rights, liberty, or property...”3. R. Reed, Active Faith, New York: Free Press, 1996, p. 278.4. In “Libertarianism in One Lesson,” Tibor Machan notes another overlap. In distinguishingbetween “the Right’s idealism”-- seeking to regulate “spiritual or mental actions” (“the craftingof people’s souls”)-- and “the Left’s materialism”-- seeking to regulate “economic or materialactions,” he notes that the two intersect “since body and soul aren’t ever sharply divided.” Hethen cites examples of this overlap-- the Right seeking “blue laws” and affecting commerce andthe Left restricting free speech and thought at the expense of social freedoms.5. E. Scheske, “Is There no Privacy?”, Touchstone, July/August 2001, p. 13.6. A related argument is that the indirect costs are not particularly indirect-- for example, asupposedly strong causation between pornography and child abuse. But, in addition to questionsabout whether this connection is merely correlation, we still run into the same difficulty-- shouldChristians advocate prohibitions against cars, alcohol, guns, legalistic homes, and so on? If oneargues that pornography is different because it is “worthless,” they should at least be wary ofgiving powers to a government which may someday view Christianity as a worthless folly. If oneargues that pornography is different because the costs are substantial, to be consistent, we alsoneed to vocally pursue LM on issues like extramarital sex, false religions, and smokingcigarettes.4


57. “Such a thing as government, formed by voluntary association, would never have beenthought of, if the object proposed had been the punishment of all vices, impartially; becausenobody wants such an institution, or would voluntarily submit to it. But a government, formedby voluntary association, for the punishment of all crimes is a reasonable matter; becauseeverybody wants protection for himself against all crimes by others, and also acknowledges thejustice of his own punishment, if he commits a crime.” L. Spooner, Vices Are not Crimes,Chapter XI.8. In a book review of Richard Epstein’s Principles for a Free Society, Lynn Scarlett lists otherminor “externalities”: “Leaves from one person’s tree fall onto another’s yard; a car door soundsacross the road, jolting someone from his midday reverie; a plane flies 30,000 feet overhead,leaving an unnatural scratch upon the sky; and neon pink trim around the windows of a houseoffends a neighbor’s sense of aesthetics and propriety.” (Reason, March 1999, p. 64.)9. The same is true in economics. If markets do not function particularly well, as in the cases ofpollution, national defense, significant degrees of monopoly power, etc., government canimprove the workings of the market-- at least in theory.10. J. Wallis, The Soul of Politics, New York: The New Press, 1994, p. xxiv.11. Quoted in From Irenaeus to Grotius: a Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought, 100-1625,ed. O. O’Donovan and J. O’Donovan, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999, p. 360.12. For example, see: M. Bauman, “The Falsity, Futility and Folly of Separating Morality fromLaw”, Christian Research Journal, p. 21ff. Likewise, Geisler and Turek’s Legislating Morality:Is it Wise? Is it Legal? Is it Possible? (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998) suffers from the samefailure, arguing simply that consensual sins impact others too (see: p. 33-34, 44-45). As such,sadly, their efforts add much less to the debate than they should. Tom Minnery’s Why You Can’tStay Silent: A Biblical Mandate to Shape our Culture (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001)argues for Christian political involvement in broad terms (LM and LJ), but then almostexclusively provides examples of LJ or leaves the matter undefined. (See: p, 20-25, 29, 47, 49,53-54, 65, 67, 68. The other examples are using zoning laws in trying to reduce abortion andlaws restricting gambling-- both of which we will discuss later.)13. "We see that as soon as we surrender the principle that the state should not interfere in anyquestions touching on the individual's mode of life, we end by regulating and restricting thelatter down to the smallest detail...[The individual] becomes a slave of the community, bound toobey the dictates of the majority." (L. Von Mises, Liberalism: The Clasical Tradition, Irvingtonon-Hudson,NY: Foundation for Economic Education, 1996, p. 54.)14. G. Jesson, "The Train Wreck of Truth and Knowledge", in Reclaiming the Culture: How YouCan Protect Your Family's Future, ed. A. Crippen II, Colorado Springs: Focus on the FamilyPublishing, 1996, p. 50.

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