Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Is the Religious Right right?
That is, how much should the government be involved in enforcing morality? Should government be limited to enforcing laws against crimes towards others? Or, should the government also do something about personal vices? Should the might of the state be invoked to bring the people up to Christian standards of behavior?
For the purposes of this discussion, let us ignore the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when asking these questions. For the devout, the Bible takes precedence over the U.S. Constitution. (Civil libertarians need not be too alarmed by this assumption; there is much overlap. The Bill of Rights was approved by many devout people. Read on and see why.) So, based purely upon the Bible, should we endorse the Religious Right’s program of outlawing abortion, gay marriage, sodomy in general, topless bars, doing business on Sunday, bad language on TV, etc? Should we continue laws against gambling, drugs and prostitution?
When God gave the Law to Moses, there was a definite mandate to enforce certain aspects of morality – very strict laws. But they were quite different from what the Religious Right calls for today. There were “blue laws,” and how! Working on the Sabbath was a death penalty offense! (However, the Sabbath runs from Friday at sunset to Saturday at sunset. Working on Sunday was perfectly acceptable.) Idol worship and sorcery were death penalty offenses – no psychic hotlines allowed! Even such semi-pagan practices as Christmas trees and Easter eggs were questionable under the Law.
However, there was no war on drugs. I can find no mention of gambling whatsoever. Polygamy was legal. Even prostitution was legal under some circumstances. Thieves were treated in some ways more leniently than today.1 Also, you had such lefty mandates as zero interest loans between Hebrews, gleaner rights, and land redistribution on the jubilee year.2
Now I ask you on the Religious Right: do you really wish the government to enforce the Law of Moses? This brings us to the first problem of modern morality enforcement: there are profound differences over which laws to enforce, even among devout Christians.
And there still remains the question whether there is a Biblical mandate to enforce the Law in modern times. While it is true that the Law of Moses was to be enforced in the Holy Land to Hebrew and Gentile alike, there was no mandate to enforce the Law in lands beyond. There was no call to conquer Egypt or Babylon in order to make the people there shape up. When the Jews were captive in Babylon, they were not told to convert the Babylonians by the sword. There is no record of Daniel outlawing idol worship or other heathen practices while he was governor of Babylon. Ditto for Joseph in Egypt.
To determine which parts of the Law should be enforced outside of the Holy Land, we need to turn to the New Testament, to the words of Jesus.
And what Jesus called for was mercy.
*All Biblical citations are from the King James version unless stated otherwise. This is for reasons of copyright. I highly recommend looking at a good modern translation whenever the older English is unclear.
1See "The Law of Liberty" for a more in depth exploration of which moral laws were enforced in ancient Israel.
2See “God’s Welfare System” for more on this subject.blog comments powered by Disqus
Copyright© 2006, Carl S. Milsted, Jr. All rights reserved.
Quotations from the NET Bible®, copyright© 1996-2006 Biblical Studies Press L.L.C. All rights reserved. Used by permission from http://bible.org. (The NET Bible is available in its entirety as a free download or online use at http://netbible.org)