Liberty vs. Morality

Would a society high in liberty become excessively libertine? If so, how much liberty should we sacrifice for morality?

But let us also ask the question: to what degree can the government make people more moral? Government by definition has a license to do acts that would be considered immoral (and illegal) if done by private citizens. (Try collecting taxes from your neighbors and see what happens.) This may well be a useful moral compromise, but it still compromises those who govern.

You can explore these issues in the following article collections:

On Enforcing Morality. Suppose we were willing to fully sacrifice liberty in pursuit of morality. To what degree could a modern democratically elected government enforce morality? It’s rather less than many would imagine. After all, the U.S. government today enforces immorality with quite a bit of vigor these days. And some of the attempts at enforcing morality are largely unsuccessful, yet with a high level of collateral damage.

The Abortion Question. When does human life begin? Opinions differ – a lot. Complete consensus is impossible. Perhaps we should accept uncertainty: use fuzzy logic and treat abortion as something in between murder and a private matter. Instead of asking “At what point during pregnancy is abortion first degree murder?” we could ask “What fraction of a murder is abortion at various stages of pregnancy?” This may not be a wholly satisfying question, but there is some possibility for a democratic consensus.

The collections above stick to primarily secular arguments. But I am a Christian and so is a large fraction of the U.S. population. So for many in this country it is important to ask “What type of government can a Christian advocate?” Should we be theocrats? Is government provided welfare theft? Should Christians be communists? Or what?

I have written some heavily researched articles on these matters, complete with hundreds of Biblical citations.

God’s Welfare System. In the time between Joshua and King Saul, ancient Israel resembled an anarcho-capitalist society. There were no paid police or standing armies. But there was an extensive mandatory welfare system. But it was quite different from what we have today. There are useful lessons, even for nonbelievers.

The Law of Liberty. Old Testament Law could be quite authoritarian – especially if you wanted to practice alternative religion or sexuality. But the Law also had some surprisingly libertarian components. In some areas the Law of Moses is far more forgiving that U.S. law today.

The Power of Mercy. The New Testament teaches that divine forgiveness comes from forgiving others. As a Christian with post-baptismal sins on my record, I need to do some serious forgiving. I definitely don’t need my government being less forgiving that the Law of Moses on my behalf! Many other Christians are in a similar situation…

The New Levites. To what degree should Christians call for state mandates welfare and to what degree should they practice charity? Under Old Testament Law most of the tithes when to sacrifices and the priesthood, not to the poor. The welfare system came through other laws. But there is a strong line of reasoning to suggest that under the New Testament, the first tithe should go the poor. (How much government welfare we need on top of that is a matter I leave open.)

The Narrow Gate. Were the violent Christians of the Dark Ages correct? Is it more merciful to torture now to prevent eternal damnation? Theological reasoning can lead to behavior at odd with what Jesus taught Christians to do. The forcible conversions of olden times – as well as more modern attempts to forcibly impose Christian standards of behavior – attempt to defy the lesson of The Narrow Gate. This collection of articles goes quite deep, to reconcile notions of Divine Justice with the predestination passages. Are nonbelievers really doomed to eternal torment? Do Christians get eternal bliss just for believing? Probably not! Many passages in the Bible paint a much different picture of the Afterlife than are usually taught!

Christianity vs. Capitalism. The current Pope is quite far to the left. St. Peter practiced communism. It is worth asking if the Religious Right has it completely backwards: can a Christian be a capitalist?