In the previous chapter I asked you to take the Moral Priority Quiz, to ask who is the most evil among a wide collection of perpetrators. How did your answers compare with the laws of the land? Is the government even trying to enforce morality as you define it? In later chapters we’ll look at the enforceability of laws against assorted vices, but before we bother with that difficulty, we must first cross an earlier barrier: whose morality?
Is homosexuality immoral? Or is discriminating against homosexuals immoral? Is wine evil, or is it part of a necessary sacrament? Is Marxism envy embodied or is capitalism greed embodied? Is marriage a sacred institution or an exploitative relic of The Patriarchy?
The answers to the above may be obvious to you, but I can with little effort find people who take the diametrically opposite position -- and they vote. A government empowered to legislate morality is one empowered to legislate immorality.
Many Christian conservatives hearken back to the good old days when we had a Christian consensus, and the government could legislate morality correctly. Those days are gone. Sleeping together before marriage has become the norm. Marriage itself is becoming a minority lifestyle, and the number of people who successfully practice lifetime monogamy smaller yet. Traditional living is deplored by the mainstream media, and serious Christianity condemned in most of our colleges. There may yet be a moral majority underrepresented, but not for much longer. Christian conservatives may have no choice but become the new civil libertarians as secularists get to play offense. (Liberty favors the faction out of power.)
We are not quite there yet, but we are getting close. We still have laws on the books enforcing morality as Christians see it, but we have quite a few that enforce immorality as well. Marriage and Christian education are under siege from the might of the state. The attacks are often subtle, as the secularists are not quite powerful enough to be blatant, but they are well educated and thus good at being subtle. Take separation of church and state. This is not a bad idea as long as the state is contained. But expand the public sphere over all institutions and separation of church and state becomes separation of church and life. We may have already crossed the line where strict libertarianism, complete with legal crack houses and brothels, may be more moral than the current laws of the land.
I shall not argue for strict libertarianism here, however. I promised better and I shall deliver. (But I will make use of my libertarian bag of tricks where appropriate.) Much of the legislated immorality is inadvertent. Some evil bits of legislation got through by trickery, and can thus be reversed when exposed. The Christian Left often works with the militant secularists. I shall reveal issues where Christian Left and Right could work together. And, of course, many non-Christians stand to benefit from gentle enforcement of a subset of Christian standards of behavior. The key is subset. Not everyone is a Christian. To pretend otherwise is a grave error. Keep this in mind when you indulge in “Take our country back” rhetoric. The U.S. as a Christian nation was an anomaly.
Not all are called to be Christians. It’s in the Bible, stated repeatedly. The Creator is giving Christians of each generation work to do. When the Church ignores this lesson it becomes bloody and/or partially pagan. The U.S. was something of an exception. The first waves of European colonists were predominantly religious refugees and utopians. This provided an honest sort of religious zeal. Where Christianity is esteemed, those who desire esteem claim to be Christian. Such was the case in the Middle Ages, as well as in most of U.S. history. But most of those who came to the original 13 colonies were reviled for their particular Christian beliefs at home. They paid a high price in money and risk to get here. Had they wanted to be esteemed as religious, they would have simply become Anglicans. So whether they were extreme Protestants or Roman Catholics, they were putting up with persecution and then risking all to practice their faith. This sorting process left an imprint that remains to this day, though it is fading.
Even if we were to “take our country back” and make the country a truly Christian nation again, we still have the question: “Whose morality?” to answer. Should we enforce blue laws? If so, should we close stores on Sunday or the Sabbath? Is Christmas a Christian Holy Day or a pagan relic which should be outlawed? Should eating pork be legal? Is wine a blessing from God or a sinful vice? Are statues and stained glass windows tools for a solemn assembly or are they idol worship? Is the Bible the sole moral authority or do we also consider the rulings of later councils? Is the Pope the heir of St. Peter or the antichrist?
We became a particularly Christian nation because England struggled with the question “Whose morality?” and the losers came here. Unless you have a taste for rancor and bloodshed, then some restraint on enforcing morality using the state is called for. The First Amendment was supported by devout Christians when it first passed.
I have focused your attention on a limitation on enforcing morality. Now for the payoff: the opportunities and loopholes.
We may be on the verge of becoming a post-Christian nation, but many of our communities are still solidly Christian. (Indeed, the rural junior high school I attended had morning prayers over the intercom every morning in blatant defiance of the Supreme Court and no one complained.) If you want morality enforced in your community, demand that morality be enforced at the community level. This is the original spirit of the First Amendment. It applied to Congress, not the states. It starts with “Congress shall make no law...” At the time this amendment was passed several states had established churches. Whether school prayer and Christmas decorations on the public square are constitutional depends on the state constitution. (And most, if not all, states have religious language in their constitutions’ preambles. Try reading yours.)
The states are more diverse than when they were founded, so morality enforcement at the state level is today too broad except for the most agreed upon immoralities. Even the city level is too broad in most cases. Whether to have bars, nudie bars, commerce on Sunday, prayers in school, etc. are best done at a very local level, and action taken only where there is strong consensus.
But this localism has a cost. While many areas will go back to manger scenes in the public square and prayer in schools, others will become more like Berkeley [warning, link is not work safe!]. Can you tolerate Berkeley being Berkeley and Vegas being Vegas in return for a safe moral community to raise your children?
The second lesson is not to depend solely on changing the government in order to change the course of society. Effective government action can come only after consensus. Where consensus is weak or nonexistent, Christians must build it without the help of government. The home school movement is an excellent example of such action. So are efforts to build new universities as the old ones are taken over by semi-Marxists.
Finally, be aware that moral behavior is under active attack. Focus on the attacks and you can find allies among the same civil libertarians who oppose many of your efforts to enforce morality. Marriage is particularly under attack by the government, and many liberal Christians and non Christians bemoan the decline of marriage as much as those on the Christian Right. Alliances can be made. Some of the attacks were inadvertent. Others were sneak attacks put through by anti-marriage activists under false pretense. Forty years ago this country was rocked by a giant young generation yearning for sexual freedom. Today, the Baby Boomers are getting old, and the young generation is one traumatized by the triumph of divorce. Marriage is an area ripe for counter revolution. To this I will turn next [soon].