Saturday, December 8, 2007

You Cannot NOT Legislate Morality!

It is often heard in the public square that you cannot "legislate morality." By this, people usually mean that we should not attempt to use the law to enforce a moral point of view. So, for example, you might think abortion is morally wrong. But you have no right to attempt to legislate this moral point of view and, in the process, force your morality on others. Though it may sound appealing and tolerant, this thinking is flawed in several ways.

First, every law legislates a moral point of view. Can you think of one that doesn't? Laws against stealing legislate the moral point of view that it is wrong to steal. Laws against littering legislate the moral point of view that you ought not to litter. Even seat belts laws legislate the moral point of view that individuals ought to protect themselves. So the question is not "Can we legislate morality?" We can legislate morality and we do everyday. The question becomes "Whose morality are we going to legislate?" This brings us to our second point.

Second, everyone is trying to legislate a moral point of view. Let us again look at the abortion issue. Those who are pro-life believe the unborn are valuable human beings who deserve to be protected under the law. Pro-lifers are attempting to legislate their moral point of view that abortion is wrong since it takes the life of an innocent human being. Pro-abortion choice advocates are attempting to legislate their moral point of view that women ought to have the right to choose whether or not they want an abortion. Both sides have a point of view and both sides want their view legislated. Once again, the question is "Whose morality are we going to legislate?"

Third, not only do we legislate morality, but we should. Imagine what would happen to our criminal justice system if morality was not legislated. The murderer and rapist would simply have to be let free. After all, we wouldn't want to force our moral point of view on them that murder and rape are wrong. The truth is, the law is in place to restrain evil and compel good. Good laws are good because they are based on good morals. We should legislate morality because, to put it bluntly, some people are simply morally handicapped and unable to make sensible ethical decisions.

Finally, the often repeated mantra "You shouldn't force your morality on others," commonly appealed to in discussions regarding the legislation of morality, ends up being a self-refuting statement. The person who says "Don't force your morality" is forcing their morality. They are forcing their moral point of view that it is wrong to force moral points of view. It is as if they were to say "Don't force your morality on me like I'm doing to you right now!"

So whose morality should we legislate? Simple: Ours. We should legislate according to the common moral law made aware to all of us through intuition and reason. This does not mean that every apparent ethical dilemma has an immediate and obvious solution. What it means is that recognizing the existence of an objective moral law is the first step if meaningful dialogue is going to take place. Questions regarding moral issues require thoughtful and intelligent answers, not empty slogans intended to stop discussion before it starts. So let's do away with the nonsense and stick with rational discourse.

Recommended Reading:
Legislating Morality by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek

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