Thursday, May 31, 2012

Legislating Morality

In my recent article 'Is Romney's Religion Relevant?', I spent a bit of time debunking the idea that government shouldn't attempt to legislate morality. I point out that by adopting a legal system in the first place, a nation is, by definition, imposing some kind of morality on the populace, and ultimately it is questions of religion (in this broader sense) which determine whose morality will prevail.

Thus, the question isn’t whether government will or will not try to impose values on the populace. After all, no one wants a president who says, “I don’t want my decisions to be driven by any moral considerations.” People want a government that is going to protect them, which means using coercion to impose some form of morality and ethics onto the public. It is fundamentally a religious question to determine whose morality prevails and what is the ultimate criterion for determining what counts as ethical.

The way you can tell what the gods of a state are is by seeing who the final authority is. When you get to the point past which there is no appeal, then you have identified the god of that system. Because man is inescapably religious, all societies are theocracies in one sense. There will always be a point of ultimate justification.

In bracketing off questions of ultimate significance from our political discourse, the privatization narrative has not undermined the fusion of “religion” and politics; rather, it has ensured that the religious nature of politics simply goes unrecognized, remaining submerged at an implicit and inchoate level where it can be safe from critical examination. Because of this, political debates can get by with hardly ever backing upstream to examine the unspoken philosophical assumptions that drive the various lawmakers or candidates to such divergence understandings of the good life.

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