Category Archives: Worldview

Legislating Morality

Apparently, some people think it’s improper for the government to impose moral standards on citizens. After all, whose moral standards would be imposed? Who would get to decide which standards everyone else should live by? And would this be fair? Because not everyone individually adheres to or believes in the same set of ethical rights and wrongs, how can the government of a society that is supposed to respect individual rights and liberty choose a particular set of moral standards and demand that everyone live by them?

Well, I’ve got news for you: almost all legislation legislates morality … and we’re all okay with that.

Intent vs. Motive

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This tweet from @ImusZero was a reaction to a headline in Reason Magazine (a libertarian political journal) that Pat Robertson had changed his mind about legalizing marijuana. He had supported it, but recently came out against it, saying that “little kids are getting high.” ImusZero says we should stop legislating morality and let God be our judge.

God is our judge, which is no light matter. It’s a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But we have human judges too. And these human judges are appointed by God for the time being to carry out his work of promoting justice. But what about this stuff about not legislating morality? I responded that almost all legislation legislates morality. She later “liked” my tweet, making me think she misunderstood me as agreeing with her and saying that almost all legislation should be done away with.

What I really meant is that she had no clue what she was saying. Laws against rape, embezzlement, kidnapping, dog fighting, dumping toxic chemicals in the river, and drunk driving all legislate morality. They impose certain moral standards on everyone. But these are obvious laws to have, you might say. Clearly, these things cannot be allowed, and they’re not like a personal choice to smoke a joint. They may not be like the choice to smoke a joint*, but they are all matters of morality. Whether rape or polluting the river are wrong are moral questions. Even whether they are “bad for society” is a moral question, for what is “bad” is a moral question. Is the spread of disease bad? Why? On what grounds do you say so? Are peace and order good? That’s self-evident to most, but it is also a moral question, and ultimately, one must ask whether one’s foundational beliefs can provide the scaffolding for such assertions. They may be called goods because they promote happiness, but why is happiness good? And if happiness is the basis for morality, that leads to conflicts, as someone may derive happiness from doing that which hurts someone else.

In the end, some general moral principles must be reached, moral judgments must be made, and those, through the law, must be imposed upon everyone. We can argue legitimately about what should and what should not be enforced. But to make the general claim that we should stop legislating morality is utter nonsense.

 

* There is a difference between “mutual acts” in which everyone involved is involved voluntarily, and acts in which there are willing and unwilling parties involved. ImusZero may believe everything in the first category should be allowed, though not all those things are necessarily good. My saying that they’re not all good is itself a moral judgement that she may not agree with, depending on her definition of good.

The Square Root of Four is Two

Greg Koukl is a Christian apologist and author who frequently lectures on college campuses, attempting to engage students in thought-provoking dialog about how they perceive and comprehend the world, about matters of faith, and about questions of reality. During one such lecture at the University of California at Berkeley, he was conversing with a young man who was so inculcated with relativist nonsense, he could not admit that the square root of four was two. He could only repeat that that was what his culture had taught him to believe.

Hear me: whoever sees a helicopter leave the ground or a man-made probe successfully orbit the moon has witnessed the empirical confirmation that the square root of four is two. He has just beheld the proof that our mathematical abstractions are not cultural conventions, but are expressions of absolute truth. Logic, mathematics—these things are not conventional and local, but universal, immaterial, and absolute.

The young man at Berkeley, though, may have been thoughtful enough to see that an atheistic, naturalist worldview cannot account for such immaterial entities and abstract laws—thus he was forced to junk them, even when the plain reality is that they are absolute truths. In this, he may be more consistent than many other atheists. It is very difficult to account for the world with its intelligibility, our ability to think rationally and communicate with one another and exist in societies with at least some baseline of shared morals, without conceding the existence of one universal, immaterial, absolute lawgiver behind it all. What you see in many young people today is an inconsistent mixture of relativistic subjectivism and objective beliefs; the former because it is what they are taught they must think, and the latter because the image of God still seeps through from the inside and reality still impresses itself upon them from the outside. I pray that Christians would develop the knowledge and the vocabulary to discuss worldview issues so that people who are lost can be shown that there is a lens—the Christian faith—through which the world does make sense.

Further resources: http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/category/white-horse-inn/questions-of-faith/

Called not to be the Same

Israel was chosen by God to be his people. From Moses until Christ, the Jews were set apart by God as a special possession for himself, and they served as a living picture, a living parable, for the kingdom of God on earth. As such, they were to be a holy people, differentiated from all the other people groups around them. In fact, some of the laws given to the Israelites were meant to figure this separation and purity, such as those in Deuteronomy 22:9 against sowing a field with two kinds of grain, wearing a garment of mixed fabrics, or plowing with an ox and a donkey together. Israel was a set-apart people. And they prefigured the New Testament church.

Christians—you and I—are the Israel God is now working with. Too many Christians want to minimize or eliminate the differences between themselves and the people around them. There is constant pressure brought upon us to conform to the reining modes of thinking of this age. Such pressure was heavy upon Israel, too, who was always dealing with temptation to worship the gods of the surrounding nations. We are beset with the pressure to worship the gods everyone around us is worshipping. Those gods include fornication, homosexuality, moral relativism, religious relativism, and the concept that God is not really angry at anyone (except child molesters and Hitler). Or the god that there is no God and that human beings are the result of a physics crapshoot. There is pressure to accept all religions as equally valid to Christianity, and not to make moral declarations based on the Bible. There is pressure to say that any sincere belief in God is good enough for him—you don’t have to approach God specifically through Jesus Christ.

But Christians are called to be set apart from the world in their thinking, their practice, and how they see reality. We are called to bring our thoughts into submission to Christ and to declare his truth to the world. We are called not be the same. People of the world hate the light of the Scripture because they love their sin. They love it so much, they will invent all kinds of arguments to defend their way of life and will slander those who say they are wrong, sometimes viciously. We must take courage in those times, trust God, and be faithful to the message he has delivered to us. If the Bible says marriage is a union between a man and a woman only, then so must we. If the Bible says no one can come to God except through conscious faith in Jesus, then so must we. If the Bible says you can’t divorce your spouse except in cases of adultery or abandonment, then so must we.

And we must say these things out loud. Christians are not called to a cloister. We are called to be separate from the world in the midst of the world. And this may be the hardest thing. We have friends in the world; we are not friends with the world. We go about our business in the world; we are not yoked to the world. We participate in civics as citizens of the world; we are wayfarers passing through. It takes courage to have a different mindset than the prevailing mindset of the culture around you. But the cultural mindset leads to death. We must not adjust the message of the Scriptures to accommodate modern beliefs. Instead, we call on the world to change to accommodate God’s message. Christians must stand firm in the face of opposition in proclaiming God’s eternal truths to the world and so save some. That is true love. The truth brings life. Do not be conformed to this present world, Christian, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

The Broad Pro-life Movement

Yesterday marked a sober anniversary in our nation’s history: 40 years since the Supreme Court made a ruling in the Roe v. Wade case that centered around the right to have an abortion. The 1973 ruling in favor of Roe by 7-2 meant that abortion was considered a fundamental right under the Constitution, subjecting any law to limit abortion to strict scrutiny. It was a moral and legal disaster.

In light of this anniversary there is likely going to be renewed debate over abortion, with people on both sides reaffirming their beliefs and presenting arguments. So let me say as straightforwardly as I can, abortion is a gruesome, barbaric killing of a young human being. It should have no place in a society that seeks to be civilized and free or to value human rights. I am an abortion abolitionist and a pro-life advocate.

But I want to take this opportunity to voice along with others the fact that while the pro-life ideology certainly includes being anti-abortion, it is not synonymous with being anti-abortion. I would remind people that the pro-life movement is built upon a respect for the dignity and value of human life. It involves the need to recognize the inherent worth of all people. It is therefore a comprehensive movement and includes the following.

  • Abolishing assisted suicide and so-called euthanasia
  • Expanding global access to clean water and sustainable food supplies
  • Expanding global access to medical care
  • AIDS prevention thru education
  • Abolishing abortion
  • Offering compassionate alternatives to abortion that respect both the plight of the mother and the life she carries within her
  • Ending child warfare
  • Caring for the earth
  • Promoting world peace

I am not saying that every pro-life individual must be actively involved in all these goals. It is hardly possible for most people to do much or anything to promote world peace or expand access to healthcare in the third world. But there are organizations that are doing these things, and they are things subsumed in pro-life belief. I am not saying that everyone who cares about many of these things is also anti-abortion. Thank God that many pro-abortion advocates are involved in some of these other pursuits, but hear me—these are pro-life pursuits, and those who believe in them but do not believe in abolishing abortion are holding to an ideological inconsistency. On the other hand, I would admit readily that those who fight abortion but do not care, for example, about AIDS prevention or world peace are likewise being inconsistent. I believe all Christians are obligated to hold pro-life views. May God help us do so and do so consistently.

Finally, are you looking for material about abortion? I recommend Desiring God Ministries, keyword “pro-life” or “abortion” and Abort73.com.

Why I Will Never Vote To Recognize Same-Sex Unions as Marriages

In 2008, Californians passed Prop 8, a state constitutional amendment providing that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Many called it a gay marriage ban, but the language of a ban was misleading in a couple ways. One, homosexual “marriage” was not legally recognized before. You can’t really ban something that isn’t already happening. Second, the amendment was not banning same-sex “marriage,” and I do not know of any proposition anywhere to ban same-sex “marriage” across the board or to prevent same-sex couples from having a ceremony performed for them and calling it a marriage privately—nor would I support such a prohibition. What Prop 8 does is make plain that same-sex “marriage” simply will not be legally recognized by the state or be of any legal status qualifying such relationships for the legal benefits associated with real marriages.

I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry on their own terms. They may have relationships and call their relationships whatever they want. But these private “marriages” should not be legally recognized nor given the same legal benefits as real marriages. Here’s why.

1.) Same-sex relationships, whatever they may be, are not marriages.

I did not say they should not be marriages. They cannot be marriages. No one can alter that. As I stated, they can be pretend marriages, and I’m certainly not trying to take that away from any couple. But by definition and by nature, same-sex relationships cannot be marriages (regardless if they were legally recognized as such, I might add). Marriage is not an institution that is invented or defined by culture, by society, by government, or by majority opinion. Marriage exists independent of these social infrastructures, and human culture simply expresses marriage in unique ways, through various ceremonies or rites. These rites do not have to look anything alike. You do not have to use the 1549 Book of Common Prayer for a marriage to be valid. You only have to be uniting by solemn vows a man and a woman into an exclusive relationship with each other.

Marriage, I believe, has a natural teleology, or an origin or cause that exists as a built-in part of the natural order. In fact, this natural teleology is easily discerned. There are two sexes, male and female. The proportion of these in the population averages 50/50. A man and a woman are the only pair of human beings that can procreate or start a family. Procreation is only possible for adult (post-pubescent) persons. Marriage, therefore, is the union of an adult man and an adult woman, and these two only. Different cultures and subcultures have institutionalized other forms of marriage, such as polygamy and polyandry, but these aberrant forms of marriage were incorrect. That is to say, because marriage has a natural teleology, a culture can get it right or get it wrong. Marriage is expressed by a culture, not defined by it.

Thus I will never vote for the legal recognition of homosexual relationships as marriages because such recognition is contrary to fact. Public policy should operate in accord with the facts. It should live in the real world. Because marriage is one thing and not another, and is not an arbitrary social construct, same-sex “marriage,” along with other aberrant kinds, although not prohibited among private citizens, should not have any legal standing or special legal recognition.

2.)  Their is no reason for the government to be involved with same-sex relationships.

The state has no interest—social, economic, or otherwise—in encouraging same-sex relationships and should therefore not be involved at all. The government only has a vested interest in encouraging heterosexual marriage because such marriages create families and families make up society—the society that the government is there for. The only familial relationships that should be acknowledged and recorded by the state are those of close kin, and those of husbands and wives. For instance, I have a best friend, but the government takes no particular notice of it. Homosexual relationships should be treated the same way because they are of no more value to the survival of society than my relationship with my friend. We are not barred from being friends—we are just not afforded any special legal privileges for it. The government should recognize only monogamous heterosexual marriages because only these unions can keep a society from extinction by attrition, and because the two-parent home is the best nurturing environment for children, who are the future of any society.

Of course, not all heterosexual couples can procreate and not all choose to do so. Why then should the government recognize their marriages? Because the pattern for marriage in nature is normative. The government’s role is not to granularly pick which people may get married—it is everyone’s right to get married. It is the government’s role to acknowledge and foster the kind of marriage that produces and nurtures the next generation. That kind of marriage is conjugal marriage, heterosexual monogamous marriage. The circumstances surrounding any particular couple do not affect the rule, standard, or pattern established in nature that the government is to acknowledge.

For these two reasons, I will never vote for the recognition of same-sex “marriage.” A public policy that treats homosexual relationships the same way as heterosexual relationships does not make sense in regards to either social policy or factual integrity.  I have one other thing to add: If marriage is ever treated as though it has no basis in nature and is only a societal construct that we define, then marriage will mean anything, and therefore nothing. There will be no compelling moral reason for legal marriages to exclude any kind of consensual amorous configuration of persons (hopefully persons), whether it be polyamorous, pedophilic, homosexual, incestuous,  or whatever. Marriage is the covenantal unifying relationship between one man and one woman. Public policy that does not reflect that is both grounded on false premises and is uselessly involving itself in relationships that are not societally different from platonic relationships.

Science as Theology

Some say you cannot mix science and theology, but au contraire, you cannot separate science and theology. Science itself is, in a way which I hope to explain, a branch of theology when properly understood, and as we owe God praise and credit, we ought to think thus of science. This is certainly not to say that science cannot be used—and used to great instruction and benefit—without thinking of God, but that using science without thinking of God is not seeing all that science has to tell us and, more importantly, is robbing God of his due credit. It is not using science to its full potential or even its ultimate purpose.

The Bible says that “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4). That is, the universe preaches to us, in general terms, about God’s creativity, wisdom, and goodness, and this proclamation, found in the world around us which we observe daily, is everywhere present, making it obvious that God is there and that he has acted. Dante said that “nature is the art of God,” and who could deny it? The Apostle Paul said that what can be known about God (apart from special revelation) is plain to people because God has shown it to them in the things he has made! Though nature is not very specific in what it tells us about God, it does tell us certain things quite clearly. For instance, nature tells us about his eternal power and his divine nature (Romans 1:18-20). That is, from the natural order it is easily deduced that God is immensely powerful—that he is in reality God. He is not like us.

When we look deep into the secrets of the world, from the cosmos to the quanta, we learn about how nature operates. We get an idea about how things function and what causes what. We begin to formulate laws that govern how particles interact with each other, or with energy or gravity or magnetism; we discover and record how animals survive and how they interact with each other in eco systems; we look at the behavior of waves, of light and sound; we reduce physical behaviors to mathematical equations to predict the motion of the planets or the acceleration of the stretching of space. In any and all of these cases we are ultimately learning about the maker of the these systems, just as studying Michelangelo’s artwork will tell you about Michelangelo himself. We believe that God upholds all the created order by the word of his power (Hebrews 1:3). Science is the study of the means he uses to do so. Science tells us what God created and how he conserves creation. It tells us how he keeps it all together. Physicist Dr. John Hartnett once observed that “the universe, including the created laws that describe the way it normally operates, often turns out to be far more ingeniously constructed, and at the same time elegant, than previously imagined” (Starlight, Time, and the New Physics 12).  When we wonder at how it all works, we often have no idea how amazing it really is. This is because God is infinitely wise. The living cell was once thought to be a simple little blob. Newtonian physics was once thought to perfectly and exhaustively describe the motion of bodies in space. But God was working on another whole level.

When archeologists and anthropologists want to learn about an ancient culture, they study their artifacts. The universe is the dig site of the artifacts of God. When we engage in science, we engage in the study of God’s work. When we engage in the study of God’s work, we are studying God. When we unpack the laws of nature, we peak into the mind of the lawgiver. May science be treated with enough respect to be acknowledged as a vehicle for learning about how great God is, and may God be worshipped and glorified as we lower our microscopes and raise our telescopes to the purpose of finding out just how awesome and mighty a God we serve.

Intent vs. Motive

There is always a tension, as it relates to law, between an act committed and the reasons it was committed, and whether to judge the active agent of the crime by which of these. In the second chapter of Orson Scott Card’s novel Speaker for the Dead, there is an interesting tidbit about motivation versus action. Says Card,

It was the fashion of Calvinists at Reykjavic to deny any weight to human motive in judging the good or evil of an act. Acts are good and evil in themselves, they said; and because Speakers for the Dead held as their only doctrine that good or evil exist entirely in human motive, and not at all in the act, it made students like Styrka quite hostile to Andrew.

I don’t know whether to be impressed that Card grants, in this universe, that Calvinism will have lasted over 3,000 years, or to be offended at his description of its adherents. But I digress. The question of motive is an important one, I believe, in judging the morality or immorality of an action. Was it done with the intention to hurt or help? Did the agent know what he was doing and its ramifications, or did he or she act in ignorance, or with the expectation of different results? These, it would seem to me (even as a Calvinist) bear upon the question of how good or evil an action was. However, I do sympathize with the Reykjavician Calvinism of the future in this: that I do believe–I am sure, in fact–that wrong things can be done with the highest ideals as their impetus, and remain wrong things. That is, even sincerely done for good, the act is wrong. It is independent of the motivation behind it, in some way. Only this belief is respectful to the victim of the action in question. I suppose, then, that I lie in between Andrew and Styrka in this debate. But, if you will allow, I will move on.

I wanted to discuss the difference between intention and motivation, and to comment on their relevancy to the administration of justice. I believe, and I believe strongly, that intent is extremely germane to the question of justice in any given case. I believe just as strongly that motive is not. What I mean is this, that in court, intent must be judged, it must be weighed, in making a ruling, but motive must be ignored. We understand this already, and generally, this is how judgments are determined. For example, in the case of one person killing another. We have words like “involuntary manslaughter” and “premeditated murder” to help us distinguish between intentional and unintentional killing. Indeed, in there are degrees of murder, in which the extent and degree of a person’s intent is weighed. A killer receives a more severe sentence for committing murder in the spur of a heated moment (this is a crime of passion) than for accidentally hitting and killing a pedestrian in his car. And again, a more severe sentence for planning in detail, months ahead of time, to kill someone, and how to do it, than for the unplanned crime of passion. This is appropriate. However, it is not appropriate to decide a sentence based upon motive. That is, if you have two cases of first degree murder, in which one man committed a premeditated murder for one reason, and another man for another reason, they should not receive different degrees of punishment because of it. Intent deals with whether a person wanted or planned to commit an act. Motive deals with why he wanted to commit it.

Determining the motive of a crime is sound detective work, because it will help discover who the criminal was. But it has no place being factored in behind the bench. To do so is to do two things. First, it is to punish not only a crime (an action), but what a person was thinking when committing it. I do not want to live in a country in which thoughts are criminalized. That is thought control. It means that, although some actions are rightly regulated, I am no longer free to believe whatever I want. I want to live in a country where people are free to believe whatever they choose, and are not judged for their beliefs. This is why I am so disturbed by the designation of “hate crime,” not merely to assault, but to assault with a presumed motive. This is the beginning of thought policing. Second, judging motive apparently makes some of the victims of a crime less important, or less victimized, than victims of the same crime (done with different motives). This is because, as I see it, the measure of punishment a criminal receives is a measure of how much his victims were hurt. (Hence pick-pocketing receives a less severe punishment than identity theft, and murder is capital.) To use the example of severer punishments for “hate criminals,” it would it would imply that one innocent victim of battery is less valuable, or was less hurt by it, than another, because the victims were beat up for different reasons. That’s unfair to the victims and deplorable to justice.

Universal Rights and American Exceptionalism

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Over here, this is what we believe.

Yesterday, President Obama spoke in China in a town-hall type environment, bringing up several topics, including environmental issues and trade. But he also spoke of the two very different ways in which China and the United States treat their people, and of the values those two countries esteem. According to ABC News online, Obama said that “freedoms of expression and worship and access to information and political participation, we believe are universal rights.” By “we,” I can only assume that he, as our spokesman, was talking about Americans collectively. The President said that these freedoms should “be available to all people […] whether they are in the United States, China, or any nation.”

By speaking of “universal rights” that rightfully belong to “all people” no matter where they reside, Obama is 1) saying that rights are not decided by cultures, but by something that transcends cultures. That is, there are some rights that are not made up–they are not culturally relative, yet some cultures have chosen to recognize these universal rights, while some have repressed them. But the conclusion of Obama’s words are plain: the rights still exist in cultures that repress them. Two, he is making it clear that some cultures are superior to others, and 3) deciding to engage in cultural warfare, promoting American ideals of liberty to the exclusion of other (inferior) ideals. This is good.

Obama himself may or may not even realize the implications of declaring certain rights to be universal. It is essentially saying that the American way is more right than the way of Communist China and their authoritarian methods of restricting information and freedoms of dissent, dialog, and religion. It is pitting one culture against another, not to compare two “equal but different” ways of life, but to choose between right and wrong. It is recognizing that rights aren’t man-made. It is appealing to a transcendent standard. But whether Obama understands these necessary implications or not, for stating clearly that certain rights are not granted, nor can be rightfully rescinded, by culture or government, but are absolute, I applaud the President.

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