Friday, June 29, 2007

Can We Legislate Morality?

It is not even election year yet and already the presidential candidates are gearing up for the primaries. As with every election year, the so-called dilemma of "legislating morality" comes up. How far can and ought a state go in implementing its laws to fight not only crime, but vice, which is always accompanies crime and often leads to it?

There is a certain political maxim that is frequently repeated by opponents of pro-life legislation and other moral issues. We all have heard it repeated numerous times: "You can't legislate morality." Like many other things, it has been repeated so many times that people tend to take it as absolute truth. But is it?

Well, inasmuch as it means you cannot pass laws to make people moral citizens, it is true. We cannot pass laws to make people stop being lustful or envious. However, we can certainly pass laws to punish certain immoral actions, which is what pro-life legislation and anti-abortion laws would accomplish. After all, murder is immoral and henceforth we have laws against it. Stealing is immoral and it, too is illegal. We have laws against fraud, perjury, rape and a plethora of other crimes, all precisely because they are immoral. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the morality (or immorality) of actions are the only reasons why we legislate. If something were not immoral, why would we take actions against it?

The problem is that in this age, we have gotten away from viewing our laws as a means to an end (just laws to promote just society and harmony among men and with God) and have begun viewing our laws as arbitrary ends in themselves (i.e, we obey the laws because the state says we must, regardless of their morality). This is the old distinction between natural law (the fundamental laws respecting human life are from God and written in our nature) and positive law (laws made only by men with no grounding in divine law). Modern man thinks all law is positive law, and hence, there is no ultimate line we cannot cross if the 51% so say it should be. There is nothing to prevent democracy without respect for natural law from becoming a dictatorship of the masses.

This new way of thinking is fatally flawed because it sets the state up as the ultimate arbiter of moral right and wrong. Our nature as moral being obliges us to think morally, even in political questions, and always hold fast to the Church's moral teachings, since she and she alone has the authority to proclaim the moral truths by which we base our lives. We must especially hold fast to these truths when it comes to life issues such as contraception, abortion and euthanasia, where human existence itself is on the line. After all, the theoretical way we view law and morality influences how and for whom we will vote, which influences how laws will shape the future of our country, which in turn decides whether we will have a culture of life or a dictatorship of death. As God said to the Israelites through Moses, "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your descendants might live" (Deut. 30:19).