LESSONS IN LOGIC: You Can ‘Legislate’ Morality

I was thinking about the recent flap over the Phil Robertson flap.  I was trying to figure out exactly what is behind it, and I found that I kept coming back to the cliché, “You can’t legislate morality.”  So I started to think about what these words really mean; about the idea and intention behind their use.  And that reminded me of a book I read by Jonah Goldberg, “The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.”  In his book, Goldberg argues that clichés have become a device to shut down discussion and debate, and I happen to agree with him.  “You can’t legislate morality” is one of the ways people avoid having to deal with the issue of morality.  In truth, all laws deal with matters of right and wrong, and what else is morality than the notion of right and wrong?  So morality not only can be ‘legislated,’ it is legislated.  And that means what we are really dealing with here is the standard of morality by which we will govern society.  And that means that the attack on Phil Robertson is nothing more than a rejection of Natural Law.  In the end, it comes back to the words of Robert Winthrop, Speaker of the House:

“Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.”

In a moral nation, there is little need for civil laws because the people naturally govern themselves according to the universal moral law (Natural Law).  However, as a nation becomes more corrupt, it is in need of masters, and masters rule through laws.  So, as a nation becomes corrupt, the body of its laws will naturally grow.

“As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.”

–Benjamin Franklin

But there is more to this than just a wicked people.  We must remember that our leaders come from the people, so, if the people are wicked, then we have no reason to expect their leaders will be good.  In fact, it is just the opposite.  In a nation of wicked people, we should assume those in power will be even more wicked than those over whom they rule.  This is just the nature of man.  What’s more, we should reject any argument that the leaders are wicked and are forcing their will on the people.  If the people are good, they will recognize and reject their wicked leaders.  At no time in history has any leader been able to rule over the masses unless the masses have first submitted to their rule.  If the people ever turn against their master, that master will be toppled.  It’s just that the people lack the courage necessary to rise up because they lack the moral foundation necessary to give them the courage to stand up against wickedness.  Our founders succeeded because they did have that moral foundation, and it came from the very teachings our society now attacks:

In alphabetical order by author:

“There are three points of doctrine the belief of which forms the foundation of all morality. The first is the existence of God; the second is the immortality of the human soul; and the third is a future state of rewards and punishments. Suppose it possible for a man to disbelieve either of these three articles of faith and that man will have no conscience, he will have no other law than that of the tiger or the shark. The laws of man may bind him in chains or may put him to death, but they never can make him wise, virtuous, or happy.”

— John Quincy Adams

(Source: John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams to His Son on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn: James M. Alden, 1850), pp. 22-23.)

” Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure…are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”

Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Indepedence [Source: To James McHenry on November 4, 1800.]

 “As to Jesus of Nazareth … I think the system of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw or is likely to see;…”

–Benjamin Franklin

“I concur with the author in considering the moral precepts of Jesus as more pure, correct, and sublime than those of ancient philosophers.”

–Thomas Jefferson, (Source: Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D. C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Assoc., 1904), Vol. X, pp. 376-377. In a letter to Edward Dowse on April 19, 1803.)

“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

–James Madison, [1778 to the General Assembly of the State of Virginia]

“(T)he foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; …the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained…” 

–George Washington

“The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scripture ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. All the miseries and evil men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”

–Noah Webster, 1833

“Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other. The divine law, as discovered by reason and the moral sense, forms an essential part of both.”

— James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution

So, if the founders were clear that a free and self-governing nation requires morality, and that all laws constructed by men should and must be made to conform with God’s Natural Law (or they are not law at all), then why is there such an opposition to Phil Robertson, or to anyone who espouses a belief in the Judea/Christian faith?   Better yet, let me ask it this way.  If the moral law of the Judea/Christian faith is so terrible, why do so many feel so safe attacking it?  And why do those same people fear to say a word against Islam when Islam is just as harsh – if not more so – on the same issues?


6 thoughts on “LESSONS IN LOGIC: You Can ‘Legislate’ Morality

  1. Very Good Analysis. Very Clear and obvious truths explained.

    So many feel safe in attacking Judeo-Christian morality because it is in fact tolerant. It is NOT as selective. intolerant or as Harsh as islam. Judeo-Christian faith asks one to come…..islam will kill you if you don’t.

    And there’s NO Morality in THAT !

  2. All law is based on morality. But not all morality should be legislated. For example it may be immoral to cheat at a friendly card game but it shouldn’t necessarily be illegal.

    The purpose of the law is to promote the good.

    If there were no morals there would be no point to the law. After all why should we care what people do if we didn’t think certain actions were better than others?

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