Legislating Righteousness - The Loss of Love and Dignity

As I've grown as a Christian and as a person who believes in and loves liberty, my perspectives have changed over the years. I find myself increasingly departing from the mainstream view of conservative Christians lately. As I develop a deeper understanding of liberty, something which I firmly believe that God endorses, my political viewpoint changes. Whereas once I believed and supported whatever leading Christian pundits were advocating, now I notice where certain positions are at odds with what I believe the bible says and at odds with the principles of liberty.

In general I'm referring to the pressure to pass laws regulating personal behavior that comes from the Christian community. Laws regarding drugs, alcohol, sexual choices, etc. By no means is legislating behavior limited to Christianity; however, it is the Christian I want to address. To make my point, let me give you my moral orientation.

In a nutshell, I believe in the God of the bible and in His Son Jesus who came in the form of a man in order to redeem mankind. I believe that God is good, that He loves all men and women, and that He wants every single person to be saved. I believe God is personal and wants to have an interactive relationship with everyone. I believe the essence of relationship is freedom. Freedom gives relationships value. An unchosen relationship has no value; therefore, without the choice to love (which must allow space for the opposite choice, which is not to love) a relationship is meaningless (or valueless).

I believe this freedom extends to all human endeavors. We are relational beings and everything we do in life revolves around our relationships. It is for this reason that I believe in free markets as the ultimate system for bringing two parties into an economic relationship. That is why I believe prices should move freely as both parties determine for themselves the value of an economic exchange. So that is why I believe that the role of government is simply this: to protect our liberty. That means it should prevent one person from doing harm to another. Willfully harming another person destroys their liberty; therefore, as a nation we collectively act to restrict the freedom of those who do not respect the freedom of others.

I say all of that to lay a foundation for this point: the government should not be in the business of making me righteous - even if I generally agree with the behaviors required by those laws. As I've said, government should be in the business of preserving my liberty. As a free human being, I am free to try those things that might bring me harm. In trying those things, I gain experience. I learn. I am able to decide for myself what things bring good into my life and what things bring harm.

If choice brings value to relationships, choice also brings value to our actions. Doing the right thing has more value when it is chosen than when it is compelled. Doing the right thing starts with love. When we choose to do what we believe is right, we do so because we value the good that comes from that right choice.

Consider these choices: I choose to eat right and take care of my body. I value my body and make the choices necessary to keep it healthy. Good comes from that choice. I want a happier relationship with my wife so I choose to be kind to her. I value her and her happiness. Good comes from that choice. I want to take care of my fellow man by returning the $20 bill he dropped. I value my fellowman more than the $20. Good comes from that choice. Maybe it is the good that comes to a young woman by the choice of a young man to respect her heart and respect her body. He values her more than his own sexual satisfaction. Good comes from that choice.

All of these right choices produce something wonderful in the soul. These choices are the result of love. These choices are the result of loving something more than the self. These choices are the result of loving God, loving His wisdom, loving what God has created, and valuing what He values. It is love that leads us to make right choices.

Choice reveals value. Our choices reveal what we value - they reveal what we love.

If you remember, God gave the law to Israel because they did not understand that concept and had no love for the truth or for God. "What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made." (Gal 3:19). The coming of Jesus fulfilled a promise to Abraham that through his Seed, all the nations of the world would be blessed. That promise was Jesus. Abraham followed the leadership of God because he loved God and valued the promise that God made. Abraham also wanted the world to receive that blessing that God was promising, showing that he valued the people of the world more than himself. Abraham was even willing to kill his own desperately wanted son Isaac, showing how completely he valued the will of God over his own will. That is love.

It is our love for the good that comes, our love of true value and worth, that compels us to make right choices. If we allow the government to compel us to make right choices by legislating matters of morality, then we no longer do it for love. If the law forces me to do what is right, then the value is lost. I am no longer responding to love, no longer recognizing the value in a decision or action. Instead, I become self-centered once again. I do the action required by law to avoid the penalty of the law, not because I value the object of my action.

Compelling righteousness also removes the dignity that comes from struggling with our natures and learning to overcome. We have two "selfs". One self wants instant gratification and is me/pleasure/now oriented. My other self looks to others and is willing to delay gratification for a greater good. These two selfs are at odds with one another. These two aspects of our character, the "Dr. Jeckyl, Mr Hyde" inside each of us compete on every level over every issue. Whether it is a decision about having a brownie, the decision about our attitude that day, the decision to offer a kind word to someone, the decision to drink, smoke, or look at a dirty magazine - we have to learn to manage the decision process and choose the good. I have struggled mightily with learning to overcome some aspects of my character. But I have learned! I have grown! And I am a better person, a person of dignity, for having had the opportunity to "sin" and learned how to overcome the slavery that results from sin.

One thing the founders of this nation resisted was the idea of "central planning." It is not the role of government to shape society. In order to shape society, one person must exercise his will for the direction of society over the will of another. For example, socialism, environmentalism, humanism, feminism, multiculturalism are all attempts to shape society according to the vision of a small group. Christianity, while typically the true defender of liberty, in many cases tries to do the same thing.

Again, this limits liberty. One person doesn't know better what is good for another person. Each person needs to take his own path, fight his own fight, learn his own lessons - write his own story. If you believe you know better than another, become a teacher, start a church, begin an advertising campaign. Attempt to influence others by allowing them to hear your message and freely come to your conclusion by the logic of your arguments and the strength of your love for them. But don't compel them to adopt your conclusion by the force of law.

Compelling righteousness, whether done by Christians or an "ism" destroys human dignity by removing the value that comes by learning from poor choices how to make good choices.

Subject Areas: , , ,


Anonymous said...

If you specify or insert "adults" in your comments then I would say that it's one of the best arguements I 've read on the subject.

Governement does have a function in protecting those who can be preyed upon.

I'm gonna copy your blog and give it to my Republican,"Christian" buddies.

Mike Snapp said...

Thanks for the comment and the praise. Absolutely right on both points - the role of government is to preserve liberty by preventing one person from harming another, thus destroying their liberty. A child must be protected. In addition, children are still under the "law" of their parents until they become an adult and can choose on their own.

Maggie McHann Harting said...

I understand your position more than you know. May God Bless you for taking a stand.You have given me much to prayerfully consider. However, at this moment,the Lord brings these things to mind for me with regard to your comments.

I agree with you that God wants all to live in liberty, including those of us he now calls "sons and daughters of the Most High." As such, it is our duty to protect life, as well as liberty and the pursuit of happiness (which can only be found with God). Because God wants none to perish, he has given us the responsibility of loving and protecting them, including protecting them and future generations from themselves. (The Lost are the rebellious children of Isreal).If true Christians don't fight against those who are also making laws that reflect their Godless values, than we have no one to blame but ourselves for their continued lost condition and the loss of future generations of Christians through abortion and Godless parents.
Christians must act as David did. We have God and the battle belongs to him, already. But, David, "called a man after God's own heart," fought the giants of his day, just as we must do in this ours.
The Lost are deceived by the culture of death, which may lead them to eternal death. Love demands that we protect them, if only to sustain them until God brings them to himself.
The contrary is of course, that David killed the enemies of God. But in this, the age of the grace of Jesus Christ, we must be willing to "socially" OR even literally, die for them, as Jesus did.
We are witnesses to the world. We must be involved, "in the world but not of the world." We must seek and save the lost, as Jesus did and commanded us to do also.
Even part of the Godless world understands this. Do they not call 911 when facing death? Are there not "lost" firefighters who race out to save the lives of others while risking their own? Should Christians do less? Didn't the apostle Paul say in Ephesians that concerning some, "we must snatch them from the flames?"

Joe said...

Great post! I've wrestled with this issue on many occassions.

One of the best comments I've heard on this subject is from Jim Cymbala's book "Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire." In it he writes (and I paraphrase), "I do not think the role of Christians is to try to impose thier views via the government through legislation. The early Christian church lived in one of the most corrupt, godless, and sinful societies known to man, and yet they didn't spend their time lamenting that fact. Instead, they built relationships, spread the good news, and turned the world upside down with the love of Christ."

May we be so bold as to do the same...

Maggie McHann Harting said...

I want to publically acknowledge that I misunderstood your arguement here. I did not see the meaning as deeply or clearly as you actually portrayed it. If I correctly understand it now, then I see that when we as a nation, began establishing laws, beginning with God's 10 Commandments and risking our liberty in order to establish a free nation, then today's political Arena,where Christians are now being persecuted for Christ, may very well be our own doing!
In essence, I think I understand that your arguement asks if our Christian Forefathers may have been in error, thus bringing about the political climate in America today. If so, then I must now agree. We may have created the giants of this age because they attempt to "Legislate Immorality"at the expense of our religious freedoms.
Still, one wonders where your view would ultimately lead. My guess is that either we are in for some awful days such as the tribulation describes, after which the task will be completed by God or as also fits God's character, we as believers will not suffer His wrath on "unbelievers" but may instead, be spared, such as Noah, Enoch or others were throughout scripture.
If, indeed, the acts of our forefathers have brought about the freedoms for which we were once better known as a nation,then whether or not they were in error, God has been faithful in both blessing their effort and showing us the consequences of our actions. When the Lord Jesus was removed from his teachings, their worst fears are now being realized in this generation of the church age. Perhaps, in imitating God, we reversed grace? Assuming you are correct, we have only ourselves to blame.
Still, comfort his people. He is Almighty and Amazing. It has been revealed to us that He works all things together for good. He is faithful to complete the work he, himself, began. Either way, in the end,if we have created our own battles,then we know that God alone wins the war to His glory.
In my exploration of your arguement, I still ended up back at this idea: "As long as Satan is loose, we will never be able to get it right without having Jesus reigning on earth," because "Satan must be bound in chains where he will be unable to tempt the nations, as scripture says." Given the mess we have made, Jesus may have to come and clean it up. He, being perfect in every way, will show us how it should have been done in the first place.
Still, it does cause one to wonder, "What if the laws of our nation had been limited to the first two commandments?" (since Jesus summed the whole of the law with them)
As a warrior in this crazy battle, I currently imagine God as a fed up parent whose patience may be running out with us. Perhaps, His first words to the world will be, "Enough Already!"

God Bless you Mike! Thanks for the walk through God's heart on liberty, mercy and justice. Press on in Jesus Christ.

Anonymous said...

Am I confused? You appear to be attributing the power to be righteous to unbelievers. They possess no ability to do anything righteous because they never do anything with the motive of honoring God. They may be moral but certainly not righteous. I am all for laws to "corral" the behavior of the unsaved. Consider the fiasco in Amsterdam for example. "Freedom" there resulted in a modern day Sodom. You appear to be mixing Christianity with Libertarianism producing a "religion" that cannot be defended biblically.

Anonymous said...

Please consider the following article as it appears to be the mindset that shapes your theology.