Legislating morality?

Morality – principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior…

Can we legislate it? We’ve certainly tried it at various times through the centuries…

I’m not sure we’ve ever really succeeded.

We can create laws to encourage (and sometimes force) individuals to behave in ways that the community believes are appropriate. We can create laws to protect the defenseless among us.

But creating laws to legislate morality? I don’t think so.

Morality comes from inside us. Yes, we may learn at least some aspects of it from obeying laws and observing what our parents (and peers) do. Some things are cultural, such as bowing to each other or kissing each other’s cheeks in greeting. They are behavioral, but they are considered “proper” in their cultures.

But there are other aspects of morality that are not cultural, and these are the things that spring from inside us…from who we are. Honesty…how we relate with each other sexually…how we run our businesses…our concern for those less fortunate…how we treat our enemies…how we treat our environment…our behavior in these areas–while possibly mandated by law–grows out of our personal understandings…out of our relation with the Divine…out of our sense of how we are connected with each other and with our environment.

I’m not against creating laws to encourage behavior that is helpful to the broader society and to the world we live in. But laws alone cannot create a moral society.

To love our neighbor as ourselves is such a truth for regulating human society, that by that alone one might determine all the cases in social morality. – John Locke

A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality. – Winston Churchill

Where are we going?

As I’ve been watching and listening to news stories the last several days, I’ve found myself wondering. When did we decide that we ought to be living by the motto “It’s all about me” and “Don’t try to change my opinion by giving me facts”?

It seems that just about every time I turn around, someone else–most recently, it’s been politicians–is deriding science and claiming that we shouldn’t have to follow regulations backed by scientific testing….

Or I hear news stories of politicians who are absolutely convinced that trickle-down economics works, despite the fact that the last time we tried it, we found ourselves in an economic mess…

Or stories claiming that those who are poor are there because they’re lazy and so they don’t deserve governmental help. Never mind the fact that a large percentage of those who are living in poverty are children…or families trying to make a living on minimum wage…or folks who have found themselves there because of catastrophic medical bills…

Or stories claiming that the current measles epidemic is caused by all the ill undocumented aliens who have exposed everyone else because they chose to vacation at Disneyland (really???) and that the many parents who have made intentional choices to not vaccinate their children have nothing to do with the epidemic…

Or stories that claim that folks who are trying to find sensible gun control are in reality trying to take away everyone’s guns…


At first some of the stories just made me laugh and shake my head. Now they worry me.

Where are we going? When did compromise and working with each other become dirty ideas? When did scientific discovery become evil? What happened to the idea that raising questions can be helpful?

I know we’re not all going to agree–and that is often helpful, because it causes us to continue to search for answers.

But to refuse to listen to facts (or even possible facts) because they don’t agree with what we’ve already decided means that we lose. We lose the opportunity to learn more…to make positive changes.

And when we hold ourselves as superior to those “beneath” us…those who are struggling…we also lose. Yes, some of those folks have made poor decisions, and we may need to help them make better ones. But to totally turn our backs on them and to make decisions that widen the gap between the haves and the have-nots is also a no-win situation.

We are an interconnected world any more, whether we like it or not.

“How we eat is connected to how we care for the planet
which is connected to how we use our resources
which is connected to how many people in the world go to bed hungry every night
which is connected to how food is distributed
which is connected to the massive inequalities in our world between those who have and those who don’t
which is connected to how our justice system treats people who use their power and position to make hundreds of millions of dollars while others struggle just to buy groceries
which is connected to how we treat those who don’t have what we have
which is connected to the sanctity and holiness and mystery of our human life and their human life and his little human life
which is why we hold up that baby’s hand and say to the parents, ‘it’s just so small.”
― Rob Bell, What We Talk about When We Talk about God