A Facebook friend put it succinctly, "Our laws are founded upon morals."
I couldn't agree more. Our nation's laws are indeed founded upon certain moral principles.
Of course, this particular friend was pushing for more laws concerning gun control in light of the Newtown, CT school shooting. I disagreed principally in light of the question I asked him, "What morals under gird our current laws in this nation?"
This is a tricky one for most folks in this day and age. At one point in our nation, the answer would have been, unhesitatingly, "Christian morals and values."
You see, yours truly would argue (even though he hasn't exactly done extensive research into the matter) that our nation's laws were founded upon Juedeo-Christian principles. Yet, the "great experiment" of our Founding Fathers was to begin a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian principles without trying to force the population to adhere to a particular religion. One cannot dispute the documentation of our Founding Fathers saying that we believe we have certain rights "endowed by the Creator." Such is the fashion in which our nation was founded.
Yet, something has happened along the way. The laws have become separated from the morality which once under girded it. As our nation has become more pluralistic (see more religiously diverse) and more secular (see a rise in people who claim no religious affiliation), the Judeo-Christian under girding has become more and more eroded and weakened. How?
Well, in trying to accommodate all views without imposing a particular religious ideology, the culture has generally embraced one of two avenues: relativism--the ideal all viewpoints are equally valid or exclusion of religious/faith-based thought in favor of values based in reason and science. The former tries to accommodate all at the table; the latter essentially says, "Leave your religious beliefs behind and come to the table with a universal way of talking about things." These two avenues have significant weaknesses in their approach, and there is not enough time to go into such things right now. What we can discuss is some of the resulting things which have happened.
Relativism has led to mass confusion, plain and simple. One need only look at the Christmas season to see the results. What does one say to another in greeting? "Merry Christmas?" "Happy Hanukka?" "Happy Kwanza?" "Happy Holidays?" Nothing at all less we offend a non-religious sort? In trying to please everyone, we end up pleasing no one, and we end up with a mass jumble of stuff. Now, I am not so arrogant to think that I know the Truth and possess it--in fact, I believe Christianity is less about possessing the Truth but more about being possessed by the Truth--yet, one simply cannot argue that all religious faiths are the same. There are differences among them, and those differences lead to different ways of acting--ethics, if you wish to use the proper terminology. Simply put, morals become different across the religious spectrum. What one must eventually decide is which moral system will provide a nation's under girding of its laws. We haven't arrived at one yet.
Secularism/rationalism leads to a far different place. First, it essentially tells people to leave behind the one place they get most of their moral understanding and adopt a totally different view. This is a bit disingenuous and disrespectful in my estimation, yet, I suppose it can be done. But what happens when one tries to remove faith from the discussion of ethics? Where does one go to seek answers to how we are supposed to treat one another? Science? Evolution? Philosophy? Science tells us how the world works and helps us make technology. Science has fallen short in helping us see how we should use said technology. Philosophy, when pushed to its extreme leads to nihilism--see Nietzsche. Evolution? Within it's study, we see that groups do well to take care of their own, but nature is governed by the survival of the fittest. Do we really want that under girding our laws? Do we want fight or flight to be the norm of our behavior? I certainly don't.
I personally am in favor of seeking out an agreed upon religious, faith based under girding for our laws. I'd personally argue that the Judeo-Christian tradition should be that under girding for a couple of reasons:
1. At its core is a God/man who willingly dies for his enemies and offers forgiveness to them as they are killing him. This is respect for another's point of view to the extreme.
2. At its core is the realization that none measure up to the way we should act and we are saved not by what we do, but by what God has done for us. This theoretically should lead to humility.
3. At its core it recognizes all human beings are created in the image of God and are worthy of respect and dignity (see human rights).
4. At it's core, it simplifies the law--love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Wouldn't it be a trip if those two laws governed everything. Heck, atheists could even skip out of the first part and just focus on the second part: love your neighbor as yourself. (Yours truly believes the first under girds the second, but there are quite a few non-believers who do the second without the first--and do it very well.) What would the world/our nation look like if we simply followed those two laws? What would that do to violence and theft and bullying and other such notions if we actually put those things into practice?
I know, I'm living out a fantasy right now. Folks don't follow those two laws, but what if they provided the moral framework for how we lived with each other and the laws we passed? Would we need the thousands of pages of laws that we currently have? Would we need such a complex web weaved to try and tell us what we should and shouldn't do?
I don't think so. I think it would give us tremendous freedom and tremendous responsibility. It would give us a framework of how we are supposed to use the scientific technology we have been gifted with. It would give us a basis for how we treat one another--including those with mental illness and those pushed to the margins of society. It would help us address the rampant greed and materialism found in much of our culture. It would help us battle the sense of entitlement portions of our society have embraced.
It's not likely to happen. Our legislators will continue to add more and more laws to the books with more and more hope of making our lives safer and better. I can't see such work coming to fruition. I believe we need fewer laws, not more, and I believe we could get away with it if we embraced the greatest two.