Tuesday, August 26, 2003
God as the Basis of Law?
Perhaps the most laughable thing about the ten commandments controversy (and yes, those are intentionally lowercase for those who've asked or offered to copyedit my site) is the notion that our civil laws are based on them or, more broadly and more irrationally, on god's existence and teachings through the bible.
Did no one take a course on modern political thought (i.e., post-Renaissance philosophy)? If there is one thing that modern political theory tells us--and while obviously influenced by classical Greek political theory, the nation's birth is essentially the fulfillment of modern political theory--it's that laws and societies exist not because god has ordained them, but because civil society is impossible without agreement to govern civil actions. Murder is illegal not because the x-th commandment says, "Thou shalt not kill." Murder is illegal because it impedes peaceful civil life. Outlawing theft makes it possible to accumulate more stuff, more efficiently. For god's sake, the whole essence of the market economy is that buyers and sellers make decisions independently and of their own free will in pursuit of their own utility; and, they accept adaptations to the market when the market fails because it improves social efficiency.*
Between the rise of the Christian Coalition, Bush's election and the New Crusades in Iraq, this obsession with god in public ceremony, abortion clinic bombings, reductions in aid for Planned Parenthood, banning stem cell research, the drug war, fights over whether to teach evolution in schools (which is even crazy than fights over whether to teach creation in schools), and so many other social issues, I fear that we are entering a new Dark Ages. I've referred to it here as the New Puritanism. James Morone in his new book, Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History, refers to it as the New Victorianism. Whatever the case, this does not bode well for society.
The fact that I disagree with those groups on those issues does not mean I support putting abortion coupons in the Sunday paper or passing out pot to pre-schoolers. Nor does it mean that I am insensitive to the behavioral responses that "permissive" policies can lead to (e.g., people getting pregnant to sell their aborted fetuses for research). What it does mean is that I won't further victimize people who become pregnant or become addicted to drugs or throw people in jail for the sake of symbolic reasons and tolerate their inhumane treatment. Our problems are essentially human, and only humans working together can solve them. When people refuse to dialogue, we might as well turn out the lights.
*: I'm far from the biggest free market, modernist thinker; I still cast my lot with the Greeks. But, it is undeniable that the biggest influence on America's founding fathers was political philosophy, not god, and certainly not Christian fundamentalism.
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