Make No Law

For a while, I have felt greatly provoked to write about the passage of the recent state law in Indiana recognizing the freedom of conscience Christian business owners want in being able to reject business that would be morally offensive to them. The issue of rights is a dangerous one, especially because every right possessed by people places obligations on everyone else. If we wish to restrain others whose beliefs and behavior offend us, at the same time we reject others restraining us. Likewise, we seek freedom from legal restrictions against what we desire to do, but also seek legal protections from others whose interests we view as threatening or inimical to us. Even the desire to be free of government restriction to conduct in general requires a government strong enough to resist the pressure to desire regulation as the solution to mankind’s wrong, a solution that seems as old as politics itself.

I have found it ironic, and telling, that many of the same people who have been particularly unwilling to respect the recent law in Indiana have been among the most insistent that others respect the Affordable Care Act as the law of the land. Yet both of these laws, and many others, spring from the exact same tendency, with different political philosophies [1]. The laws we write and pass and endorse spring from our own belief systems, whatever those may be, and it is natural to wish to make the world into our own image. Naturally, others who see the world in different ways find that to be threatening and abhorrent, and we as people often lack the moral sensitivity to recognize that what is self-evident to us may be patently offensive to others, and vice versa. And two cannot walk together unless they be agreed. Every covenant, even the simple peace we wish for in our political order, depends on some common ground to tie us together. Where that common ground is lacking, we really are not the same people as others, and cannot comfortably live under the same legal order, because what one group views as the natural outgrowth of their belief system is viewed equally sincerely and plainly by others as an attack upon their own worldview and identity.

The passage of laws is itself a poor way to ensure the victory of one’s political and moral worldview, even if it is a worldview that is largely in harmony with my own. The law itself does not serve to convince others, but rather to convict. Where there is no willingness to either obey laws that we disagree with but do not see as immoral, or to suffer unjustly because of unjust laws and to rely upon a future judgment in a world to come to right the wrongs of this life, every law that we view as unjust becomes an intolerable burden that must be immediately eliminated. It is not that religion is an opiate for the masses, as was said mistakenly by Marx, but that a belief in some form of cosmic justice appears to be necessary to make any sort of patience with political setbacks and graciousness towards others who act in ways hostile to our interests possible. We cannot accept anything wrong in our world unless we have a firm faith that it will eventually and decisively be made right.

If making laws largely serves to gratify our own egos and to provoke those whose worldviews are viewed as illegitimate according to the laws that are being passed, what are we to do? First, I suppose, we need to determine our ends. Is our end to provoke opponents and lead to ridicule and legal challenges that seek to nullify what we have put into place with a temporary political majority? If so, then let us legislate away. If our aim is to broaden the appeal of our worldview, we need to engage in much more difficult work. This work requires winning hearts and minds, showing respect for where others are coming from, and addressing the real concerns that drive others, even if these concerns are often phrased in ways that strike us as offensive or troublesome. After all, the greater the level of agreement between people, the less that has to be spilled out. The proliferation of laws is a sign of mistrust, of misplaced ambition, and of the desire to shape others into our own image rather than to respect them as they are. We would all do better to radically reorient our own mindset, so that we stop taking the easy way out of trying to regulate rather than spend the time building a genuine sense of community that would allow laws on all levels to be less numerous, less lengthy, and less contentious. We would all be better for that.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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