Sunday, December 5

Christian Legislation revisited yet again

Parableman (aka Jeremy Pierce) has written a blog essay taking some ideas from two of my posts and running with them. After agreeing with my way of describing how it is ok for our Christian morals to guide our legislation. He then takes my musing on the difficulties of legislating morality. In brief, Charity when enacted by the government does not inculcate the personal virtue of charity in fact may do just the opposite.

What surprised me then, is that Mr Pierce takes the difficulty I encountered in trying to envision what Christian would entail and makes a generalization. He draws a distinction between prescriptive and proscriptive laws. He takes the conclusions I drew with respect to Charity and generalized it to find that proscriptive laws (forbidding actions) more easily fit the Christian legislative mold but that prescriptive ones, like promoting Charity do not.

I hadn't thought to generalize the idea that proscriptive laws will, by preventing behavior which is we as Christians find wrong, will if not bringing the hearts and minds of the citizens in line, at least their actions. And if their actions become habit, then it will become in line with their thoughts. Here I think that even if the Christian (or whatever moral group) takes power in our legislature, the legislators should keep in mind that legislative will does not always coincide with societies practices, e.g., liquor and prohibition. Mr Pierce's tobacco example is a case in point. I believe if smoking were made illegal, the same sort of issues that arose with prohibition would likewise come forth, as smoking is too big a part of our society today.

Pierce then proposes that prescriptive laws like paternal welfare, helmet laws, and hybrid cars fit in a paternal model for prescriptive laws which he finds helpful (unlike the charity case) even if the personal motives are not in line with the spirit of the law. First off, helmet laws, seem to me to fit the proscriptive definition (after all it proscribes riding a motorcycle without a helmet). Welfare however is a duck of a different color from a prohibitive law. It prescribes an agency whose existence deals in a direct redistribution of wealth to assist those in need. This is certainly not a proscriptive law. Alas at this point, for my purposes, Mr Pierce has wandered off the plantation. For one might wonder what this law has to do with Christianity? His idea is that it is engendered by his Christian morals. Again, this to me smells like governmental acts of charity. I might wonder what might happen if nothing was done by the government. One might wonder what might happen if all governmental charity ceased. Certainly there would be individuals in need. But there would be many with extra cash on hand (taxes might go down in that case) to help them. My suggestion is that the results might be not be as bad as people predict and that in fact, my first suggestion that the personal virtues of charity no longer be as discouraged.

Unfortunately, all of this still fails to reach my goal. I was reaching for legislation which will help to encourage Christian ethics in our society. In fact, one could characterize this legislative goal as evangelical in purpose. What I was reaching for was legislation that would prepare the hearts and minds of its people to receive the light of Christ. And as I indicated with Charity, it is hard to think of how to do such a thing. With education, St. Paul had indicated how, suffering could give rise to perseverance, character, and then hope (and we know how hope will be fulfilled). But that is just one small piece in the puzzle.

As for the rest, I am still pondering what sort of legislation might achieve my ends and as I have said, it is a harder nut to crack than I had first thought. Again, I would welcome any suggestions to help this "project" along.