by Kristen Walker -
Tell me if this has ever happened to you. It’s lunchtime. You are eating at your desk at work and decide to look at Facebook. It’s as exciting as ever. Your aunt had a burrito for lunch. A girl you haven’t seen since college got a new tattoo. Someone is super happy it’s almost Friday.
Then you see that a virtual stranger (there’s a double meaning in that) has commented on one of your posts. And she has said something so asinine that you put down your fried pickle (’cause you’re in Texas and you eat stuff like that) and respond.
It’s daunting, the task before you. Do you even want to undertake this? Can you really change someone’s mind about abortion in one Facebook comment?*
Well, you’re gonna try. So you launch into refuting whatever dumb thing the person just said. “There’s no scientific concensus that life begins at conception!” “If we make it illegal, they’re gonna do it anyway!” “If you’re against abortion, you should be against war, too!” It could be any of these things, or something else.
So you drop a couple knowledge bombs, go back to your life, and hours later you find the following response:
“Well, maybe you’re right, but we can’t legislate morality.”
You look around for a candid camera. Is this an elaborate joke? No. Someone actually said that. Again. You sigh. And you type this:
“Really? We can’t legislate morality? What do you call it when we tell people they can’t murder? Rape? Steal?”
Criminal Justice 101
Let’s do some Criminal Justice 101, shall we? There are two types of laws: malum in se and malum prohibitum.
- Malum in se is a Latin phrase meaning “wrong in itself.” Most of us feel that murder is wrong, therefore there is a law against it.
- Malum prohibitum means something is wrong because it is prohibited.
For example: in the United States we have to drive on the right side of the road, not because driving on the left is inherently evil (I’m lookin’ at you, England!) but because good order meant we had to pick one side. Because we’ve picked right, if you drive on the left, you’re gonna get stopped. Try it, you’ll see.**
Malum in se laws are based on morality. Our laws here in the U.S. grew out of English Common Law, which in turn was based on Judeo-Christian morality. Now, old-timey English lawmakers did not sit around and go, “Hmmm, what should we base our laws on?” And then come up with the Bible because it had an attractive leather cover. Judeo-Christian morality was a part of the culture since the 7th century, and has in fact formed Western culture, culminating most recently in our humble little former colony, the United States.
Detractors will say English Common Law formed in the 5th century, before Christianity took hold in Britain. But the law as we know it didn’t stop forming then. Christian men such as Henry de Bracton in the 13th century in England and Sir William Blackstone in the 18th century in the United States have had a tremendous impact on creating the laws we know today.
America Founded on Judeo-Christian Principles
Whether you like it or not, the culture that created you is a Judeo-Christian culture. All the things you think are right and wrong were formed by Judeo-Christian principles. Why do you think it’s wrong to have slaves? Western culture is just like most other civilizations in that it engaged in slavery, but unique in that it is solely responsible for ridding the world of it. What about having a harem of concubines? That was common in pre-Christian cultures, not so much in the West today. Sacrificing virgins? No big deal to the pagans, but frowned upon in our time.
The idea of loving people more than ourselves, sacrificing for the poor, turning the other cheek… these ideas were so revolutionary to the Roman world in which Christianity was born that they were scandalous. The tenets of Christianity made Christians so different they were almost universally hated. They were persecuted and killed all over the Roman Empire, until the Emperor Constantine had a vision. But I digress.
So those who cry that morals have no place in public policy are a little too late. Judeo-Christian morals created our public policy, created our culture, were the basis for our founding documents, guided the formation of our nation through the beliefs of our founders, and make up the fabric of our society.
Major Flaw of Postmodern Deconstructionism
Recently, a postmodern deconstructionist tendency to wipe American law clean of “traditional” morality has created not a sparkling tabula rasa, but a libertine morass. You don’t have to be a Jew or Christian to recognize there is such a thing as right and wrong. Lately, it seems like the only evil people will recognize is believing in evil.
Ironically, the abortion advocate who tells us to keep our morals off her body is herself expressing a moral belief, a belief in liberty. I also believe in liberty, but I believe that in the phrase “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” life comes first for a very good reason: you can’t have liberty without life. I believe a baby’s right to be alive trumps his mother’s right to kill him for any reason she sees fit. Because, as we all know, there are limits to liberty. My liberty ends where, for example, it infringes upon another person’s right to live. Hence, I am free, but not free to murder. I am free to drive, but not into someone’s restaurant. I am free to watch TV, but not “Jersey Shore” at Kristen’s house. And so on.
The next time someone tells you, “We can’t legislate morality,” tell them, “Sure we can! It’s fun and easy! Like Mad Libs!”
But seriously: this is another argument you can easily shoot down with just a little bit of knowledge. Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.
*No. But one day I’m gonna set a world record and do it in three.
**Please do not try this.