What drives the Culture War? Why is the ACLU so effective? Is it because we have elected an aristocracy of lawyers to rule us?
Because of our religious beliefs (and our innate sense of right and wrong), we have develop laws to check the schemes of the evil and prevent the domination of the weak by the strong. Yet even Law and Religion can be twisted and fought over by men. Have we, by electing lawyers to rule us established rivalry between Legalism and Religion? Is this then the Culture War?
Due in large part to their own religious heritage, the Founding Fathers established a secular government. They did this both to end religious warfare and because they well understood that it is not the government’s place to impose a religious belief. Instead, they prohibited the government from interfering with or promoting religious activity, and they pointedly tasked government with the responsibility of protecting the rights of the People and the duty of maintaining civil order.
Unfortunately, any great enterprise, no matter how brilliantly constructed, tends to produce unintended consequences. As I see it, the Founder’s design for secular government has resulted in the slow, almost remorseless secularization of American society.
Consider that there are two ways by which we enforce behavioral standards.
- The first is by Custom. Within each community, people reach a general consensus about the definition of good behavior. This definition is based upon shared religious beliefs. This definition is taught and accepted as an internalized moral code. Generally, only peer pressure is required to enforce it.
- The second way we enforce behavioral standards is through legal coercion. Under pressure, the People maintain community standards because they have no other choice.
Within our society, Custom predominates in the maintenance of community behavioral standards. In general, we only use the Law when necessary. This works because when large numbers take their faith to heart, the People voluntarily maintain high standards of behavior. For example, in the past, people within their families and their communities of faith voluntarily assumed responsibility for the education of the young and the care of the poor and the old.
However, where Custom use to be the norm,we increasingly rely on Law, and our laws have become rather sophisticated. Our government rarely regulates us directly or with naked force. Nonetheless, our government does regulate us quite extensively, and as individuals we really don’t have much choice in the matter.
Government regulates us indirectly through our employers, the regulation of businesses, and as a condition for accepting “free” government benefits. Here are some common examples where Law has replaced custom.
- Education at all levels including primary, secondary and college. At one time in this country, church institutions led in providing for the education of children and adults.
- Charity for the poor. Charity was how people use to put their religious beliefs into action. Charitable work used to be directed by churches. Now via the creation of the welfare state, our government leads, and charity has become an entitlement.
- The delivery of medical care. Medical care use to be concern of private business and churches. Churches focused on care for the poor. Yet with large sums of cash via Medicare and Medicaid, government has slowly moved into this realm as well.
Because laws require monitoring and the application of force, formal legal approaches to behavioral regulation tend to be awkward and quite costly. Thus wisdom dictates that we use the Law sparingly. Increasingly, however, our society has become more legalistic. Why? Is it because we are ruled by lawyers and knowledge of the law is the primary expertise whereby lawyers exercise power? I think so. Without reference to religion, lawyers can only awkwardly claim moral authority. In some fashion, all licensed lawyers work for the government. Our government is barred from establishing a religion, including moral codes based upon religious doctrine. Ironically, where even the legalistic Pharisees could claim moral authority from God, our lawyers can make no such claim.
The knowledge of and religious basis for proper moral standards is the province of the Religion and the faithful, not the Law and lawyers. Yet our lawyers-politicians have campaign promises to keep (see The Politician’s Dilemma) so they feel compelled to do what they know how to do. Thus each time some aspect of our society suffers the encroachment of government, government slowly strips our society of yet another portion of its religious heritage.
Government cannot truly act in our place. Each time we give government control, we lose some part of our ability both to practice our faith and to pass it on to our children.
Note that this post is the second of a four-part series. Here is a link to the first post, Why Lawyer Rule.
I expect to write two more posts on this subject.