Monday, February 19, 2007

Bad Thinking About Laws and Hearts [SK]

Frank (not Beckwith) thinks passing pro-life laws is a bad idea:

Making more rules will only cause greater rebellion. But attacking the heart will prevent a need for more rules. The heart won't want to follow the rules unless it is changed.

To which Whitney replies:

Amen. Only the gospel will change their hearts, not outlawing abortion.

So much confusion here. True, those with changed hearts don't need laws, but how is that an argument against Christians spending significant resources banning abortion? As Steve Hays points out, the fact that many have hard hearts is a presupposition of civil law, not an argument against it. Since we can’t appeal to their conscience, we resort to the force of law to restrain immorality. That is to say, the purpose of legal reform is not necessarily to change the hearts of unregenerate men, but to restrain evil acts by heartless individuals.

Martin Luther King Jr. put it well: "It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important." King’s overall point is worth seeing in context:

"Now the other myth that gets around is the idea that legislation cannot really solve the problem and that it has no great role to play in this period of social change because you’ve got to change the heart and you can’t change the heart through legislation. You can’t legislate morals. The job must be done through education and religion. Well, there’s half-truth involved here. Certainly, if the problem is to be solved then in the final sense, hearts must be changed. Religion and education must play a great role in changing the heart. But we must go on to say that while it may be true that morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated. It may be true that the law cannot change the heart but it can restrain the heartless. It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that is pretty important, also. So there is a need for executive orders. There is a need for judicial decrees. There is a need for civil rights legislation on the local scale within states and on the national scale from the federal government."
Moreover, history often demonstrates that just laws function as a moral teacher that, over time, helps change hearts for the better. As Hadley Arkes points out in "First Things," prior to the 1964 Civil Rights Act, popular opinion in southern states overwhelmingly opposed desegregation and other anti-discrimination efforts. Within five years of passage, however, public opinion had shifted dramatically, with better than sixty percent favoring the new laws. Clearly, the law served as a moral teacher that helped mold public opinion.

True, moral improvement brought on by good laws cannot mitigate man’s judicial guilt before God--our good deeds can never atone for our bad ones; only Christ’s finished work on the cross can do that--but it can limit evil behavior that results in the destruction of innocent human lives and that's reason enough to justify Christians engaging the political process.

2 comments:

  1. "Making more rules will only cause greater rebellion. But attacking the heart will prevent a need for more rules. The heart won't want to follow the rules unless it is changed."

    Then why have any laws at all?

    Also, this statement is offered as a rule by which we assess laws. So, that means this rule ought not to be enforced since, on its own grounds, it would cause rebelllion. So, the best course of action is not to make any rules including rules about rules.

    But Frank's rule is mistaken for another reason: it assumes a false view of human nature, one that sees human beings as one-dimensional desirers. But human beings are much more complex than that. They sometimes resent laws that later in life they are grateful existed. Were you ever angry as a teenager that your parents told you that you had to be home by 11 pm, but now, as an adult, are thankful for that rule? Of course you are. Rules must be seen in the entirety of life and not at the moment of desire at which you want to break them. To think otherwise is to embrace the philosophy of the adolescent.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Making more rules will only cause greater rebellion. But attacking the heart will prevent a need for more rules. The heart won't want to follow the rules unless it is changed."

    Then why have any laws at all?

    Also, this statement is offered as a rule by which we assess laws. So, that means this rule ought not to be enforced since, on its own grounds, it would cause rebelllion. So, the best course of action is not to make any rules including rules about rules.

    But Frank's rule is mistaken for another reason: it assumes a false view of human nature, one that sees human beings as one-dimensional desirers. But human beings are much more complex than that. They sometimes resent laws that later in life they are grateful existed. Were you ever angry as a teenager that your parents told you that you had to be home by 11 pm, but now, as an adult, are thankful for that rule? Of course you are. Rules must be seen in the entirety of life and not at the moment of desire at which you want to break them. To think otherwise is to embrace the philosophy of the adolescent.

    ReplyDelete

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