Dr. Norman Geisler and Frank Turek have written this book with the following subtitle: Is It Wise? Is it Legal? Is It Possible? The book was published last year and is probably available at most religious bookstores. The book focuses on the constitutionality of legislating on moral issues; is it permissible or forbidden?
Many people misunderstand the first amendment (some of them intentionally). The authors observe: "While the first amendment clearly forbids the federal government from establishing a national religion, it does not prohibit government from establishing a national morality" (22). Many think that the former prevents the latter from occurring.
The authors correctly affirm that if there are two sides to a moral issue, someoneŐs morality will be legislated. Is it immoral, for example, for someone to be a racist? If it is, and we pass laws against "hate" crimes, then we have legislated morality. In other words, we legislate morality all the time; the only question is: WHOSE? (23).
One of the values of this book is its treatment of the one thing that is usually cited to stifle legislating morality: prohibition. Frequently echoed by people who are ill-informed is the mantra: "We tried legislating morality with prohibition, and it didnŐt work." By it didn't work they mean that people still manufactured and drank alcoholic beverages. Apparently, it has never crossed their minds that by that criteria we should not legislate against murder. Look at all the laws we have, and people still do it. The same could be said of selling drugs, stealing, or speeding on the expressway.
The authors supply data to show the significant improvements society underwent during this time. After examining documented facts about prohibition (28-32), the authors deal with other arguments against legislating morality: "They're Going To Do It Anyway," "You Can't Make People Be Good," and "Laws Can't Change Hearts" (32-38). The final chapter of this section demonstrates that people do believe in absolute moral standards--when they are the victims of injustice and wrongdoing.
Chapter four, "We the People..." demonstrates that ideas matter--and they have consequences. Among other topics treated are evolution with comments on the Scopes 1 and the Scopes 2 trials. The next section deals with the meaning of the first amendment. Most of those who misapply it today have no comprehension of the background or meaning that our founding fathers had in mind. Most are not even aware that the phrase, separation of church and state, is not even a part of the first amendment, which reads:
Congress shall make no Law respecting an Establishment of Religion, or prohibiting the free exercise there-of; or abridging the Freedom of Speech, or of the Press, or the Right of the People peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances (236).
The authors include a copy of the Declaration of Independence and of the Constitution as appendices (217-46). Neither is very long, and it is worthwhile to read these documents periodically. Also explained is the origin of the phrase, separation of church and state, along with the context in which it was used (83).
Despite the excellent material contained in this book, one must take issue with its major thesis: "There is a universal Moral Law upon which government can pass appropriate legislation and enforce it." The authors, however, fail to prove a universal morality written on the hearts of men. Appendix C (247-49) strives to establish this point with quotations from various cultures which harmonize with the moral principles taught in the Bible.
But there are many examples that could be cited which contradict this notion. There are societies (besides in Washington) in which cheating and telling lies to advance oneself are considered moral. In one culture stealing is acceptable--unless one gets caught, and then no one considers the act of stealing immoral; it's the act of getting caught that is wrong. In another culture it is considered hospitality to offer one's wife to an overnight guest. Cannibalism has been considered acceptable in some parts of the world. Headhunting and scalping have not violated the morality of some. Idolatry was a nearly universal phenomenon in the Old Testament era, and it often involved sexual immorality and offering up one's offspring as a sacrifice. At Niagara Falls they tell of the practice of sending a virgin maiden over the falls each year as a sacrifice. There is no universally accepted moral law!
While this pronouncement would appear to undermine the book's value, it contains nevertheless tremendous information, suggestions, and refutations of humanist thought. The authors treat three of today's hot topics: homosexuality, abortion, and euthanasia. The first of these chapters is titled: "Homosexuality: Tolerating Ourselves to Death." The authors show very pointedly what is wrong with this practice. It is not just an alternate lifestyle; it's a very unhealthy lifestyle--and not just because of the possibility of AIDS. The average lifespan for male and female homosexuals is 42 and 44 respectively (131-32). Arguments are dealt with, such as, "We are consenting adults" and "We were born this way." The book also points out the agenda that homosexuals have which is harmful to society.
"Abortion: Choosing Ourselves to Death" answers 17 arguments made by humanists, including the following:
1. "Women must have the freedom to choose!"
2. "It's my body! Abortion is a matter of privacy!"
4. "Abortion is a constitutional right!"
5. "Abortion is appropriate for unwanted babies, those with birth defects, or those being born into poverty."
7. "Abortion helps avoid child abuse."
8. "Abortion should remain legal or women will die from back-alley abortions."
10. "Abortion should not be outlawed because pro-lifers won't adopt all the babies."
11. "Abortion is acceptable because the fetus is tiny, undeveloped, and unconscious."
12. "Okay, the unborn are human but they're not 'persons'!" (158-77).
All of these are dealt with in a very logical and thorough manner.
Chapter 11 is: "Euthanasia: Exterminating Ourselves to Death." The following statements are dealt with: "Euthanasia shows mercy in avoiding needless suffering"; "Euthanasia ensures patient autonomy and respects the wishes of the dying"; "Euthanasia enables people to die with 'dignity'"; etc. (186-87). Once again, there are very practical comments on all of these points, which brings us to a better solution to all of these problems than the so-called "Moral Law."
God created us with the ability to think and reason. In this way we are like Him. Why should we not be bound by the conclusions of valid reasoning when insisting on legislation dealing with moral issues?
"But people cannot agree on what is the logical, practical thing to do." While it is true that there are two sides to every issue, one side has a better case--especially if it's in harmony with the Word of God. It is doubtful that we are going to convince anyone that they should pass legislation because God has spoken on the subject. There may have been a time when such was sufficient, but seldom does it carry any weight in these days. And while we can appeal to the Scriptures for support, we must also stand ready to show the harm, the danger, and the absurdity of allowing certain things to go unchecked in our society. If Scripture, historical precedent, logic, and practicality are not enough to win general support, we are unlikely to be victorious any time soon. We need to take these issues out of the realm of "I think" and place them firmly into the land of "Here is what the evidence says."
The Word of God declares what is moral and what is immoral. God did not arbitrarily decide that stealing or murder was wrong. Sin carries with it harmful results. We ought to be able to make a convincing case against the impractical results of sin since we know what, in fact, sin is (through the Scriptures). God did not prohibit things that were good for us, nor does He enjoin us to do evil. "And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?" (Deut. 10:12-13). Reason, rather than "Moral Law," must be the basis of our legislation.
*Send comments or questions concerning this article to Gary Summers. Please refer to this article as: "RECOMMENDED READING: LEGISLATING MORALITY (2/28/99)."