Green Piece

The simple musings of a man who thought he knew everything . . .

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It's OK to Govern Based on the Bible

On my way home from work today I was listening to Bill O'Reilly on the radio. I only got about 5 minutes so I don't know who he was talking about, but he mentioned that this person's ideas amounted to a theocracy. Since I heard so little of Mr. O'Reilly's conversation I cannot say whether he was right or wrong, but I feel the need to clear up a very common misconception about what a theocracy is or isn't.

Before I get into this discussion I think that I should explain why I think the subject is important enough to merit a post. There is a misconception among conservatives that the only role that government should be allowed to play is to keep one person from impeding another person's rights. To be sure I agree that, for the most part, government should stay out of our business as much as possible. However, you can't place your whole belief in what a government should be on one single maxim. And anytime a conservative supports a law against something that is morally reprehensible (sodomy for instance) a libertarian is sure to claim that we are supporting a theocracy and that a true conservative would never agree to such an arrangement. For good measure a quick "you can't legislate morality" may be thrown into the mix. Now, we all know that a theocracy is a bad thing so that leaves us trying to make up reasons that such a law is better for society, or protects freedoms, or is better for "the children". We are afraid to say that something is a good law because the Bible says that a certain act is an abomination. But I contend that laws based on the Bible do not a theocracy make.

The definition of a theocracy is as follows:
  1. A government ruled by or subject to religious authority.
  2. A state so governed.
    (www.dictionary.com)

In other words a Church governs the people. There are countless reasons that this is a bad idea, chiefly because it puts too much power into the hands of a few mere mortals. However, this does not prohibit us from making good laws that are based on Biblical teaching. A theocracy is defined, not by what the laws are based on, but by who makes the laws. This is an important distinction.

In the United States we are a self-governed people, which is what keeps us from being a theocracy. The populace elects people that they believe to be good legislators. This is known as a republic. In the beginning of our government the people unashamedly selected officials based on how strongly they held to Biblical principles. All 13 original states had some kind of exclusion in their constitutions that ensured the governor would be a Christian. Not only is it acceptable for the populace to vote according to the Bible, it is also acceptable for legislators to make laws based on Biblical principles as well. Of course there is a balance even to this. I do not advocate making all Biblical teachings law and it is not possible to "draw a line" as to what should and shouldn't be a law. That is why we elect legislators.

A good study in this is whether or not you support a law (or even a Constitutional amendment) that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. Many conservatives do not feel that it is acceptable to say that they support such a restriction based on what the Bible says. Instead, we act as though we support the definition because without it families would fall apart (a true statement) or that people would stop getting married at all (another true statement) or some other secular reason. Let me say unashamedly that I support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as being between one man and one woman simply because "the Bible tells me so".

I would like to finish by making short work of the argument that morality-based laws are unconstitutional. First by pointing out that if the proposed change is a Constitutional Amendment it cannot, by definition, be unconstitutional. Secondly, the Constitution applies to the U.S. Congress. This means that States are free to make laws as they see fit. That is the definition of self-government.

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  • At 4:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    But what about those of us who don't subscribe to the Christian bible? The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, and just over 20% of the country doesn't practice Christianity.

    It's okay to live by the bible, but to govern based on the religious text of one particular religion, especially when that governance impedes the rights of others, is unjust and unconstitutional.

    Not to mention, religious texts are vague and figurative and there are hundreds upon thousands of interpretations and very little consensus between denominations and even within them. I don't think it can be done. Certainly it can't be done in a way that is fair to all Americans.

    And is it really fair to deny civil marriage to gay and lesbian couples on the basis of a text that also codemns tattoos, sex during menstrual cycles, and vegetable gardens? I don't think so.

     
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