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Legislating morality

December 12, 2004 Leave a comment Go to comments

So I was watching this show called Faith Under Fire a couple hours ago. It’s essentially a pundit show about religious issues. Of course, that makes it even worse than news pundit shows. Paul Kurtz was on debating Frank Turek about “legislating morality.” Turek apparently thought arguments depend on the volume spoken with and Kurtz looked generally confused. It was pretty painful to watch; neither of them were arguing with the same idea of what morality is as the other. So, they didn’t get very far.

So the segment got me thinking, what exactly is morality? Dictionary.com says

1. The quality of being in accord with standards of right or good conduct.
2. A system of ideas of right and wrong conduct: religious morality; Christian morality.
3. Virtuous conduct.
4. A rule or lesson in moral conduct.


concern with the distinction between good and evil or right and wrong; right or good conduct [ant: immorality] 2: motivation based on ideas of right and wrong

Basically, Turek was arguing that you can’t not legislate morality; you’re always legislating someone’s morality. The debate, it seems to me, rests on what exactly morality means. I think we should legislate on the basis of public good and personal freedom, balancing the two. Is that morality? I’m not sure. I think those ideas are essential to our survival, ideas that through Evolution have become natural principles. Working together with a group makes survival more likely, as does a respect for personal freedom (contributes to a stabler, less contentious society). So, are those moral principles? I can’t think of a reason why they aren’t, but the idea doesn’t sit well with me.

So, maybe Turek is right. Maybe it’s not legislate morality or not, but whose morality to legislate. How do we make that decision? Maybe through the most common moral system. We legislate on the will of the majority. Well, we’re a republic, and we respect the rights on the minority, making sure there isn’t “tyranny of the majority.” How do we legislate, then? As I stated before, the ideas of public good and personal freedom are basic human principles, in my opinion. Everyone shares them, there’s no minority to be oppressed. The playing field is even. If you want to justify some moral principle you hold for whatever reason, you have to justify it on the grounds of those two principles.

Sounds good to me. Sort of obvious that if we leave religion out of public policy everything works better, I guess.

Categories: Religion, Social issues
  1. December 12, 2004 at 3:18 pm

    And yet, popular decisions aren’t always the right ones. The majority of colonial Americans had no problem with slavery, I’m sure.

  2. Lina
    December 13, 2004 at 1:42 am

    Perfectly stated, Jeff. Usually the first question out of a religious person’s mouth when they find out I’m an atheist is, “You mean, you don’t have any morals? How do you know what’s moral or not?” And I’ve tried explaining to them exactly what you’ve said, that all morality is based on these questions of what’s best for society — more specifically, the peaceful continuation of our society. (And like you point out, societal good and personal liberty aren’t always at odds. Some personal freedoms are obviously necessary for the societal good.) Anyway, I like your thought process there.🙂

  3. Lina
    December 13, 2004 at 1:43 am

    *I meant to say thought process, not pattern, but there’s no edit function I guess…?

  4. December 13, 2004 at 2:17 am

    “*I meant to say thought process, not pattern, but there’s no edit function I guess…?”

    Not for lowly commenters there isn’t. You people aren’t worthy of an edit function.😛

  5. Lina
    December 13, 2004 at 7:39 pm

    damn arrogant heathen :bah:


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