This nation has gone into a moral tailspin, because we have a group
of dirty liberals who tell us Christianity and politics don't mix...the Hugh Hefners and Jane Fondas, who weave their
amoral philosophies into the moral fabric of this country....In recent months, God has been calling me to do more than preach.
He has called me to take action. I have a divine mandate to go right into the halls of Congress and fight for laws that will
No, these are not my words. Do you recognize them? That's right, they were spoken by
Reverend Jerry Falwell, the leader of the so-called Moral Majority. Among other things, Falwell and his allies are pushing
for laws against pornography, abortion, and homosexuality -- and in favor of prayer in public schools and federal tuition
grants for students at religious schools.
These people are well organized, well financed, and ruthless in their tactics.
They represent a profound threat to our basic personal and religious freedom. What, if anything, can we do about the Moral
The 1980 election campaign
gave us a rather disturbing preview of things to come here in America. The New Right, a coalition of conservative and fundamentalist
religious groups, dominated the political arena. Groups like Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority," Richard Zone's
"Christian Voice," and Ed McAteer's "Religious Roundtable" tried to equate Christian morality with
Falwell and others worked hard to help elect candidates who agreed with them and to defeat
those who disagreed. When the dust settled on November 4, the New Right claimed to have ousted half a dozen or so incumbent
U.S. Senators who failed to take the so-called proper, "Christian" positions on various issues. This is only the
beginning, they say. They already have a hit list for 1982, including a group of liberal Senators like Teddy Kennedy.
opposition to the Moral Majority coalition, a group called People for the American Way (PAW) was organized in October by television
producer Norman Lear. It is supported by a number of mainstream Protestant denominations as well as the National Council of
Churches. PAW put on a series of tv commercials which called for tolerance of diversity among religiously committed people.
They emphasized the danger posed by the Moral Majority, saying that our tradition of separating church and state is in jeopardy.
membership of PAW is largely composed of people and groups who take liberal stands on domestic and international issues. They
are sympathetic to the liberal Senators who were defeated by the Moral Majority's efforts. They object to the fact that
Falwell and the others were overly selective in choosing which Christian concerns to emphasize, pointing out that
the Moral Majority had nothing at all to say about justice or peace or helping the poor, hungry, and sick.
we have two groups of deeply committed, religiously motivated, apparently sincere people. They are both concerned with promoting
certain religious moral values in the political arena -- and disturbed by the power and influence that the other has.
the one side, we have a group which sees itself as the Guardian of Morality and its opponents as anti-morality. On the other
side, we have a group which sees itself as the Champion of Tolerance and its opponents as dangerously intolerant. In this
battle of Morality vs. Tolerance, who's right and who's wrong?
The answer may not be obvious, but actually both
groups are right about each other and wrong about themselves. Both groups, that is, are basically intolerant
and anti-morality. Why do I say this? Because they want to legislate religious moral values in a way that interferes with
peaceful individuals who are violating no one's rights.
Before looking at more examples of what the Moral Majority
and People for the American Way are aiming at, let's first clarify one point about which there seems to be much confusion.
People often say that government should not "legislate morality." While it is clear, however, what kinds of things
they are referring to -- usually "victimless crimes" or conservative religious values -- it is a very misleading
and inaccurate way of speaking.
Obviously, in registering my criticisms about the Moral Majority and People for the
American Way, I am not saying that government should legislate no morality whatsoever. After all, what is
morality? Isn't it a code of values to guide you in making the choices and actions by which you live your life? A set
of dos and don'ts to help you seek the good and avoid that which is evil?
And isn't government, by its very
nature, the institution that has the power to tell us to do certain things and not to do certain other things? It wouldn't
be a government, if it did not do this, would it? But what is this, if not legislating morality?
It seems to me that the only important question is: what morality or, rather, whose morality should be legislated?
What kinds of things should government tell us to do or not to do?
The conservatives and the Jerry Falwell
types say that government should tell us not to do certain immoral things, even if doing them does
not violate anyone else's rights. For instance, government should make vice illegal. Thus, we should have victimless
crimes laws against such things as pornography, gambling, prostitution, and drugs.
Conservatives also typically say
that government should tell us to do certain moral things, even if not doing them does not violate
anyone else's rights. For instance, government should make patriotism compulsory. Thus, we should have a law
forcing young men to give up their lives for the state whenever it tells them to.
But what of the liberals, the People
for the American Way, the Norman Lear types? Are they really very different, once you get right down to it?
the fact that for years liberals have used the power of the state to put their own ideas into effect. They have used government
to make charity compulsory, by taxing us to erect a welfare system -- the net effect of which is millions of poor
trapped in the ghetto. They have used government to make education compulsory, by passing compulsory school laws
that define for us what education must be -- the net effect of which is a continuing drop in literacy and a continuing rise
in juvenile delinquency. Liberals also typically have used government to make discrimination illegal, by setting
racial quotas for private school systems and employment and housing -- the net effect of which is a society where it's
becoming illegal not to keep records about race.
How different is the liberal agenda from the Moral Majority's program
of making virtue compulsory and sin illegal? True, there is a great difference between the specific moral content
of liberal views and those of the Moral Majority, but there is something basic that is exactly the same: the disregard for
individual freedom, the refusal to allow people to be wrong, if their wrongness doesn't damage the rights of
others. Both the conservative Moral Majority and the liberal People for the American Way believe it is right for government
to force us to do certain "moral" things and not to do certain "immoral" things, even if we are not
violating anyone else's rights.
This is why both groups are basically intolerant and anti-morality. What does
Norman Lear say, in effect? Government should not tolerate our disobedience of the rules he wants, even if our disobedience
violates no one's rights. What is this, if not intolerance, pure and simple?
And what, in effect, does
Jerry Falwell say? Government should punish our free, moral choice to disobey the rules he wants, even if our disobedience
violates no one's rights. What is this, if not anti-morality, pure and simple?
Concerned voices from each
group are bound to object: "We have to limit people's freedom in certain ways in order to guarantee that
we have a moral society. If allowing free choice and action means that some people are free to be immoral without fear of
punishment, then we must place certain restrictions on people's choices and actions."
The error in
this objection is that there is no such thing as a "moral society" as such. What is society, anyway?
Society is nothing more than the individuals living together in a certain area. So, if you want to make society moral,
what you really have to do is make all people moral. But this would seem to be impossible. It is true that
you can make particular people do the "right" thing, or not do the "wrong" thing, by your standards, but
only by forcing them, by violating their free will.
Morality, being moral, is not simply "doing the right
thing." The basis of morality is free will and freedom. To be moral is to freely choose to
do the right thing -- whatever that might be -- and then to do it without being coerced. So, any action or choice
that is forced upon you by another person -- whether a private citizen or an agent of the government -- is simply not
a moral choice or action. As Ayn Rand has said, "Morality ends at the point of a gun."
This is why violating
the free will of others in order to make them do the "right" thing is so counter-productive. Instead of guaranteeing
that they're going to be moral, it denies them the chance to be moral; it destroys the possibility that
they may choose to do the "right" thing. One can't blame Norman Lear and Jerry Falwell for wishing
that we would stop being immoral, but isn't turning us into puppet-like creatures that do the "right" thing
out of fear of the government a poor substitute for our doing it of our own free will?
The closest we can come to guaranteeing
a moral society is to have the government set up the necessary social condition for everyone to be moral, and then simply
maintain that condition. And what is that condition? Peaceful co-existence. In order to have peaceful co-existence,
we have to limit our government to the job of banning force and fraud from human relationships, to the task of passing only
those laws which make it a crime to violate someone else's free will by acts of force or fraud.
A system of legally
enforced peaceful co-existence would allow everyone to exercise their rights to choose and act freely, so long as they did
not violate the equal rights of others. To put it simply: "Live and let live." This is the morality
that it is proper to legislate, no more and no less. Building this into our social system lets everyone practice
their own moralities peacefully and lets them persuade -- but not force -- others to do the same.
for some people this is a scary thing, a government that barely escapes being no government at all. But just consider one
thing: when government goes beyond this bare minimum, once the precedent has been set, then everyone looks upon the government
as a tool for shoving their morality down someone else's throat, rather than vice versa.
This is why today
we have not a society of peaceful co-existence, but a conflict society. And thanks to people like Jerry Falwell and
Normal Lear and their pals, it's getting worse all the time. Instead of helping us return to a live-and-let-live society
(which we approached to some extent in the 1800s), by getting rid of all the Brother's Keeper laws and victimless crime
laws, they want more of the same.
Saying such things is treading on dangerous ground. But now I'm really
going to go out on a limb and say that these goals of Jerry Falwell and Norman Lear are not simply anti-moral, but are un-Christian,
as well. The chief mental block that prevents them from abandoning their crusades to run our lives is their puzzling failure
to understand and appreciate the example of Christ and the will of God. These are clearly conveyed by the standard Judeo-Christian
holy scriptures, so it cannot be their obscurity that is the problem. Perhaps it is simply a matter of failing to see the
forest for the trees.