Thursday, March 22, 2007

The triumph of Puritanism.

If you drive through any American city you will find a multiplicity of sects, cults and churches. An American is pretty much free to believe any of them, several of them, or even none of them.

One can be a Mormon of the Salt Lake City variety and, if that doesn’t suit you, there is the Reorganized variety of Mormons out of Missouri and a dozen or so other splinter groups. You can be Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Buddhist, Muslim, and so on. You can preach the doctrines of any of these faiths or denounce the doctrines of any or all of them as you wish. It’s called freedom of religion.

That the Jehovah’s Witnesses are allowed to operate does that mean that “society” is sanctioning that particular faith. The government is not saying that being a Jehovah’s Witness is better than being a Baptist or more moral than being an atheist. That's obviously the case! I say obviously because the government can not be sanctioning one church over all others if all the others are just as legal.

Nor is government saying that one must be religious. Atheism is equally protected. There is no stamp of approval put on religion just because it is legal. Nor is there a stamp of approval on irreligion just because it is legal.

This is all pretty obvious when it comes to religion. Freedom of choice is not a social or governmental sanction on the choices that one may make. All that government is doing is staying neutral. It doesn’t attempt to rank these groups in any preferred order. It endorses none of them and disparages none of them.

But a lot of people assume that moral issues, those of a private nature which never infringe the life, liberty or property of others, ought to be a governmental concern. And they will argue that the reason for this is that if government repeals laws against certain kinds of “sins” then government is sanctioning those sins.

If prostitution is made legal they say that means the government is telling people that it’s just fine and dandy to be a prostitute or hire one. The same people don’t want other churches shut down. The Methodist doesn’t argue that allowing Episcopalians to worship means that government is telling people to go out and become Episcopalians.

But apparently if some “moral” issue isn’t legislated the religious, in particular, tend to get all worked up, arguing that legalization is sanction. If drugs were legalized, they say, then government is telling people that there are no problems with using drugs. Much the way if religious is free then government is saying there is no problem with joining a cult.

I have never heard anyone explain why freedom of religion (which remember means the freedom to being irreligious and even anti-religious) doesn’t mean sanction. But, at the same time, freedom in private morality does mean sanction.

All freedom means is that these are private decisions. You are still free to rank activities as highly or lowly as you wish. You are free to condemn or condone. It is not that the state is approving the activity it is simply saying that it is outside the purview of government.

There is great danger in the premise that anything which is legal is sanctioned. There are many things which people do which are not necessarily the best things for them to do. If legality is a moral stamp of approval then the state would have to make much of life illegal. This is precisely what is happening. Left-wing Puritans, who share the Right-wing Puritan's premise that anything legal is sanctioned, are rushing around finding things which are the Leftist equivalent to sin and demanding it be banned. It's a form of Blue Laws all over again.

Nanny statism is basically the extension of the premise of Right-wing religionists to all aspects of human existence. If fatty foods are bad for you then fatty foods must be banned otherwise the state is sanctioning obesity and heart disease. It is the exact same argument used by the Right. Instead of fatty foods insert prostitution, instead of sexist language insert obsene language, instead of smoking insert drug usage. You can do this for issue after issue.

Conservatives aren’t against the Nanny state they invented it. They created the premise that legalization equals sanction and all the Left has done is take that premise and run with it. Of course they have differences of opinion over what ought to be sanctioned hence the culture war. At heart both are Puritans and that is not a compliment. Abandon the premise and the culture war disappears.

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