James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, June 24, 2005

Christian and Libertarian

Fr Jim Tucker writes

This is something that bears repeating, especially since religious people often assume that if something is immoral, then it should necessarily also be criminal. There's a long Catholic tradition (going back at least to St Augustine) that maintains a sharp distinction between immorality and criminality. This fundamental distinction, premised upon the idea that the government basically exists in order to prevent and punish unjust aggression and fraud, is the basis for what can be called Christian libertarianism. Once the State gets into the business of hunting down and punishing non-aggressive personal vices, it's going to cause more problems than it solves (and if this was true in the Era of Christendom, it's all the truer nowadays). To say that the government doesn't need laws against cigarettes, sodomy, private drunkenness, marijuana, skipping Mass, flag burning, blasphemy, and what-not is not to say that all those things are just peachy: it merely means that these kinds of matters of personal virtue and vice are outside the competence of human government.

Especially in a pluralistic society such as ours, who really wants the government (which governs by the will of the voters) to tell people what virtue and vice are? What in the world would make our politicians capable teachers of virtue and exterminators of vice? God knows they don't enjoy the charism of infallibility. And if we're content to impose laws of virtue and vice while we're still in the majority, what happens if and when that changes, and the New Agers, or secular humanists, or French-style godless atheists rise to the majority and follow our example by legislating their own laws of virtue and vice? Such laws don't build character and enlighten minds: they coerce external behavior, breed hypocrisy, divinize the State, and teach people that the moral law is an arbitrary set of rules subject to majority vote.

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