Monday, November 10, 2008

Taking Private Morality Out of Government - Cal Thomas

Here's a first (and probably last): a column from the ultra-conservative syndicated columnist Cal Thomas that has something useful to say to the progressive libertarian.

In his column today, "Evangelicals, Stop Worship of the State," Thomas urges evangelicals not to use government to try to impose their beliefs and morals on others. Rather, he says, "If results are what conservative evangelicals want, they already have a model. It is contained in the life and commands of Jesus. Suppose they followed the admonition of Jesus to 'love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and care for widows and orphans,' not as ends, ... but as a means of demonstrating God's love for the whole person in order that people might seek Him?"

Let's be clear - one should not think for a moment that Thomas has suddenly gained new insights into the freedom-mandating nature of the American Constitution. There's little doubt Thomas would probably approve of government-imposed morality IF government were effective in changing people's beliefs. Since government is not effective, however, he suggests leading by example, rather than coercion.

As for what has been effective and ineffective for evangelicals over time, Thomas points out that "Social movements that relied mainly on political power to enforce a conservative moral code weren't anywhere near as successful as those that focused on changing hearts. The four religious revivals, from the First Great Awakening in the 1730s and 1740s to the Fourth Great Awakening in the late 1960s and early '70s ... are testimony to that."

The point is, people and groups have a right to proselytize as they will, and others have a right to ignore them or listen; but it's never okay for government to get into the act.

Stated another way, with respect to the requirements of the U.S. Constitution, Thomas is exactly right in his conclusion (regardless of how he comes to it) that evangelicals should look to methods outside of government. The very basis for the founding of the United States was to take away from government the power to try to impose morality on the people. The Declaration of Independence claims freedom for the people; and the Constitution provides the guarantee.

Thomas concludes, "Evangelicals are at a junction. They can take the path that will lead them to more futility and ineffective attempts to reform culture through government, or they can embrace the far more powerful methods outlined by the One they claim to follow." The Constitution mandates the latter.