Tuesday, June 28, 2011

'Legislating Morality' - My Take

"You can't legislate morality" was a popular - and effective - slogan a few decades ago. I don't know if that's still the case.

Malignant Virtue

During my teens, and when I started doing time in college, "you can't legislate morality" almost made sense. Folks who confused the malignant virtue of their own preferences and dislikes with the Word of God sometimes claimed that
  • Killing people was bad
    • Except for commies and other folks they didn't like
  • Marriage consists of a (semi) permanent union of
    • One man and one woman
    • Of the same
      • Race
      • Nationality
      • Socioeconomic rank
      • Denomination
        • Applies to Protestants only
        • Catholics are all going to Hell anyway
That's an oversimplification - but not by all that much. These frightfully pious folks didn't all agree on other points, like:
  • Candles are Satanic
  • Cigarettes are Satanic
    • Sometimes pipes and cigars, too
    • Maybe even chewing tobacco
  • Rock and roll is Satanic
  • Alcohol is Satanic
What it seemed to boil down to is 'everything I don't like is Satanic' - and 'anybody who disagrees with me is probably a commie. Or pinko, or - - -' you get the picture.

With friends like that, who needs enemies? It's no wonder, I think, that the idea of "legislating morality" looked dubiously sensible. At best.

Living in the Real World

As it turns out, smoking or chewing tobacco really is unhealthy. America has been "legislating morality" to the extent of regulating some aspects of tobacco use. 'That's different?' From my point of view, not so much.

Then there's alcohol. I am convinced that drunk driving is a really bad idea, and think that "friends don't let friends drive drunk" is a good idea. Even though refusing to affirm a friend's choices isn't "loving" by some standards. (April 26, 2011)

I had enough of a drinking problem myself to know that alcohol abuse is real - and a very bad idea.

I also think that Prohibition was a really, incredibly, monumentally stupid idea. I hope folks continue remembering the 18th amendment, AKA the Volstead Act; speakeasies; and the massive cultural SNAFU it took the 21st amendment to sort out on a legal level. I think we're still shoveling debris from that attempt to 'legislate morality.'1

The Catholic Church doesn't say that folks can't have a beer after work, or wine with your dinner. What is prohibited is "every kind of excess." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2290)

That includes, but is not limited to, getting drunk.

Drunk Driving? Morality?

Complaints about 'those people over there' trying to "legislate morality" seemed to focus on points of sexual morality.

That's understandable. American culture tends, I think, to assume that "morality" is about sex. Period. I've posted about that before. (June 3, 2011)

'Trust Your Feelings?!'

I liked the original Star Wars movie - and, to a greater or lesser extent, the other five that George Lucas made. One iconic line, though - "trust your feelings, Luke" - made a whole lot more sense in the context of the movie, than in real life.

It's not that emotions are 'good' or 'bad' by themselves, Just that they're not all of who we are:
"In themselves passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will. Passions are said to be voluntary, 'either because they are commanded by the will or because the will does not place obstacles in their way.'44 It belongs to the perfection of the moral or human good that the passions be governed by reason.45"
(Catechism, 1767)

Good, Bad, and the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church says that some things people do are good, some things we do are bad. (Catechism, 1749-1756) We're also taught that learning to know the difference is important. (Catechism, 1776-1794)

So far, the Catholic Church sounds like a 'First Church of Fred' sort of outfit, where everything Fred doesn't like is Satanic.

Catholics are told that right and wrong exist, that we can tell the difference: and that we should decide to do right and avoid wrong. But the Vatican doesn't try to micro-manage the fine points of etiquette, or impose one set of cultural foibles on all one-billion-plus living Catholics.

I've explained my conversion to Catholicism before. A big factor was that what the Church teaches is unyielding - sort of - and accommodates local and regional cultures - to an extent. And we've been doing that for about two thousand years now.

As a practicing Catholic, do I believe that:
  • Anger is wrong?
    • Sometimes yes, sometimes no (2302)
  • Armed resistance to oppression is wrong?
    • Sometimes yes, sometimes no (2243)
  • Hating people is okay?
  • Killing people is wrong?
  • Rape is bad?
  • Sex isn't lust?
  • 'Trust your feelings' is always a good idea?
  • War is wrong?
    • Often yes, sometimes no (2309)
    (source: Catechism of the Catholic Church. Not comprehensive)
That isn't being 'vague,' or indecisive. It's what happens when the successors of Peter apply 'love God, love your neighbor'2 principle to human beings. We're made in the image and likeness of God. (Genesis 1:26; Catechism, 1701-1709) At this point, though, we're likely to cause mischief:
"2 But man himself begets mischief, as sparks fly upward."
(Job 5:7)
And that's another topic.

Related posts, somewhat arbitrarily categorized:

1 You'd think America would have learned its lesson - but just a few generations later, the draconian approach of Prohibition was back. Remember "zero tolerance?"

2 Someone asked Jesus for the greatest Commandment. He gave two, sort of. (Matthew 22:36-40)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.