Dad on morality and law.

This letter made its way into my hometown newspaper:

In the April 3 column on same-sex marriage, the point was made that morality has no place in legislation and court rulings. This idea is contrary to the fundamental nature of law.

Law is the expression of the will of a sovereign. Thus morality is the only thing which is, and can be legislated.

The question is; who’s morality will be enacted? That of the one true Sovereign, the Triune God? Or that of sinful human beings as represented in our civil government?

All law is an imposition of morality. A traffic light is an imposition of morality. It says that human life is valuable and is to be protected. Laws against theft and murder are impositions of morality. Our laws must be firmly grounded in the holy, unchanging Word of God.

If laws are enacted with no higher authority than social, cultural, and scientific concerns, there are no true safeguards for your life and property. It may be decided that it is in the best interests of society to deny medical care to the elderly or the mentally or physically impaired. It may be decided that it is in the best interests of society to limit every family to one child as in China. It may be decided it is in the best interests of the culture to eliminate some “undesirable” race as Hitler tried to do in Germany. All these things are equally impositions of someone’s morality.

The ultimate question is who’s law will we live by? Will we obey God and receive life, or obey man and receive death?

My father was having none of it:

Typically, people like this who are foaming at the mouth to force their version of god and morality onto everyone are the ones who go crazy at the thought of others forcing a different version of god and morality, such as sharia law, onto them. We have identified over 3700 gods that are worshiped (not to mention future ones man will create); we have identified over 33,000 sects of Christianity. Her version of either deserves no special spot in the laws of our country.

Frankly, people who are determined to impose their interpretation of the will of their preferred deity onto everyone else—like this person— just terrify me. That the “one true Sovereign” coincidentally happens to be their favorite one who reflects their personal prejudices and hatreds just plain isn’t a suitable basis for the foundation of laws that protect the freedoms of everyone.

Our constitution is a secular document. The text never references any deity, but instead starts with “WE THE PEOPLE”. It doesn’t need the morality of a god who thinks people should be stoned for working on a certain day, that provides a book with instructions–not that slavery is evil—on HOW to perform slavery and how to price your children when you sell them into slavery,or that an entire class of American citizens shouldn’t be equal under the law because of the “sin” of homosexuality. I’m sure any decent god can take care of that particular “sin” without some gratuitous persecution of gays by his minions in this country by denying gays equal rights under the law.

The United States, a secular and democratic republic, doesn’t need the legal code of an ancient theocratic monarchy.

The American Constitution was framed with a strict separation between state and religion. It is not anti-religious but it says that while religion has a place in society, that place cannot be connected with the government. Anyone can practice any religion or lack thereof, but they cannot force anyone else to practice that religion and the government cannot endorse or support any particular religion.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Azkyroth

    Well, ethics certainly has a place in law. (Well, actually, a place in law ought to be made for it). Unfortunately, “morality” has basically been used to wipe the collective ass of the anti-sex kooks for so long it’s pretty much lost any legitimate ethical meaning.

    • M

      This isn’t technically correct, but in my own head I define morality as Good and Evil, while ethics is Right and Wrong. Religion is concerned with morality and absolutes of commandments of what is good or evil, which is one reason I reject it so forcefully.

      I’m amoral. That is, I don’t care if something is good or evil. However, I consider myself a highly ethical person who cares a great deal about what is the right or best choice, even if it might be “evil”.

      • Randomfactor

        I’ve always thought of it as “Morality is the rules you’re handed, generally from religion because god. Ethics are the rules you follow because they make your life easier, make things run smoother for everyone.”

        They’re not always congruent. Morally, there’s no particular reason not to run red lights. Ethically there is–it caused accidents. Morally and ethically you shouldn’t steal (although there are exceptions to every rule.)

        Not everyone’s ethics are the same. Should I talk to a friend about what someone told me? Depends–am I a doctor, and the “someone” was a patient?

        Is it ethical not to give a sucker an even break?

      • unbound

        Not too far off. Morality are the intentions, actions and decisions that are either deemed good or bad. Ethics is actually just the philosophy of morality.

        Before you think that description makes it easy, there are literally dozens of different approaches / schools of philosophical thought around ethics.

    • AJ

      Isn’t JT’s whole blog about the difference between Ethics and Morality?

      JT’s morality is based on empathy and compassion, as it should be. I mean, why the fuck should we harm any other human being?

      Religious folk are all kinds of, “Do what we say and good things will happen… you know, after you die.” Ethics has become the rules a person needs to follow. And Fuck whether those rules hurt any human being. The religious seem to have become Ethical at the expense of being moral, though they seem to be considering themselves moral, despite all evidence to the contrary.


  • AmyC

    I love how they immediately jump from morality—>sovereignty—->triune god. Honestly, anytime I hear people refer to a “triune god” my eyes immediately start to roll. I cannot stand that phrase because it’s almost always coupled with a self-righteous diatribe about how humans should strive to glorify the one triune god or that humans are sinful evil beings that don’t deserve the love of the “ONE TRIUNE GOD.” Ugh, the self-righteousness mixed with a dab of psuedo-intellectualism makes me want to puke.

    • iknklast

      Triune god is the new math. 1 + 1 + 1 = 1. 1 X 3 = 1. Makes perfect sense! ;-)

    • Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

      Triplegod is so much cooler than Doublegod, and frankly anyone with a Monogod should be pitied.

      • Randomfactor

        Five is Right Out.

  • Silent Service

    Civil Law is about creating a structure of civil order in which we can function, both as a collective unit and as individuals, in a manner that is least restrictive to everybody involved. Morality has nothing to do with it. Order and personal freedom have everything to do with it. If the laws are too strict you may get order but at the cost of tyranny. If laws are too lax order will collapse into anarchy. It is the balance between these extremes that makes liberty possible.

    It always stuns me that people don’t get this. Law is not about morality. If it was then the law would never be willing to condemn an innocent man. That is immoral. Law is about order, nothing more.

    BTW, is your dad willing to adopt? Mine is cool and all that, but yours is awesome!

    • iknklast

      My dad sends me religious right propaganda regularly. During the election cycle, I received countless e-mails from him about the muslim in the white house (is it totally incomprehensible to all these people that even if Obama were a muslim, that does not disqualify him from being president? The Constitution, and all that?). I envy JT. I love my dad, but…I’ve learned not to open his e-mails.

      • Silent Service

        I have the same basic problem, except my dad doesn’t do e-mail. From long experiece I know that he would never disown me, but he really needs to quit with the half baked Rethuglicanism. He’s not even very religious, but sure as hell has problems with the President’s melanin production. It is almost funny watching him try to justify himself. Almost.

        It amazes me that he did such a good job of intentionally teaching us kids not to be prejudice, but now that we’re grown his own prejudices keep seaping through. First; how did he manage that? And Second; obviously he knows better so WTH?

  • Glodson

    The only thing that a true Sovereign wants is to activate the Citadel to call in the Reapers.

  • Kellen

    There is no more ass left, because your father has kicked it all to pieces. I salute you, JT’s father!

  • Cylon

    Your dad is such a badass, JT.

  • Rain

    Our laws must be firmly grounded in the holy, unchanging Word of God.

    Presumably that would include “coveting”. So it should be illegal to “covet” since that was one of the laws written directly into stone by the “finger of God”. Presumably that would be God’s pinky finger, since one must write with one’s pinky fonger when one is busy drinking from a bottle of wine–wine being the only known beverage God ever drank other than blood.

    • Glodson

      Huh, I just noticed that.

      Our laws must be firmly grounded in the holy, unchanging Word of God.

      Hope you all like slavery, not eating shellfish, marrying your rapists, being stoned for adultery, being stoned for not being a virgin on your wedding night(if you are a woman), not suffering witches to live, rules for murdering your children, and many other elements of the unchanging word of god most reject now.

    • Drakk

      Where are you getting this sophisticated theology?

      • Rain

        It is elementary logic. If God is busy holding a goatskin full of booze, then he must multitask using the delicate pinky finger of God to write the Ten Commandments.

        • Stogoe

          It could be a teacup filled with blood instead of a goatskin full of rotting grape squashings. I have it on good authority that drinking from a teacup leaves your pinky free as well.

    • Steve

      If you outlaw coveting that’s the end of capitalism and the world’s whole economic system

  • Sean

    M and Az pretty much ready my mind. I have stopped using the word ‘morality’ in every sense, and only speak of sterile, secular ‘ethics’. Morals are personal, voluntary choices, ethics are rules that are accessible and beneficial for everyone. We need to get morals (which are almost always based on religion) out of government.

    • Jasper

      We need to get morals (which are almost always based on religion) out of government.

      [cue joke about how we've already accomplished that]

  • Highlander

    Morals are essentially the rules that society develops to moderate competition for scarce resources and give advantages to dominant elements of society. As societies advance in their ability to produce resources (yea science), competition is reduced, thus rules become less restrictive, more generous and more fair. As societies diversify the dominant elements change and so how those resources are divided also changes. People, members of a society, are resources of that society, and so society makes morals around how and when it is ok to kill, imprison or enslave those members. Natural resources and their derivatives (anything manufactured) are the resources of people, and so society makes morals around the competition to acquire those resources (no stealing unless it is done by society as a whole) and how those resources are distributed and used.