I received an email from someone active in the legal field. Conversation was about possible statutory changes to laws. They wrote, “These changes have not been adopted to date, but a possible topic could be to explore these changes and the ramifications (for better or for worse) that such changes could bring.” I couldn’t identify why these words made me ache.
The words themselves are not bad. The sentence is written within the confines of the English grammar and vocabulary and casually created for email consumption, so it may not even accurately represent the meticulous thoughts of the author. I don’t know. I’m responding to how the words made me feel, and that is potentially irresponsible. However, it does allow me to explore values and assumptions and beliefs.
Over the course of a few days, my thoughts matured. I decided the issue that challenges my analytical mind is the difference between choosing laws because the laws are good, or choosing laws because the outcome is good. Actually, there is quite a difference!
- Why are we so sure that we understand what ramifications new laws will have? Humans are too confident when they believe their crystal ball knows all. It is really naive to think you can write a new law, and it will have just the effect you believe. The classic issue in the news a lot these days revolves around gun laws. “Restrictive gun laws will make the streets safer” just doesn’t match with the fact that locations with more restrictive laws are less safe, e.g. Chicago. We do laws, and we do not understand their future effects.
- Laws should be done because they are right, not because of the effect with think they will have. Humans have a annoying habit of not performing according to the legislature’s plans. Or sometimes, the legislature seems terribly short sighted. What if I make a law giving away money to people that are not working in order to help them get back on their feet and become more productive? What really seems to happen is that people settle into non-productivity and pass this change onto following generations.
- God asks us to speak tepidly about the future (James 4:13-16), and asks us to recognize his hand (Matthew 10:29-31, Matthew 6:25-33). Cause and effect Christianity reflects not a humble person in front of a Sovereign God.
- Legal types (via case law) and legislators (via statutory law) believe their work changes the world into a better place by binding up–or lifting up–society. For example, there is an expectation that the “correct” gun control laws will appropriately bind up the bad guys. No it doesn’t. Welfare money spent other than for common good is meant to lift up people out of poverty. No it doesn’t.
- Outcome based morality is weaker than absolute based morality. Both often come into play, but there is a proper priority sort. The Declaration of Independence claims an absolute morality (Law of Nature, Law of God, truths self evident, endowed by Creator), while the Constitution then follows with outcome based reasons (establish justice, ensure tranquility, provide common defense, promote general welfare, secure blessings for us and our offspring). There are lots of goods to pursue and it is the priority that reflects a person’s heart. I should not be Godly to get to heaven. I should be a Godly because it is right. Applied in the legal situation that started my thoughts, it would be wonderful if statutes were enacted because they are right, and then let the circumstances work themselves out.