Scott Tibbs
Posted by Hoosier Review, 03-01-2003

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Misconceptions on judging and legislating morality

"Judge not, that ye be not judged." Matthew 7:1

This phrase, used by Jesus in the Bible, is one of the most commonly repeated passages from the Bible after John 3:16. Most people have seen and heard this verse used so many times they it’s almost second nature to them. Unfortunately, the verse has lost its meaning as the context in which Jesus said it.

The next four verses give more insight into what Jesus meant when He spoke these words. What Jesus is saying here is to not judge as a hypocrite. The Pharisees would look down on other people, puffing themselves up while ignoring their own sin. Jesus did not condemn judgment of sin; He condemned the self-righteous arrogance of Judea’s religious leaders. In fact, the Bible not only allows Christians to judge, it in some cases commands it. The church is commanded to disassociate itself from a member engaged in serious sexual sin in I Corinthians 5. Is the account of Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the Temple in Matthew 21:12-13 an example of Jesus being non-judgmental? When Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, was He judging?

The admonition to not judge is in itself judgmental and therefore illogical. If it is wrong to judge, then how can one judge another for passing judgment on someone’s actions?

When one thinks about it logically, does the admonition to “judge not” make sense when taken by itself? Should Christians refrain from judging those who physically or sexually abuse children, or commit murder? If there were no God at all, then judging would still be necessary in this regard. Even the people who misunderstand this Matthew 7:1 understand at some level that judgment is required. If we cannot judge, then we cannot discern right from wrong, and the church cannot condemn sin.

Judging is fundamental to our criminal justice system. Without it, we would have anarchy. And in order to have something to judge, we must have standards we use to apply that judgment. But where do we find these standards?

A common refrain we hear is that we cannot “legislate morality”. This is often used with respect to abortion, but also to issues like homosexual rights and the content of the entertainment industry.

This sentiment, like "judge not", looks good on the surface. If it is possible for the legal system to change someone's morals, it's highly unlikely. Laws on a divisive moral issue may not be enforcable. A closer examination, however, reveals the faults in the argument.

The fact of the matter is that all laws legislate morality in some form or another. Laws against theft or murder reflect a moral code forbidding harm against another person. Should these laws be abolished to avoid "legislating morality"? Bloomington City Council member Andy Ruff (D, at-large) recognized last summer that morality must play a role in legislative decisions. His comments are summarised on the City Web site as follows:

(Ruff) said that personal moral principles weigh in each decision made and related the recent resolution supporting Crane Naval Warfare Center. He said that he supported the resolution but had to struggle with serious concerns about the US Military’s actions in propping up of right wing dictatorships and funding questionable squads of fighters in countries. He said he was not comfortable with Sherman’s assertion that moral decisions should not weigh into legislative decisions.
Instead of making blanket statements that we cannot "legislate morality", people should offer a more logical solution, deciding which moral principles should be codified into law. As a libertarian conservative, I believe that government should prohibit individuals or groups from harming other people or should provide a legal system where harm can be compensated through restitution, or both. Actions that do not cause harm to other people, or only harm a consenting adult, should be allowed to the extent practically possible. This way, personal liberty is maintained, while the innocent are protected.