Saturday, April 07, 2007

OK, But Do We All Start at Once?

As you all (all three or four of you, that is) know, I'm a fan of Debbie Harbeson's. Her current post concerns some recent failed legislative initiative here in my home state for banning "gay marriage" -- or, as my irresponsible hero Joseph Sobran calls it, "sodomatrimony." I freely admit to not knowing anything, really, about the now-deceased legislation that's been in the news; as a long-married heterosexual with plenty to occupy my time, I found it easy not to pay any attention.

Debbie's post was both a familiar and a novel reading experience for me. It was familiar in that I kept nodding "yes, yes" as I read. It was new in that when I was finished, I wanted to say "yes, but ...". So here's the "yes, but."

Debbie makes a clear classical-libertarian case for the government not making decisions having the force of law concerning who lives with whom and why. Her concluding paragraph:
If you strongly disapprove of gay marriage on moral grounds, I respect that, but find ways outside of government force to persuade others to agree with your moral views. To do otherwise only helps legitimize the use of government force against your own family. It’s really simple for heterosexual and gay alike: just follow the Golden Rule.
As I said above, I can applaud that statement. As one who acknowledges the authority of the Scriptures over all parts of my life, I recognize two things related to this discussion that I shouldn't do. One is to engage in the homosexual activity, and the other is to mind other people's business, absent their requesting my help or advice. In a libertarian world, that's all as it should be.

But here's the thing: we're not living in a libertarian world. We live in the shadow of a vast, omnipresent government that considers everything its business. And because we've permitted government at all levels to grow so oncologically in power, reach, and interest, we all have to be very concerned about what it Officially Thinks About Things. After all, we're living in an order in which everything is either compulsory or forbidden. Well, not everything, not yet; but the field of state "neglect" -- what some of us would call "liberty" -- grows narrower every day.

Suppose you're a member of a church -- you know, one of those retrogressive sorts of church that would never employ a pastor who is a practicing member of the inverted fraternity. Today, you're OK. But let's look down the road fifteen or twenty years, projecting the trends. Think there's any chance your church might find itself looking up the shotgun barrel of an employment nondiscrimination action of some sort? Could very well be. And maybe someone's blog (yes, I know there won't be blogs by then, we'll have moved on) will say something like:
If you strongly disapprove of employment discrimination on moral grounds, I respect that, but find ways outside of government force to persuade others to agree with your moral views. To do otherwise only helps legitimize the use of government force against your own family. It’s really simple for nondiscriminatory and discriminatory alike: just follow the Golden Rule.
But the government won't be much of a blog-reader (unless it's to round up subversives).

In some ways, then, I can understand my fellow-believers' willingness to try and pick up the weapon of government power and use it to get their own way. They're just being good modern Americans, and that's what good modern Americans do. That particular shotgun is lying there on the sidewalk; if you don't pick it up and use it against your opponent, he is all too likely to pick it up and use it against you.

In Solzhenitsyn's great novel Cancer Ward, Yefrem Podduyev is given a little book of didactic stories by one of his fellow patients in the ward. The stories teach the conventional moral lessons that Yefrem might have learned "at his mother's knee," if he'd been listening. The stories taught mercy, humility, kindness, and generosity. That's fine, he thinks, that's how everyone ought to live -- but who goes first? Who is the first one to start living by "the golden rule" and risk being taken advantage of by those who won't start until next week?

Now, I shed no tears for the legislation's demise; I think there's much truth in the saying that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the church," and that the church has never grown in faithfulness and effectiveness by currying the favor of the State. But I think I may be understanding the motivations of some who did invest themselves in this legislative approach, and I wanted to explain it. I think they're not making the best choice; but I also think their reasoning may not be widely understood.


Debbie said...

Bartleby, it's too bad you had a "yes, but" experience. I was enjoying that pedestal you put me on. ;)

You seem to be putting forth the standard argument for status quo of using government force, they did it to me so I'm doing it back to them, or I'm doing it before they do something to me. Heck you could use what you wrote to make the case for the war in Iraq, don't you think?

You're right in that it's about future consequences and if we continue to use government force against others, it will continue to be used against us.

Whenever any two people are fighting and they want to solve their own problem, someone has to be the first one to say, let's stop this and figure out something else.

Heck, that's exactly related to the marriage aspect of this discussion. It's the spouses who are able to stop, usually by one of them taking the lead, that can work things out and stay together.

But the ones who just keep at each other and don't back down likely don't make it too far.

Someone at some point is going to have to set the example and decide to stop using government force to solve problems.

Bartleby said...

Well, I hope you'll continue to enjoy the perch. It'll take a lot more than a "yes, but" every now and then to get you off my pedestal.

That said, I'm not sure you read me correctly -- or maybe I didn't write me correctly. I'm not making an argument or a case for the use of coercive government power; what I hope to do is to explain that case. In reading what people have written here and there about the sodomatrimony deal, I keep reading that the evil religious right is afraid that somebody will make them get all gay-married or something. My purpose in writing what I wrote was to point out that the people backing the "banning" legislation were thinking rather better than the typical left-parodists have been giving them credit for. I do not say that they are correct; I don't think they are. What I do say is that they are misunderstood -- in many cases, willfully so.

You wrote that "if we continue to use government force against others, it will continue to be used against us." You are, I think, fully correct. My quibble is with what seems to me to be the implied corollary: if you stop using government force against others, it will stop being used against you. As we all know by now, it won't. The alternative reason I would give to urge the abandonment of the government weapon is, rather, that one gains the moral high ground by declining to use it. As the Lord told Paul, admittedly in a rather different context: "My power is perfected in weakness."

Anyway, thanks for holding down the pedestal. Can I get you a cold drink up there? A snack, maybe?

Debbie said...

Okay, I think I may understand you better now. It's sort of like the cliche of Hatfield's and McCoy's, they just keep fighting because neither can be the first one to stop. Or like fraternity hazing, the old "well I went through it, so they should too," and hence it continues.

How do you stop something like this once it starts? I guess that's the question.

Ghandi had interesting thoughts on how to stop force without using force in return, but it's certainly not something that is easy to take on.

And yes, I'd love a cold drink. :)