Reformed Reflections

The Government And Morals 

So often one hears people say that right and wrong are just a matter of opinion and that therefore there are no absolute moral standards. But can a society survive without a moral consensus? This is a vital question in our age of extreme individualism. Who decides what is moral? Can we still have moral values if there is no fixed moral reference point against which to judge right from wrong? Lord Patrick Devlin, Justice of the High Court, Queen's Bench, from 1948-1960, and Lord of Appeal from 1961-1969, wrote that no society has yet solved the problem of how to teach morality without religion. He believed that the law of the land must base itself on Christian morals and, to the limit of its ability, enforce them for the compelling reason that without the help of Christian teaching the law will fail. This conviction leads to the question whether a government can determine a standard morality. Should a government remain neutral? Aren't morals strictly the concern of individual citizens? But neutrality is impossible, of course. In fact, political decisions always involve moral choices. Some choices are minor, others crucial. And some choices are not always clear cut. For example, which should prevail, the prosperity of the logging industry, or the preservation a primeval forest? Governments must make decisions on how much information they may obtain from their citizens and how it should be used. The abortion issue is clear cut as well as a new understanding of what constitutes a family. The government made moral choices effecting the lives of the unborn and the very structure of society. 

Lord Devlin points out that the law, both criminal and civil, claims to be able to speak about morality and immorality generally. He says that, as a matter of history, it derived the moral principles it enforces from Christian teaching. They do not shift as they are revealed by God. Moral standards are not relative but absolute. 

Christianity was once part of the law of the land. Today laws are changing and morals are deteriorating because their Biblical foundations are no longer accepted by our legislators and the courts. When a nation breaks with its Christian heritage it goes against its own welfare and societal health. According to the apostle Paul, the law of God was "aimed to give life" (Romans 7:10 – Berkley Version). A departure from God's law makes society sick unto death.

Johan D. Tangelder