It was the vision of the founding fathers to have a nation of independent, land-owning farmers. Each farm run by a man who was the equal of his peers in freedom and opportunity. Wealth may be inherited but much of it was to be determined by personal enterprise, not to mention the ambitions of the creator …
It is a common belief that a complex entity derives much of its character from the characteristics of its component parts. In a remote colony aspiring for independence, the nation, as a republic, was to be formed in turn by independent states, composed of democratically-run communities, comprised of independent, self-determined farmers, each man his own lord over his private fiefdom. E pluribus unum — from many, one. The strength of independent men makes the strength of the communities makes the strength of the states makes the strength of the Republic, the sum of our national strength, to stand in defiance of the awesome might of the British Empire.
The conservative philosophy is that the moral failings of our government and power structures are the result of moral failures among the constituents that represent society as a whole. Their solution is too often a reaction — we will impose morality. Abortion will be illegal, as will self-serving homosexual relationships. We will seek to weave the notion of Godliness through the public discourse, for it is only through Jesus Christ, our savior, that redemption, and thus morality, is to be found.
But morality is not something you can get from the law, or from uttering some profession of faith. Morality comes from honest dialog with the self and those around the self. Morality comes from looking at the other as a different version of the self, and accepting that as a point from which to work with others. In short, morality comes from personal initiative, and requires independence and responsibility. Morality comes from the need to choose morality.
If you are a gardener and the flowers in your garden are making it look shabby, you can immediately impose beauty on the flowers with wire frames, glue and paint, and the flowers will wilt even faster under the strain of your cosmetics, or you can take the slow process of investing in plant food and fertilizer, carefully measuring the effects of watering, and pulling weeds. The payoff takes longer and is not certain, but when the flowers come around to selecting the beauty that is the rational consequence of your efforts, the result is more true and more deeply felt than anything you could get from a can of paint.
God gives us choice, Christians say …. We need to choose God, because making the right choice is more righteous than never having the choice. Morality isn’t morality unless you make moral choices.
You can not legislate morality. Laws are made to safeguard people from excessive harm from the immoral tendancies of our peers. People need the freedom to choose their own destinies.
Why does God give us the freedom to sin, one will ask a Christian? And the Christian will respond that faith is a matter of choice … the whole point is that you will come around and chose the righteous path because it is right — it is not that you can choose to be wrong, it is that in the end you will become realised by choosing what is right. (And perhaps it is only in understanding wrong that we can understand right.)
And that is why I doubt prescriptivist laws. We have abridged individual freedoms throughout history because times were rough and we did not believe that we could entrust every person to be their own lord. The cotton and the sugar needed to be harvested on the southern plantations. Men were made chattel for this larger purpose. But that arrangement could not be sustained, because we can not deny a man of his morality forever. The slave owners and the slaves were eventually freed of this unnatural arrangement.
In time, all men, and in time, all women, were given the right to vote. In time, equal rights were granted to people of all races. In time, the question of abortion was determined to be a decision best made by the woman carrying the baby. In time, many states have expanded the legal equality of homosexual relationships, because the question of love, and family, is best entrusted to loving families. In time, I believe, Athiests like me will be able to pledge our allegiance to the nation, without making a false, and blashemous, affirmation to a God in whom, rightly or wrongly, we are incapable of belief.
We can try and impose our morality on Homosexuals and Athiests, but the effort is wasted so long as people must make their own moral choices. The best you can do is speak what you believe to be true, and listen to those who disagree with you. We all have choices to make, and tolerance of beliefs that conflict with your own, so long as they do not threaten life and liberty, is always a prudent moral choice.