Weekly Thought – February 9, 2021
Fred admired immaculate thinking. Muddying the mental waters with broad brushes didn’t hold much appeal for him. He felt that communication required precision. One of the examples is the critical recognition of the distinction between moral and ethical.
Morality versus Legality
Mary Alice and I were once discussing an issue involving a complicated set of laws. One of the children looked up and said, “Why do we have to have so many laws?” This is a question from a child, but not a childish question. The answer is rooted in our heart and drops its leaves mischievously over our entire landscape.
Individually, we are constantly looking for a shorter, simplified code of laws, but our use of law does not promote this. Wherever people choose legality over morality, the body of laws must be large and the interpretations complicated – growing like a cancer maiming natural freedom.
Among individuals of character, the legal simply defines the minimum morality needed for the society to function as a benefit to the individual and the group. As long as no one wants an unfair advantage, but rather desires everyone to have all that he deserves, then laws can be simple.
Men of good will can have honest differences of opinion, and these can be covered in short order. Men of ill will use the law not for rightness but for wrongness… this necessitates voluminous documentation.
W.C. Fields said, “You can’t cheat an honest man.” The honest man is not controlled by greed, so is less vulnerable to the con man’s schemes.
Golf gives me an excellent illustration of the reason for law. Few games have such volumes of laws with such extensive interpretation. I have played golf with theologians who cheated – intellectuals who remained ignorant of the rules on purpose – otherwise honest men who opportunistically made exceptions to the law for their own benefit – and legalistic friends who ask for interpretations hoping for advantage.
We could simplify a great many of the golf rules imply by stating “A player shall not create an advantage for himself other than by his skill.” This would do away with picking the ball up, cleaning it, moving it, kicking it, soiling the club, stepping behind the ball – and all such things which are really manufactured improvements for the advantage Yet human nature would cry out that some circumstance had created an unfairness which they were simply going to even up. Their idea of evenness is a “fair advantage.”
The problem with creating such a large body of laws is that it also creates a legal bureaucracy to administer them. Legislatures create laws; review committees; and judges make interpretation. Add to this the administrative and policing entities and we get some small idea of the cost of letting legality define our morality.
Legal bureaucracy takes on a life of its own, promoting its own welfare by establishing the power to make laws not only prohibitive, but permissive. This is where we cross the stream at the widest point. When laws prohibit bad actions, they are serving their true function, but when they have to be consulted to permit good actions then freedom is being tightly circumscribed and caught in the net.
Wherever there is morality there can be a reverence for the spirit of the law permitting the simplification of the law.
This week consider this: 1) How easy is it to stay within the “letter of the law” while violating the “spirit of the law?” 2) What is the cost of prioritizing morality? 3) Who encourages me to take the high road in my decisions and actions?
Words of Wisdom: “Wherever people choose legality over morality, the body of laws must be large and the interpretations complicated – growing like a cancer maiming natural freedom.”
Wisdom from the Word: “For the law made nothing perfect. On the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.” (Hebrews 7:19 NET Bible)