FORCING OUR BELIEFS?
What do people, objecting to a Christian expressing his disapproval of behavior that the Bible calls into question, mean when they say that we are forcing our beliefs on others?
Let’s look at this idea of forcing our morality, beliefs or values on others a bit closer. When non-Christians object to our forcing our beliefs on others, what do they really mean? They are basically saying that we are trying to compel others to act in a way that we think is right. But since we have already determined that everyone has some moral point of view, we must seek to understand how we all, in some form or another, attempt to compel others to our moral viewpoint.
Forcing Our View
There are basically two ways that a moral point of view can be “forced” upon another. One is the strong way and the other is the weak way. A strong way of forcing morality would be law enforcement: laws that are enforced by threat of punishment. The second way, a weak way, would be by compelling people to act in the way that you think is right (your moral point of view) in a less forceful way. We often do this by encouraging or discouraging certain patterns of behavior through the means of social approval or disapproval.
How do we force our view? We could use the strong arm of the law to force our view on others. We could frown at behavior we disapprove of in order to get people to reconsider it. Now there may be things that we don’t think are morally weighty enough to deserve jail time but which we would consider valuable enough to frown upon or even exert peer pressure on people in order to get them to comply with our wishes (moral point of view). Call it peer pressure, social approval or social disapproval. Do you see the difference? We use both of these things in our society today.
Since we have two different strengths of enforcement, we have to make a decision in our culture which strength we will use to enforce a moral point of view; it all depends on the moral weight. What’s curious about the nature of the moral climate today is the kinds of things that are enforced and the kinds of things in which people are allowed to have liberty.
In the context of our culture, there are some things I would define as falling into the category of high morality and others that would fall into, what we would call, low morality. High morality is those kinds of things that are so critical to the common good, to the notion of fundamental rights – like life, liberty and property – that society must demand their adherence under penalty of severe punishment. For example, it is absolutely critical that property be protected. Therefore, if someone steals someone else’s property, we use the law to punish them. If someone takes another’s life, we use the law to punish them. Sometimes, we even put the guilty to death (extreme force). There are issues related to the common good of society that are so morally weighty that we have to use the force of law in order to get compliance. This is what I would call high morality.
There are a whole lot of other things that relate to the common good on a lower order of morality of sorts: things that are not so critical to the common good that the society must demand their adherence under penalty of severe punishment. Yet at the same time, there are still things that are morally good and good for society. In these cases, we don’t use the force of law. We generally use a different force – the force of social approval and disapproval.
’til next time
Next: Immoral, Illegal