Magistrates Should Enforce the Whole Decalogue?

Mencken recognized the fallacy of enforcing morality but not theology (“thou shalt have no other gods before me”):

It is moral tyranny that now afflicts These States, and the worst of the matter is that thousands of Americans seem disposed to submit to it without protest.. If theological tyranny were revived tomorrow, they would loose a bellow loud enough to shake the earth, but in the face of moral tyranny they remain silent and sit still. Thus it is that militant moralists, moved by that will to power which is universal in man, have proceeded from excess to excess, until now an almost endless roll of wholly harmless acts is under the ban of the law.

It is unlawful in Baltimore for a citizen to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the Sabbath. It is unlawful for him to buy a cigar. It is unlawful for him to have his hair cut. It is unlawful for him, on a summer Sunday, to recreate himself by playing baseball. In various large areas of his city he is forbidden to buy a bottle of wine, even on a week-day. Many plays that he may want to see, indubitable works of art, are barred from the theatres he patronizes. He is forbidden to possess certain great and valuable books, or to send them to his friends by mail. The law decides what games of chance he shall play and what games of chance he shall not play, and the division is purely arbitrary and nonsensical.

What is more, this invasion of his common rights is still going on. Here in Baltimore there are half a dozen organizations devoted exclusively to the concoction and prohibition of new and wholly artificial crimes. And in Washington the Congress of the United States is preparing to pass a law making it a crime for a man to have a bottle of beer in his possession–not to sell it or give it away, remember, but merely to have it.

What is the theory at the bottom of all this oppressive and intolerable legislation? Simply the theory that no man shall do, even in his own house, anything which the majority of his fellow-citizens do not care to do in their houses. His act need not be vicious in itself; it need not be dangerous; it need not be disturbing to his neighbors. All it need be is abhorrent to the opinion of those neighbors, or, to be more exact, to the opinion of 51 per cent. of them. This is the theory at the bottom of moral snouting and moral legislation, and this was also the theory at the bottom of the hanging of Jews and Quakers, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew and the Inquisition in Spain.

No sane man, I take it, objects to laws necessary to the public security, even when they limit his own liberties. I have never heard anyone defend burglary, or arson, or rape. I doubt that any such defense has ever been made in Christendom. But is it necessary to the public security that boys who work hard all week be forbidden to take reasonable recreation on Sunday? Is it necessary to the public security that a sane man, fully competent to take care of himself, be forbidden to drink a bottle of beer? Is it necessary to the public security that a good citizen be forbidden to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony one day out of every seven, or that he be forbidden to read the books he wants to read, or to see the plays be wants to see?

I think not. On the contrary, it seems to me that such prohibitions are wholly intolerable and indecent. It seems to me that any person who essays to enforce them upon free citizens is a far more dangerous criminal than that poor wretch who essays to pick their pockets. The pickpocket steals only a watch, and a man without a watch is still a man. But the militant moralist tries to steal liberty and self-respect, and the man who has lost both is a man who has lost everything that separates a civilized freeman from a convict in a chain-gang.

So again the question: why do Christians expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?

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Suspense Ended

The answer to the quotation teaser from a day or so ago is Roman Catholic. All winners will receive a PDF of the Old Life Theological Society mug.

The quotation comes from Pius X in his famous condemnation of modernism as a heresy with the encyclical, PASCENDI DOMINICI GREGIS (1907). It is a long statement that dug in the papacy’s heels even deeper against the forces of modernity. The pope was most concerned to condemn the influence of higher criticism and liberal theology. But as the quote shows, Rome’s opposition to modern times included American conventions like the separation of church and state.

Also worthy of note about the encyclical is Pius’ rejection of the “evolution of doctrine.” Here is a sample:

28. Thus then, Venerable Brethren, for the Modernists, both as authors and propagandists, there is to be nothing stable, nothing immutable in the Church. Nor indeed are they without precursors in their doctrines, for it was of these that Our Predecessor Pius IX wrote: These enemies of divine revelation extol human progress to the skies, and with rash and sacrilegious daring would have it introduced into the Catholic religion as if this religion were not the work of God but of man, or some kind of philosophical discovery susceptible of perfection by human efforts. On the subject of revelation and dogma in particular, the doctrine of the Modernists offers nothing new – we find it condemned in the Syllabus of Pius IX., where it is enunciated in these terms: Divine revelation is imperfect, and therefore subject to continual and indefinite progress, corresponding with the progress of human reason; and condemned still more solemnly in the Vatican Council: The doctrine of the faith which God has revealed has not been proposed to human intelligences to be perfected by them as if it were a philosophical system, but as a divine deposit entrusted to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted. Hence the sense, too, of the sacred dogmas is that which our Holy Mother the Church has once declared, nor is this sense ever to be abandoned on plea or pretext of a more profound comprehension of the truth. Nor is the development of our knowledge, even concerning the faith, impeded by this pronouncement – on the contrary it is aided and promoted. For the same Council continues: Let intelligence and science and wisdom, therefore, increase and progress abundantly and vigorously in individuals and in the mass, in the believer and in the whole Church, throughout the ages and the centuries – but only in its own kind, that is, according to the same dogma, the same sense, the same acceptation.

Now I know I have the wrong paradigm which is good a locating men made of straw, but as I read this section I have a sense of tension between the papacy’s condemnation of modernism and the idea of the development of doctrine that flourishes whenever people ask about changes in the teaching of the church. When Pius quotes Vatican I that the doctrine revealed by God to the church is not to be “perfected” by human reason but is “a divine deposit entrusted to the Spouse of Christ to be faithfully guarded and infallibly interpreted,” it sure sounds like doctrines, teachings and practices won’t change. But that’s likely the view of traditionalist Roman Catholics.

But then along came Vatican II with all the affirmations of conciliarism and the laity:

37. The laity have the right, as do all Christians, to receive in abundance from their spiritual shepherds the spiritual goods of the Church, especially the assistance of the word of God and of the sacraments. They should openly reveal to them their needs and desires with that freedom and confidence which is fitting for children of God and brothers in Christ. They are, by reason of the knowledge, competence or outstanding ability which they may enjoy, permitted and sometimes even obliged to express their opinion on those things which concern the good of the Church. When occasions arise, let this be done through the organs erected by the Church for this purpose. Let it always be done in truth, in courage and in prudence, with reverence and charity toward those who by reason of their sacred office represent the person of Christ.

I am not sure that Pius X would have approved:

. . . studying more closely the ideas of the Modernists, evolution is described as resulting from the conflict of two forces, one of them tending towards progress, the other towards conservation. The conserving force in the Church is tradition, and tradition is represented by religious authority, and this both by right and in fact; for by right it is in the very nature of authority to protect tradition, and, in fact, for authority, raised as it is above the contingencies of life, feels hardly, or not at all, the spurs of progress. The progressive force, on the contrary, which responds to the inner needs lies in the individual consciences and ferments there – especially in such of them as are in most intimate contact with life. Note here, Venerable Brethren, the appearance already of that most pernicious doctrine which would make of the laity a factor of progress in the Church.

I guess that’s why you need the development of doctrine.