Introducing the Challenge
Is the Statement "You Cannot Legislate Morality" Logical?
The person making the statement, "you cannot legislate morality," is actually making a moral pronouncement. Whenever one says, "that's not right" or "what you did/said was wrong," they are making a moral pronouncement based upon a standard they use regularly to live "morally" and make moral statements.
The problem with this statement is that it can be refuted by turning the statement against itself. Let me speak a word to this for just a moment here.
Whenever you and I find ourselves giving a response to some crazy objection made by a skeptic or someone who does not see eye to eye with us on a moral issue, it is important to separate the person making the statement from the statement itself. People are created in the image and likeness of their Creator and it is important that we incorporate the "gentleness and respect" that Peter brings in (1 Peter 3:15) to ensure that we are making a clear separation.
The other thought to this is many people still think that what they do and say defines who and what they are as person. That is not true. What people do and say reflects who they are and their character.
So when we turn the statement, "you cannot legislate morality" over on itself, we can respond with something that might look like this quick two line dialog. For the sake of illustration, imagine you have been discussing the marriage debate and the lifestyles that can go along with it, and you say that following:
You: "I think there are people live in accordance to a certain lifestyle are living dangerously and it is wrong."
Person 1: Hey, you narrow minded fundamentalist bigot! You cannot legislate morality!"
You: "Sir/Ma'am, do you realize that you just made a moral statement, so why are legislating your morality on me?"
I am sure there are other ways of making the response, but this is just one example that can be given. The one thing to remember is that while we are to "demolish the strongholds coming up against the knowledge of God" (2 Cor. 10:3,4), we need to do this with "gentleness and respect."
There is another element to keep in mind with referencing this objection on who can legislate morality.
Is This Objection Correct from a Political Standpoint?
The best way to approach this question is from the angle of understanding the nature of politics and what it does. Does it have moral underpinnings? Before I answer that, do you realize that each of the major political parties in this country have a moral understanding on how they see the economy, taxes, government spending, national defense, education and immigration?
Do you realize that one holds are liberal view their moral underpinnings are going to influence their vote? The same goes toward those who have conservative leanings. The conservatives and liberals in our government determine the direction of the nation, the states, and our local civil governments.
So if we have good laws in a particular pocket of the country, then the chances are good that the politics and the politicians moral underpinnings are good. If their moral underpinnings are good, the chances are that the political pundits' ethics and morals are going to follow toward the good.
It works the other way too. If one has bad morals, it is because there is a faulty and perhaps, in some cases, bankrupt ethical starting point. If there are bad ethics one will reflect their faulty ethical framework in their moral or immoral actions. If the morals are bad, and they are a politician, you now have bad politics. And it only follows suit that if you have bad politics, you are bound to have bad laws.
What does this have to do with the challenge? Let me ask you a question: "Do you vote for your candidate in the regular and presidential elections?" Because if you do vote, you are voting for the candidate that best matches your views.
When I say your views, I am referring to your views on economic issues, taxes and government spending, national security and education. If you are holding to a liberal view of morality, you are going to vote for the candidate that best fits your views. If you are holding to more of a conservative stances on the aforementioned issues, then you are going to vote for the candidate that best fits you conservative values.
So election day comes. It is the "biggie." You go to the booth and guess what you are doing? You are voting to for the person who is going to push for legislations that best fit what you want and what you believe. Guess what you have just done?
We have participated in the push for the party/candidate whose moral framework, economic climate and safety of the nation best fits our own. In essence we have just participated in seeking the legislating of morality for the next two to four years.
The real issue is that whenever one makes a pronouncement on morality, like "you cannot legislate morality," they are seeking to legislate the morality of the other conversant. When you and I go to the voting booth, we are voting for the candidate that best fits our moral, ethical, economic, etc., positions. There is no escape hatch for not legislating morality. We do it all the time. Thank God for those who don't hold to an absolute standard and yet act morally.