It seems that America has come to the place where it is no longer governed by laws, but by the preferences of those who manage to get themselves in a position to manipulate the levers of political power. Over the last number of years, many of us have lamented the judicial activism that we see in many of our courts. There are cases where unelected judges have flaunted the law by making rulings which run contrary to the intent of the people’s representatives who passed them. We have seen these judges usurping the legislative process by making law from the bench rather than interpreting the law passed by the lawmakers. This has become a common practice all up and down the legal system. We see state judges decreeing the legality of homosexual marriage in Massachusetts and a similar ruling in California where the court actually overturned a constitutional amendment passed by the people of the state. In the U.S. Supreme Court we see where the justices “invented” a right to abortion where none existed in the Constitution. And just recently, we find them once again creating law from the bench by declaring ObamaCare constitutional using non-constitutional arguments.
But in our day, it is not just the judiciary which is turning the concept of law on its ear. Now, we have the president of the United States doing the same thing. One of the primary jobs of the president is to enforce the law of the land. But this president has decided to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on his own personal preferences. So, even though the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is the law of the land, he has decided that he doesn’t like it and will not enforce it, or even defend it in court. He didn’t like Arizona’s approach to immigration enforcement, so not only does he not enforce federal immigration law, he has specifically singled out Arizona and cut federal law enforcement cooperation with them. And when congress would not confirm certain people to positions he wanted them in, he declared congress in recess, even though they weren’t, and did a recess appointment.
So, just what is going on? This country was founded on the principle of law, but now we seem to be in a situation where every governing authority has become a law unto itself. What is happening and why?
The simple answer to the question is that there has been a shift in the worldview foundation of the nation. It used to be that the consensus foundation of American culture was Christian Theism. It has now shifted to Naturalism, and the results of this shift are expressed in the kinds of things mentioned above. The judges which see fit to legislate from the bench do so from a naturalistic worldview foundation. The president of the United States is also using the beliefs of Naturalism to inform his decisions and actions. It is this naturalistic understanding of reality which makes it permissible, in their minds, to operate on the basis of their own personal preferences rather than on established law.
In order to grasp the significance of this trend, it is necessary to understand the worldview foundations that are in play. Let’s have a look at the implications related to the concept of law as understood based on Theistic and Naturalistic ideas. With that, we will be able to contrast where we currently are with where we came from.
A Christian Theistic Understanding of Law
Theism begins with a belief that God exists and has revealed himself and his ways. Based on this revelation, there is a way that God has established things to be and he has revealed this to mankind. As such, it is incumbent on human beings to understand and follow what God has directed. Most Theists believe that man has a choice to follow God’s directives or not, but if they choose not to there will be judgement for the disobedience. This not only expresses the character of God as he reveals the basis for morality, but also provides and promotes order in his creation.
The understanding of human law based on theistic beliefs follows this model. The principles of right and wrong are seen to come from God, so there is a way society ought to operate. In American history, this set of principles have come directly from the God’s revelation in the Bible. In setting up society, these principles were codified and became the basis for the law of the land. It is, then, incumbent on human beings to accept the laws as “right” and to follow them. Those who don’t will receive judgment from the state for their disobedience. It is as people follow the law that order is promoted in society.
A Naturalistic Understanding of Law
Naturalistic belief begins with the assumption that God does not exist. In fact, all that exists is the material universe, and everything in it is believed to have originated and continues based on natural laws. Since there is no supernatural lawgiver, there is no such thing as objective morality and relativism becomes the default. In naturalistic thought, the only creatures capable of even conceiving of the idea of morality would be those which have a highly enough evolved brain to be able to process self-conscious thoughts. Since human beings are the only known creatures with that capability, only humans are able to consider what is right and wrong – both on an individual and societal level.
Since there is no higher authority, there is also no objective “higher law” to conform human law to. And since there is no outside lawgiver, it falls on human beings to perceive what is necessary to maintain order in society and create laws which promote that order.
As such, only human beings are able to decide what should be right and wrong and how to codify morality in law. And once this is done, there is no compelling reason why it should not be adjusted should the societal situation or the cultural norms change. All of this must be done based on the personal beliefs of those who are in positions of power.
Worldview Expressions in Real Life
Since Naturalism is the worldview which currently informs the decision making process of so many of our government officials, we would expect exactly what we are seeing. They believe that there is no such thing as objective right and wrong – even laws duly passed by lawmakers. Morality is, rather, based on the preferences of individuals or the consensus of society. No particular way of believing or behaving is objectively better than any other. It is all a matter of the preferences of those who hold the levers of power and have the ability to enforce them. Activist judges do this to the degree that they make decisions based on their preferences rather than on the law. Activist executive politicians do the same thing to the degree they execute their preferences rather than enforce established laws.
The way things ultimately go depends on what the people of the nation decide. America is a place where people get the politicians they choose, and thus the public policy they deserve. It used to be that this nation was founded on Christian theistic beliefs which acknowledged the law as supreme. With the shift to a naturalistic foundation, the beliefs of the ones in power have become the basis for governing society rather than law. This situation is bound to continue until the worldview foundation of the nation shifts back to the Christian Theism it was originally founded upon.
© 2012 by Freddy Davis