We hear often these days that society shouldn’t have any absolute moral standards. Imposing standards is oppressive, judgmental and outdated. Like Linus and the Great Pumpkin, it doesn’t matter what we choose to believe, as long as we’re really sincere in believing it. Well, pardon me for pointing it out, but that’s…well, stupid (sorry, Linus!)
There are all sorts of absolute standards to which we adhere. A rock band might be filled with nonconformists, but they can’t each play in whatever key they feel like. You might concede Hannibal Lecter’s sincere belief in cannibalism, but you wouldn’t go to his house for dinner. It seems counter-intuitive, but freedom can’t work unless we all agree to abide by certain basic standards of right and wrong. When we step outside those boundaries, chaos ensues. That can leave a bad taste in your mouth, and I’m not still referring to Hannibal Lecter. I like to illustrate the concept with a story from the days when my own kids were young.
When my son John Mark was only 12, he decided one day to bake a cake. My wife Janet and I returned home and were greeted by our son, proudly offering ol’ dad the first taste. Well, it looked good, and I was already preparing some fatherly praise as I took that first bite. But what came out of my mouth wasn’t words. It was the cake. It was so awful, I had to spit it out. My first thought was that my son was trying to kill me for the insurance.
As soon as my tongue overcame its shock, I asked John Mark if he’d used a recipe. He said he had, and he’d followed it to the letter. Well, except that he didn’t know what a “dash” of salt meant, so he decided a cup of salt should be enough.
Now, my son worked hard on that cake…he had the best of intentions…and he sincerely believed he’d done a good job. But hard work, good intentions and sincere beliefs meant nothing once he decided he could make up his own measurement standards. That’s literally a recipe for disaster.
Freedom can’t exist in a moral vacuum. It makes some people uncomfortable to hear this, but without clear boundaries of right and wrong, the very concept of liberty breaks down. A person might argue that he should be free to look at pictures others find offensive. But if it’s a photo of a child who’s being exploited, then there’s more at stake than just the liberty of the viewer. There was a big controversy over separating children from parents who crossed the border illegally, but very few people brought up the facts that the parents chose to bring their children along as they knowingly violated federal immigration law – or that (as a pilot DNA test program proved) in many cases, those weren’t even parents but people exploiting children they weren’t even related to.
Self-government can’t mean each of us lives by our own unique set of rules. If that’s how you define liberty, then you’re just going to get less of it. When people live outside the boundaries of a principled and agreed-upon moral code, it always leads to government that’s bigger and more intrusive, just to force people to do the right thing. Not to mention creating an avalanche of lawsuits.
If you think more lawyers and bigger government actually improve society, then I have a delicious cake recipe I’d like to sell you. Then again, no…taking your money for that cake recipe would definitely be morally wrong.