Sunday, July 21, 2013

Permissible vs. Beneficial: A Political Idea

There are so many social issues these days up for political discussion. Abortion. Marijuana. Birth control coverage. Gay marriage. Issues that relate to essential lifestyle choices that people make, and we're considering writing laws about them and which kinds of laws to write.

Some people argue that things like marijuana are bad for people and that social responsibility requires us to make illegal things which are bad for human flourishing. Others argue that, whether these things are good or bad, we have no right to deny others' choices. A person has the right to ruin themselves, however sad that may be.

Call me a product of my generation, but more and more I find myself agreeing with the latter. I think marijuana is mentally and physically unhealthy and often introduces a cultural element that affects personal relationships in a bad way. But I don't feel that I have the right to impose those beliefs on others, no matter how much I wish others agreed with me.

I think I'm right, and I want others to agree, but it is not within either my power nor my directive to accomplish that. It's not what Jesus calls me to. The God I know wants me to live well, but he doesn't want me to force others to live well; he asks me to "make disciples" (Matthew 28:19). That means being relational; it means changing lives by personal interaction, not impersonal law. After all, in Christianity "we are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:14). Why then would I be like the Pharisees and put heavy burdens on men, and not lift a finger to help them?

Jesus himself didn't go raging into the political forums of the day and asking for legal changes in order to institute his kingdom. His kingship is completely different than any other because he went and talked to his subjects and changed their lives by loving, forgiving, and giving them purpose.

This is how we're wired, after all. It is impossibly hard to break a habit unless you replace it with something else. Instead of putting my efforts into "illegalizing" the things I believe are harmful for people, why don't I spend my time creating better options? If I don't like that kids are getting into drugs, let's create better after-school programs and institute better mentorship, especially in areas with high rates of one-parent families and poverty, where the parent(s) have to work so much that kids don't get the constant discipline they need.

And if people still disagree with me? That's okay. Love them anyway. People are too valuable to throw out with the bathwater.

I want to be clear: I'm not advocating that we relax about political issues and attack everything from a social side. Actions that damage the lives of others need to be outlawed. Slavery is a good example. We need to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves, so they can make use of their right to free choice.

But I don't believe in treating adults like they're your children. A child is under their parent's direction on purpose; they do not have the information, life experience, or even neural faculties yet to take on many of life's choices. Parents are give the weighty duty of choosing healthy lives for their kids and teaching their kids to do the same.

At some point those kids grow up. They become us. We were all children once. Now it's time for us to make our own choices. Will we make something of ourselves, or ruin our own lives? It is no one's wish, least of all God's, that we should ruin ourselves, but we are nevertheless given the choice to do so. This is love: to entrust someone with their precious, potentially powerful life.

There's one more thing: as long as the battlefield is on the question, "should this be legal or not?" people will rebut arguments of, "it's bad for you!" with, "it's only bad for you because it's illegal, and so there's no regulation, it's a black market, and standards are low." When something is legal, regulated, and clean, and yet people are still coming away from it with scars and problems, then we know that it wasn't ever the legality, but the action itself, that was bad for you. The battlefield will stop being legality and start actually focusing on the problems.