Who Defines Morality:
God & Bible, Society or the Government?
Apologetic Dr. Frank Turek: Interview Part II
America is becoming a nation of individual rights. I don’t believe democracy can exist without a stable and unified moral foundation. This begs the question: who defines the guidelines of morality? Is it the Bible, government, or the norm of the current society?
Most people will immediately shout at the computer screen, “Separation of Church and State!” However, they would be incorrect. Separation of church and state was created because early European systems required church membership as a prerequisite for voting and access to government. That no longer exists in the United States or Europe. Therefore, what valid presupposition can an atheist or agnostic use to build their arguments about church and state? I don’t believe there is one.
Part II of my interview with apologist Dr. Frank Turek will explain why I believe that. You can read Part I of the interview here, which tackles the issue of equipping our children with the intellectual tools needed to defend their faith when atheistic college professors attack it.
Dr. Turek’s insight about legislating morality is especially eye-opening, and it’s an argument that every Christian needs to understand.
Part 1 of the Interview…
75% Of Children Are Leaving Church… Who Is To Blame?
Frank, people often accept a perceived reality, one based off of the norms of society at the time, verses a Biblical society. Why?
People are always trying to impose their moral point of view. We’ve all heard the phrase: “you can’t legislate morality.” I have a news flash, all laws legislate morality. Every law declares one behavior right, and the opposite behavior wrong. The only question is, “Whose morality will be imposed?” We ought not impose my morality or your morality, but the one that Thomas Jefferson said was self-evident. He said we have an inherent right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Why is life stated first? Because the right to life is the right over all other rights. If you don’t have life, you don’t have anything. That’s what the government is essentially designed to do. It’s designed to protect people from evil. One way it does that is by imposing laws that recognize that human beings have a right to life. If someone tried to take that life, the government steps in to prevent it or punish the wrongdoer. It’s what Paul talks about in Romans 13.
We don’t have to impose religion to impose morality. Religion has to do with our duty to God; morality has to do with our duty to one another. A Christian who tries to say, “We ought to have laws against abortion, murder, or rape” is not imposing religion. They’re not telling people they must attend a certain church and believe a certain way; that’s legislating religion. But they are trying to say that these moral principles ought to be put in place for the good of everybody. That’s legislating morality, and that’s what all laws do.
Let’s take abortion. People on both sides of the debate argue from a moral position. The pro-life side says a baby has a moral right to life. The pro-life side is imposing continued pregnancy on the mother. The pro-abortion side is saying no, a baby does not have a right to life. The woman gets to do whatever she wants. The problem there is they’re imposing death on the baby whenever abortion is chosen. So both sides have a moral position. The pro-life side; baby’s moral right to life. Pro-choice side; Woman’s moral right to choose.
I recently had a debate with an atheist. I stated on LinkedIn that I feel discriminated against as a Christian. Christians are losing the right to speak out and express our faith. Her comment was that she is discriminated against as an atheist because the founding fathers were Bible-based Christians who had imposed, and continue to impose, their morality on the entire nation. Who’s right?
If she were to say you can’t have a law because it’s stated in the Bible, then we couldn’t have virtually any laws. You couldn’t have laws against murder, rape, and theft because they’re in the Bible. She’s confusing religion and morality. Yes, many moral principles are taught in the Bible. But you don’t need to cite the Bible to know those moral principles. You need to cite God in order to have moral principles because there can’t be any rights unless God exists. Otherwise, it’s just one human being’s opinion against another. Say your opinion against Hitler’s opinion. If there’s no God or standard beyond humanity that actually adjudicates between opinions. If there’s no unchanging moral standard, authoritative above human beings, then there is no right to anything. There’s no right to life, to abortion, to marriage, there’s no right to anything unless God exists. But you don’t need to believe in God in order to make such a case. The only way you can justify rights is if God exists, but you don’t have to be a religious believer to have rights. Most of those opposing abortion are not trying to impose their religion. They’re not forcing you to go to church. They’re saying you have to treat people rightly.
The Bible speaks of leaders appointed by God. Many of today’s leaders do not reflect a Biblical nature. How do we get people to understand we need to pray for our leaders we don’t philosophically support?
As you pointed out, we are commanded to pray for our leaders and respect authority. The difference, however, comes when the government allows people to do evil or commands you to do evil. If the government allows people to do evil, which all governments do no matter how good they are, that doesn’t mean you ought to rebel against the government. But if the government tries to coerce you into doing evil — like [for example] how the Chinese government coerces women to abort any children other than their first born — the Bible would indicate you should disobey that order, that you should not obey an immoral command. That’s considered civil disobedience. Therefore, you don’t try to overthrow your government, but you may disobey your government and take the consequences. So there is a difference between allowing evil and coercing evil.
Once the government starts coercing evil, then you as a Christian have to say “No.” And we’re getting to that point in this country. Consider Hobby Lobby. I don’t know what they would have done if they would have lost that Supreme Court case…
[Here is the Hobby Lobby website dedicated to the case in which Hobby Lobby battled a mandate requiring Hobby Lobby and co-founders David and Barbara Green to provide and facilitate, against their religious convictions, four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in the company’s health insurance plan. The Greens argued that the mandate substantially burdened their religious beliefs in violation of a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.]
…I think they would have sold their company. Because they couldn’t in good conscience pay for drugs that abort children. But that’s what the government tried to coerce them to do.
Look to the New Testament when governing authorities tried to tell the Apostles not to preach. They said, “Who are we going to obey, God or man? We’re going to obey God.” And [they] disobeyed the government. Even the mother of Moses disobeyed the government by not killing the Hebrew child. Rahab lied to the authorities about the Jewish spies. Why? Because Rahab had a greater obligation to protect innocent life than to tell the truth to a murderer or guilty person.
Didn’t Christ say, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s?” Isn’t that supporting an evil cause?
If that were the case, there would be no government you could sit under because all human beings are imperfect. You have to draw the line. And I think the line is when they try to coerce you do evil.
We have the legalization of marijuana, live sex shows on stage in New Orleans, and legal prostitution in Nevada. This changes the “norm” of social morality. Who is to blame?
It’s the churches fault. The reason that the country is degrading is because the church has not been the salt and light it’s commanded to have been for the past hundred years. Instead of the church engaging the culture, a hundred years ago the church decided let’s separate from the it. Let’s not get involved in politics, law, media or journalism; those things are dirty. Let’s just preach the Gospel and be missionaries. Obviously, I agree we ought to be preaching the Gospel and be missionaries. But we bifurcated the world into two halves: secular and sacred. The sacred jobs are missionaries, pastors, and those kinds of things; everything else is secular.
That’s not a Christian worldview. The Christian worldview is that everything is sacred. If you’re talented in the media, you ought to be a Christian journalist. If you’re talented in law, you ought to be a Christian lawyer. If you’re talented in politics, you ought to be a Christian politician. It doesn’t matter where you are, you ought to be a Christian. And to bifurcate the idea that there is a sacred and secular led to the fact that the culture is largely secular. Why? Because when you take the godly people out of a system, like the culture, the culture becomes godless! So if you’re not going to influence it, then obviously it’s going to degrade.
Now some will say “What does it matter? Let’s just preach the Gospel.” For people who say that, I’ll simple reply with [this]: if you think that preaching the Gospel is as important as I do, then you better think culture and politics is important. Because politics affects our ability to preach the Gospel. If you don’t think so, go to some of the countries I’ve been to: Iran, Saudi Arabia, China. You can’t do what we’re doing right now in those countries because legally they’ve ruled it out. Politically, they’ve ruled it out! Politics affects just about everything we do, including our ability to preach the Gospel. So we have to be engaged, if for no other reason than to continue to have religious freedom and to spread the Gospel around the world — not to mention protecting human life and insuring that our children aren’t corrupted. So, we have to be engaged. Jesus said be salt and light until I come. He didn’t say just leave the world to itself, but engage the world. Salt preserves, and that’s what the church is supposed to do. To preserve goodness in society.
What would you like to add in closing?
We have a book on the topic available on our website CrossExamine.org. Legislating Morality, which Dr. Norman L. Geisler and I wrote years ago about the idea that you can’t legislate morality. That’s the only thing you can legislate.