Do you have a right to behave badly? Most people probably would answer “no” to that question even if, in their heart of hearts, they feel quite differently. And, by all counts today, Americans do feel differently.
There is no constitutional right to bad behavior. In fact, the United States Constitution exists, in large part, to keep bad behavior in check at the federal levels of government. The same goes for state constitutions and a whole raft of state and local laws. Laws exist because of bad behavior – not to encourage it but to discourage it. A free society requires order, meaning good behavior, and a free society cannot long endure a culture of bad behavior – it can’t afford it, neither can it naturally counter it. There are no neutral corners in a free society where bad behavior simply vanishes because men all of a sudden become angels.
The need for law and order has been such a fundamental part of America since its founding that calls for less law and order have sounded irresponsible – until now. The exponential growth of government in our lives has justified a choir of imprudent overreaction.
Rather than shore up old ways, these modern voices are calling for even less law and order. I believe the call for less law and order today has more to do with the changing definitions of “bad behavior” than it does it anything else. You hear it all of the time, “Who gets to decide what’s bad behavior?” – as if these decisions are something new to the world. When what’s new to the world is changing values.
What’s new is that bad behavior is increasingly called good behavior and vice versa. What’s new is that rising generations understand individual liberty like it’s their religion but are blind to the meaning and requirements of a free society.
Our culture is at war and our free society is paying the price. Americans are crossing some big cultural boundaries and not looking back. In the name of fairness, tolerance and equality, homosexuality is being embraced as natural, normal and healthy. In the name of personal responsibility, we’re supposed to accept the important role illicit drugs play in freedom’s story. And, in the name of choice and “free agency,” evidently every bad behavior should be free from discouragement.
Here is where we’re headed: We’re headed into a world where bad behavior is the law of the land. We’re headed into a world where private lives are the new public good. We’re moving away from a world of “live and let live,” allowing everyone to work out their lives and human potential, and into a world where the sole concern of the law is pain management. If you hurt, government will be there for you. The law will be on your side.
And we know this path lies ahead because the old pain management – Christianity and other disciplined faiths – has been kicked to the curb. Christianity demands we become our better selves, not our worst selves. The new pain management rewards our worst selves. It tells us, “You’re the victim. You’re not to blame. You were born that way. You can’t help it and you can’t fix it. So the law will get rid of anyone who makes you feel bad about your self.”
No serious person today should underestimate the insidious attacks against religious freedom to come. Religion sets expectations for people and cultures in a world, now, where only self-expectations are allowed. And this is why the law now cares so much about your private lives – because the new common good is all about you. As it turns out, you do have a right to bad behavior.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.
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