The Imposition of Moral Imperatives

One of the most commonly used and emotionally compelling arguments in favor of health care reform – or any government service, for that matter – is that without it, many people will be dealt undo suffering. The claim is that the job of society, and by extension government, is to act in the best interest of the underprivileged amongst us. If some people cannot afford health insurance, they argue, it is the job of everyone else to shoulder the burden and help provide it. This is, undoubtedly, a system of moral beliefs; and the requirement to help our fellow man is no less than a moral imperative.


This moral belief system is known as ethical altruism. I have written about it before, so I will not go into details on why I believe it is an incorrect system. Instead I wish to discuss the problems with imposing a particular system of morals upon a set of people who might not particularly agree with that system.


When discussing the imperative to help the needy progressives, in my encounters, have often used Jesus Christ as an explanation for this imperative. The irony in this is not at all lost on me, as it is progressives who will usually be the first to completely ignore Biblical teachings when it comes to other matters which I will not discuss here and now. Jesus called men to cloth the naked, to feed the hungry and to help the sick. He asked us to give up our wealth and refuse to live a life of greed. If so many Americans are willing to follow this directive at the behest of their Savior and by extension the churches which teach his good works, why is there such hesitation to do this when required by their government?


My response to this question is always broken down into two parts.


Firstly: Free Will


The first part of the answer is that humanity was endowed by its creator with free will. We are given the freedom to choose whether or not we want to do right by our fellow man. If we choose the righteous path, we are thus also free to choose what we feel is the best path to achieve this, as well as whom we choose to assist. Reason would dictate the no one’s resources are infinite – either in terms of money or time – and therefore choices must constantly be made as to where those resources are directed. Having government decide where, when and how much of these resources are allocated violates all tenets of free will.


There is a common argument proposed by progressives to challenge this, which is only properly combated by discussing the second part of my response.


The Counterargument


The counterargument that I will hear leveled against my two points is that by nature of accepting a particular religion, one thus forfeits their free will. Accepting a faith such as Christianity means that one cannot truly be free, as it is therefore required that the practitioner do good deeds in order to gain eternal salvation. In other words, they view entry into Heaven as the raison d’être of being a good person for Christians.


Secondly: No Two Belief Systems Are (Practiced) the Same or Equal


While those of the Christian faith believe in works of Jesus Christ, this is not necessarily the case for every citizen of the United States. A further irony is that those who would constantly argue against any inclusion of religion in government or even public would dare to use Jesus as a justification for government intrusion into the life of the citizenry. While we are a nation founded on the concept that there a unalienable rights granted by God, the fact is that we have no state sponsored religion. We are a diverse nation with many religions of which none, by nature of the contract between the government and the people, may be placed above any other. There may be some who reject the teachings of Jesus Christ in favor of living a life of greed and gluttony. One may not agree with that set of beliefs, but disagreement does no nullify existence. Also, it is entirely believable that two people of the same faith who pass a beggar on the street might have completely different reactions. These are the nuances of individuality that make a government dictated, one-size-fits-all morality incompatible with freedom.


I’ll admit that the second point is really nothing more than a function of the first, but I have listed them separately for simplicity’s sake.


So what of the progressive counterargument? When considering whether an action is moral or ethical, there are two parts that one must evaluate. The first is the action itself. The second is the motive behind the action. Even the law takes this into account; that is why we have the concept of mens rea. Killing is wrong if it is done in cold blood. But killing to protect oneself or to protect another can be morally and legally justified.


So when the progressive claims that free will is negated by the requirement to do good deeds to find eternal salvation, twelve years of Catholic education makes me raise an eyebrow. Jesus did not simply teach his followers to do good because they will get a reward when all is said and done. He taught us to do good out of the love of our neighbors and the genuine desire to help our fellow man. I would be hesitant to cast accolades upon a person who helps the poor solely to court favors from them at a later time. The action might be good, but the intent is far from it.


To put it more succinctly: free will does not just account for our actions, but it also accounts for our intentions. I call it the Failure of Pascal’s Wager.


So how does this relate to the imposition of the system of ethical altruism that is pushed upon us by our government, and by so many governments throughout the world? It violates our freedom to choose who we help and how we help them. It also forces upon people a system with which they might not agree, violating their ability to choose their own belief system and the practice of that belief system. In religion, we can balance the risk/reward between our actions and intentions. I could decide that there is no afterlife, and choose to be a terrible person. I could also decide there is an afterlife, but be a terrible person anyway.


When it comes to government rules by fiat, there is no reward, only risk. The risk is that failure to agree or act accordingly leads to a definite punishment, regardless of one’s belief system.


To the progressives who argue in favor of our current system, I like to propose the following argument. Say my beliefs dictate that it is the duty of all of us to protect our country from our enemies, and to protect people around the world from despotic governments. With our economic and military wealth, it is our duty to protect our fellow man, wherever they may be. In my mind, the only way to accomplish this moral imperative is to build an incredibly large military force. It’s possible that many might disagree with this concept, but it is prevalent enough that many members of Congress agree as well. Would the progressives view it as right an moral to pass a law requiring all men and women to spend a mandatory number of years serving in the military?


Or is it possible imposing a moral imperative interferes with the free will and beliefs of the people it is imposed upon?