Religion, Law and Morality

If the history of states that have outlawed the practice of religion offers any lesson, it is this. When you take away religion, the only way to sustain social order is to replace it with a series of laws that place the state in the position vacated by faith. Put simply, banning religion leads to the criminalization of immorality. When that happens, you do not get nirvana: you get the totalitarian nightmare of the police state.

One of the unspoken responsibilities of liberty is that we take it upon ourselves to live by a common code of moral behavior that ensures social harmony, in addition to acquiescence to the system of laws necessary to ensure public order. If we remove that moral code, and especially if we fail to replace it with a prescriptive ethical system that regulates our private (as well as our public) behavior, we remove that comfortable pathway between tyranny and chaos.

Adherence to any given faith – or any faith at all – must never be a prerequiste to citizenship. Nonetheless, we must acknowledge that we are a society that is formed on a series of shared behavioral principles. While adherence to some of the more key principles must be enshrined in law, the obligation to ensure moral behavior belongs outside the scope of law, and within the longstanding framework that enshrines ethical behavior as the price of communal membership.

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Author: David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.

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