It’s kind of an accepted axiom and a truthful one at that, that you cannot really compel people to do by force those things that they don’t really want to do. Certainly, if the force is sufficient, you can make people put on the appearance of doing what they don’t want to do, but what good is that in any case? Walter Williams wrote a great piece last week entitled, How Laws Have Replaced Civility, and it highlights something I have noted before. As a youth pastor for fifteen years, I watched the coarsening of the culture. I tell about my memory of the boycott that was called against the sponsors of the TV show Home Improvement for its indecency and people literally stop in their tracks. No one seems to remember why that show could possibly have been considered indecent to anyone and then I mention that Pamela Anderson was the “tool girl” that was featured mostly as eye candy on the early shows. Actually, syndication is a real eye-opener as a whole to the slide of our culture, when shows that I would have never considered watching in their original run don’t seem nearly as bad as the current programming on TV. There is a reason why WGN runs so many retro shows these days.
Walter Williams provides some everyday examples of the failures of decency in modern society and the laws made to “fix” it:
To see men sitting whilst a woman or elderly person was standing on a crowded bus or trolley car used to be unthinkable. It was common decency for a man to give up his seat. Today, in some cities there are ordinances requiring public conveyances to set aside seats posted “Senior Citizen Seating.” Laws have replaced common decency
. . . Is foul language to or in the presence of teachers conducive to an atmosphere of discipline and respect necessary for effective education? If not, how would you propose it be controlled? Years ago, simply sassing a teacher would have meant a trip to the vice principal’s office for an attitude adjustment administered with a paddle. Years ago, the lowest of lowdown men would not say the kind of things often said to or in front of women today. Gentlemanly behavior protected women from coarse behavior. Today, we expect sexual harassment laws to restrain coarse behavior.
And he doesn’t even tackle politically correct laws intended to handle “wrong speech,” that don’t ever address foul language. Cable networks now air movies with all the four letter words intact by placing a “disclaimer” on the show. My haven’t we progressed (sarcasm on full). And this is Williams point. The law can’t stop bad behavior before it happens. The law can only punish what has been done.
The fact that so many hope to turn to the law to “fix” society and make it good again, shows how broken we really are. A new law can’t fix anything; only a new heart can.