I’m sure we all recognize those three words from the Ten Commandments in which eight of the ten begin with, “Thou shalt not…” My intention with this piece is not to “preach at” anyone, but to make a connection. I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to accomplish that.
This was the first time commands and ordinances from God were given directly to the people. Previously, from the days of Adam, God communicated directly with the patriarchs of the families. We don’t know just how or what they were told, but it is a reasonable assumption the people understood His expectations of them.
Certainly, when Cain killed his brother, Abel, he understood it was wrong. They both offered sacrifices, but would they have done that without direction from God?
But what of the time before sin entered the world?
Adam and Eve lived in absolute freedom— the ultimate liberty. Since sin was not in their lives, they had one prohibition– they were not to eat the fruit of a particular tree. Other than that, they were free to do anything. As James Madison said, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
Sin led to the destruction of most of mankind. As we see people today looking at trying to develop artificial intelligence, we might take note of the similarities with the days of Noah, Nimrod, and the Tower of Babel, but that lesson is for another day.
God does things in a progression; it takes we, humans, time to adapt and adjust. When the time was right, God sent his Son, and in a way, there was a reversion back to the days of Adam.
While the Law (the Ten Commandments and related ordinances) was imperfect, it did make it clear what the expectations of God were for us. God knew it was ultimately in our best interest to DO things freely, by choice, rather than NOT do things out of fear. The first chapter of the Book of James speaks of this, in verse 17 it details that everything good and perfect comes from above (God).
We are under an expectation of “doing” or being a “doer” rather than “not doing”, but we are free – at liberty to make the choice. And thus in verse 25, it speaks of the “perfect law of liberty.” Liberty. Freedom to make a choice with the understanding of the consequences and rewards of that choice.
This is the model for our Constitution and our laws.
God restrained himself and gave man the liberty to plot his own course understanding the risk/reward of the choice. The king did not restrain himself, he restrained the people. The people were free to do as they chose as long as it fell within the restraints placed by the king.
Someone needs to explain to me what we are closer to today, rule under King George III or the Constitution and laws as designed?
Two things brought this to mind, never mind there are literally hundreds of examples. In recent years a number of states have moved to increase prohibition on gun ownership and lessen the prohibition on marijuana. The laws themselves and the reaction to them speak volumes.
There are plenty of federal laws to look at, however, I will focus on state laws. I want to make it clear, states do not have the authority to infringe on individual’s rights. Article IV, Section 2 begins, “The Citizens of each State shall be entitled to all Privileges and Immunities of Citizens in the several States.” The Fourteenth Amendment codified and defined it:
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
So as we look at the enumerated powers of the Constitution, we see the federal government does not have the authority to prohibit something like marijuana, and a state does not have the power to infringe on the right to keep and bear arms.
What I find interesting is that many who consider themselves conservative and constitutional want the federal government to control things like marijuana, but not guns. Progressives want the freedom to have access to marijuana and restrict access to guns.
Now a state could, constitutionally, restrict access to marijuana, but not guns. The federal government does not have the authority to restrict either one.
And that brings me back to the “perfect law of liberty.” Let’s look at the rest of Madison’s quote about angels from Federalist 51: “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”
We are to have a delicate balance, and since we are not angels, we must have a government with the authority and ability to punish those who violate others rights. Since government is not made of angels either, it must not have too much power. Just as the perfect law of liberty given by God, the Constitution puts us in charge of the choice.
Our Republic has seen many efforts by men who want to control behavior, but true control comes from within. As the early progressive era began we saw increased government, decreased reliance on personal restraint and responsibility. The belief was that the “right people” could make the best choices. Eugenics and population control were prevalent in the day; Teddy Roosevelt, HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and others were all about picking who lived and died– for the good of humanity. Margaret Sanger started Planned Parenthood. Men decided who could and could not marry, and they made alcohol and drugs illegal. All this and more was done because men believed government under the right leadership was better than the liberty of the people to make their own choices.
I am under no illusion that things will change anytime soon. In fact, we have so many generations conditioned for government to care for them, they are incapable of doing so for themselves. We are seeing an example of that in the recent change in Oregon law to allow self-serve gas. As I recently wrote in the conclusion of my series on slavery, the government has made us all slaves. Furthermore, in most cases, we like and expect it. No, most of us don’t really want liberty; we want a dictator who does what we like. In the end, that is why half the country is happy with a Republican president and the other half when it is a Democrat.
We have forgotten what true liberty is. We have forgotten just how good the Constitution is. We like the idea of it, but do we really trust it? Do we really trust ourselves?