Canada will assist the mentally ill by terminating their life, starting in March of 2023. This assistance euphemistically takes the name, medical assistance in dying (MAID). MAID is euthanasia. It terminates life. The mentally ill in March 2023 and those impoverished due to disability can now choose to receive a sponsored death from the state.
Such sponsored deaths led Steven Wedgeworth recently to say, “What if, instead of wide-ranging assisted suicide policies, the government tried to convince people that life is good, has a higher purpose, and is worth living?” Wedgeworth’s proposal would mean that the role of the government would not only be to restrain evil but also to commend the good.
Not everyone would agree. The founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership, P. Andrew Sandlin, tweeted:
“The idea that the objective of the state or politics is to fashion the virtuous citizen is pagan Aristotelian tyranny. The goal of the state and politics is to enforce the rule of law to guarantee liberty. Other spheres of life like the family and church fashion virtue.”
Obviously, for Sandlin the idea that the government could commend the good of society, leading its citizenry to a good and virtuous goal is wrong. It is a pagan idea, he avers.
That accusation would surprise Reformed and Post-Reformed theologians. For example, reformed political theorist Johannes Althusius (1563–1638) wrote a celebrated work of political theory called Politica in the early 1600s. It represents something of a reformed consensus, when Althusius says, “it pertains to the office of a governor not only to preserve something unharmed, but also to lead it to its end” (§13).
Significantly, Althusius sees the government not merely as restraining sin (preserving) but also leading the people to their end, or purpose in life. Here, I think Althusius is at least partially right because it’s impossible to order society without having some sort of end in mind, even if it’s implied in the ordering of society.
One way governments can do so is through good laws. In response to Sandlin’s tweet, James R. Wood wrote, “The law teaches. Thus, enforcing the law is related to the inculcation of virtue.” Anyone familiar with the moral reasoning in R. v. Morgentaler (1988) in Canada, or Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) in the USA will know that the logic of rights and the viability of life has become mainstream.
Law teaches. It is obvious. It is also one reason why God gave the law to Israel for humanity, since the law teaches us about God and what he wants for us. That law, eternal because is is the Being of God, distributes in creation through natural and written law. Israel received the written law; the nations the unwritten law written on their hearts (Rom 1:32; 2:14–15)
Pastor Paul Carter rightly argues that the book of Amos “demonstrates that God holds the nations of the world to some kind of moral standard.” Pastor Carter does not judge what law that is in his Facebook post, but the whole Christian tradition until recent years has spoken of this law as common law, natural law, the law of the nations, or other like terms.
The exact term does not matter. But somehow, Christians and non Christians alike have observed that the gentiles “know God’s righteous decree” (Rom 1:32) despite not having “the law” of Moses (Rom 2:14). This law (whatever we call it) allows for the nations to exist in relative safety (streets, hospitals, etc.). It allows for what John Calvin calls civic virtue to exist.
So I say, governments should commend civic virtue, natural goods, for the sake of human flourishing in this earthly life, namely, forming a society in which safety, community, policing, defence, the goodness of life, and many other goods are commended.
After all, Wisdom tells us “By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just” (Prov 8:15). Why not listen to the Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:30) rather than the wisdom of man, which often fails and flounders in darkness.
I re-spaced two of the tweets above for this article. But I did not change the text.