The difference between sin and crime
Last night, I got the opportunity to show my partner Danny this video
, which I found through a friend on LiveJournal. There's also a great essay by Anna Quindlen about it here
. Additionally, in her own essay about it, my LiveJournal friend talks about how these people have a real problem understanding the difference between morality and legality: specifically, that never the twain shall meet, and trying to mix them usually results in failure.
When I showed this video to Danny, his response was interesting, and got me thinking. He said "The problem is, these people don't understand the purpose
of the law. What they want from the law is a validation of their religious belief, and that's not what law is for
." I think he's right.
When you watch this video, you can almost see the gears turning, freezing, and jamming up in these folks' heads. They haven't thought it through. In some cases, they not only haven't thought it through, but they have avoided
thinking about it at all. They literally have no answer as to what should happen to women who have abortions; they only think as far as legitimizing their views on abortion by making those views into law.
I think that's a pretty important observation. Simply put, it's about definitions. There's a disconnect there because they don't get that the law - at least, criminal law - isn't about validation of belief
but about assignment of penalties
. Laws do not, or at least should not, exist to simply promote the majority's values. They should exist to prevent or punish harm caused to other people through any number of vectors (personal assault, financial harm, etc.). Laws that have no penalty attached are generally unenforceable... and if there's no penalty or point, then the law doesn't mean anything, doesn't accomplish anything. It's just words in a book. The law is supposed to say "IF you do [x], THEN [y] will happen to you." You have to have both parts to make workable law. Otherwise, it's just a statement - a validation of some belief or other.
The problem is, in the world that these people live in (inside their heads and their shared collective consciousness), the point is that Good People Don't Break Laws. Law isn't about avoiding penalties. It's about not doing bad things. That's a problem, because for most people, the law isn't like that. Most of us trust our own judgement to decide whether a law is functional or not, and weigh the risks involved in breaking it. We all do that - speeding on the freeway being a prime example. I don't feel enormous guilt about going a few miles per hour over 65, especially when everyone else around me is doing it too and to slow down to the speed limit would create a traffic hazard. There are a lot of laws like that. But it seems to me that the viewpoint of the criminalize-abortion (and criminalize-homosexuality, and criminalize-polyamory, and criminalize-obscenity, and criminalize-immorality-in-general) movements seems to boil down to: if it's against the law, people won't do it.
Quindlen's article also points out that this is the Daddy State treating women like they're children, as if they aren't able to think for themselves. Women, in this view, are considered nearly innocent bystanders who just happened to be in the wrong clinic with their feet up in the stirrups at the wrong time; it's the doctors
who do the deed who are the criminals. Even the idea of a woman giving herself an abortion with a bent coat hanger does not change this viewpoint - because what virtuous, good woman would do that? None, right?
This explains a lot of the motivation behind laws which criminalize consensual or personal decisions, such as polyamorous relationships, homosexuality, obscenity, gay marriage, and abortion. In all cases, the people who are trying to pass the law apparently think that simply having a law in place will stop people from engaging in these actions that they find so repulsive. If there's a law against homosexual behavior, people won't do it, right? If there's a law that says you can't have more than one partner, people won't have one, right? If there's a law that says you, a woman, can't make a simple decision about your reproductive health and welfare, then you won't do it, will you?
If only things were that simple! If they were, I could lobby for all kinds of laws, such as laws criminalizing non-critical thinking, abuse in the name of religion, and neoconservatism. I'm sure the world would be a much calmer place. But then again, I'm not willing to take people's choices away from them, no matter how much those choices annoy, frustrate, or irritate me - and no matter how much I rant and rave about the effects those choices have on me. If nothing else, it makes those who choose them quite obvious, so I can avoid or mock them as I please.
My partner also observed that these people don't think in terms of crime
. They think in terms of sin
. The disconnect may be too big to fix, because they may think of crime in terms of sin - confusing law with The Law.
Frankly, I think that's both sad and scary. It explains so much of the dominionist, fundamentalist, and uber-religious movements in this country and elsewhere... and at the same time, I haven't a clue how we can pierce the veil of ignorance and educate these folks as to the differences between law and The Law. I really don't. Apart from large billboards saying "SIN AND CRIME ARE TWO DIFFERENT AND UNRELATED THINGS," which probably won't penetrate but will simply give them that confused, someone's-speaking-Greek-again look. It's a problem of cultural context. In their context, anything bad is automatically both sin and
crime. The two terms are pretty much synonymous. In the reality-based community, sin and crime are two totally separate things.
In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, culturally defined terms actually have a huge impact on this entire problem of dominionism and fundamentalism. Words like "marriage," "relationship," "partnership," "husband," "wife," "family" - all of these have culturally-defined meanings which vary from subculture to subculture. "Family" means one thing to a Dominionist, something else to a gay person, and something else again to an average suburbanite. Similarly, certain subcultures (such as dominionism) assume that two different words that mean the same thing in their culture will mean the same thing in the greater culture as well, even though they don't. This way lies much confusion and misunderstanding, for all sides.
I wonder if it might be as simple as sitting someone down who thinks that "sin" and "crime" mean the same thing and explaining, slowly and gently, that although those two words mean substantially the same thing in their religion, they don't mean the same thing in the larger culture, and explaining what each word does mean. I wonder if that would have any effect at all.
Probably not, but then again, it's worth a shot, isn't it?
Labels: abortion, crime, ethics, fundamentalists, law, morals