A Permissive Society—Where Does It Lead?
TODAY’S modern society is becoming increasingly permissive. In more and more lands, many activities once considered criminal are now either legal or simply are not prosecuted.
Gambling (with or without a license), prostitution, homosexual acts, sale of pornographic literature, drinking to the point of intoxication, use of addictive drugs, nudity on the stage, on the screen and on public beaches, men dressing as women and vice versa—all of these are being engaged in with decreasing likelihood of arrest or prosecution.
Some persons feel that this trend is actually for the good of human society. In fact, they believe that all the activities mentioned should be viewed as ‘none of the business’ of law-enforcement agencies. How so?
The Arguments for Permissiveness
They present a number of arguments. But the central theme is that these are “crimes without victims.” “Who,” they ask, “is the victim in prostitution? The man obtained the sexual relations he sought and the woman got the money she was after. So who is the victim?”
Similarly with gambling, which many would classify as mere “entertainment.” Even though unlicensed by law, if both sides play the game according to the rules, who is the victim? True, a person may lose money, but before he took part in the game he knew that could happen and yet he chose to gamble. So where is the crime?
In all those cases, therefore, the basic claim is made that as long as those involved share of their own free will, then law-enforcement agencies should not intervene.
Put more bluntly, they say that ‘a law-enforcement agency should not be a “moral busybody,” poking its nose into people’s private affairs.’ If the point is raised of the possible damage to the person’s own health or financial status that certain activities may bring, those favoring a more permissive society may respond by quoting John Stuart Mill, an English philosopher and economist, who wrote:
“The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community against his will is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.”
Not only this, but they also argue that laws that try to enforce good morals in such areas as sex, drinking, use of drugs, or gambling are basically unenforceable and should be repealed. In fact, the claim is made that such laws even contribute to the growth of “more serious” crimes. How so?
In that they occupy the police forces’ attention so extensively that these are hindered from concentrating on such crimes as violent assaults or theft. It is reported that almost half of the arrests made in the United States are in connection with so-called “victimless crimes.” From the police these pass on to the courts. At a national conference on the criminal courts, the president of the United States said:
“We have to find ways to clear the courts of the endless stream of ‘victimless crimes’ that get in the way of serious consideration of serious crimes.”
In brief, then, many today are saying that the fight against gambling, marijuana, sexual excesses and obscenities, and drunkenness is futile and counterproductive. ‘Free the police and the courts so they can stem the tide of attacks on people’s life, person and property,’ they urge.
What do religious leaders say about all of this? Many take a somewhat similar position, particularly as regards standards of sex. Increasing numbers of them have said that they see no serious danger or wrong in homosexuality, premarital or extramarital sex. The view of many religious leaders is much like that of an actress of earlier times who said: “It doesn’t matter what you do in the bedroom as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses.” In a time when even among married persons sex perversions (such as oral and anal intercourse) are becoming more and more common, the clergy have little or no word of counsel or caution to offer.
Where Does the Trend Lead?
Is this permissive trend for people’s good? Will it really help to make life, person and property more secure? Is it reasonable to think that, so long as your actions do not physically harm another or affect his property, what you do does not really matter?
No one can deny that governments and their law-enforcement agencies today are heavily pressured by a flood tide of violent crime and theft. And, in the end, they must themselves decide just what they can or cannot do as to enforcing certain standards of conduct and what things they feel need priority for the public interest. They admittedly face very thorny problems, and the past history of mankind gives them little encouragement as to success by political governments in promoting high morals.
But aside from what political governments feel forced to do by the circumstances, can permissiveness ever bring lastingly improved conditions? Or does it prove just a stopgap measure, one such as is resorted to in the face of impending defeat or even disaster?
Whatever apparent benefits permissiveness brings must be short-lived. Ignoring bad conditions will not make them go away. Nor does ‘turning a blind eye’ toward the many so-called “crimes without victims” give any real assurance that thereby crimes of violence or crimes against people’s property will be more easily contained.
When a man gambles and falls seriously into debt, where will he turn to make it up? It is a known fact that many gangster organizations operating “loan shark” businesses find a large portion of their customers among people who gamble themselves into debt. Many acts of embezzlement in banks and businesses result from the same source.
Making drugs available at a low price to addicts might free some of them from resorting to theft to pay for an expensive drug habit. But it gives no assurance that, while under the influence of such drugs, they would not commit irrational and harmful acts.
It is a proven fact that most violent assaults and murders take place—not among complete strangers—but among persons who know one another. Much violence stems from jealousies and disputes of passion. Would the lifting of more and more restraints on sexual immorality lessen or increase the atmosphere in which such violent ‘crimes of passion’ are spawned? Actually the one—the so-called “victimless crime”—is often parent to the other—the ‘crime with a victim.’
Yes, to focus attention so strongly on crimes having obvious “victims” ignores the root causes of those crimes. Just as laziness, for example, breeds poverty, and pride produces friction and disunity, so too with gambling, drunkenness, sexual immorality, pornography and obscenity; these things are not “self-contained” or “static.” (Prov. 24:30-34) They are almost invariably the seed of other kinds of wrongdoing. The Bible principle holds true that “whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh.” (Gal. 6:7, 8) To ignore this is to ignore the facts of life.
Some wrongs, such as murder, produce immediately visible results. Others are like a cancer that may have a slow, insidious, and, for a while, painless development. But the end results of such wrongs can be just as devastating as a homicidal attack. This can be true not only of individuals but of an entire society. As the apostle Paul succinctly stated: “A little leaven ferments the whole lump.” (1 Cor. 5:6) When moral fiber weakens, moral sickness is not far away.
What Personal Choice Can You Make?
Christians genuinely guided by the Bible will appreciate the extent to which human governments serve as “an avenger to express wrath upon the one practicing what is bad.” (Rom. 13:4, 5) But they will not expect the political governments of this world to bring a climate of spiritual health and morality. They are not equipped to do so, lacking knowledge and understanding of God’s Word and his purposes, as well as lacking the power to clean out corruption. Besides this, the interests of the political governments obviously lie in other directions. Only the replacement of political rule of earth by the rule of God’s Messianic kingdom will bring such a morally clean and healthful climate.—Dan. 2:44.
“Where there is no vision the people go unrestrained, but happy are they that are keeping the law,” says Proverbs 29:18. The hope of life in God’s new order of righteousness alone can give a clear and sure vision of the future. If we have faith in God’s promises, this will protect us from slipping into the course of unrestraint now growing among people of the world who have no sure vision or hope regarding the future. We will appreciate and apply the counsel at Proverbs 4:25-27:
“As for your eyes, straight ahead they should look, yes, your own beaming eyes should gaze straight in front of you. Smooth out the course of your foot, and may all your own ways be firmly established. Do not incline to the right hand or to the left. Remove your foot from what is bad.”
We will not be ‘taken in’ by the subtle argument that “anything goes just so long as you don’t hurt anyone,” or that so long as both parties to an action engage in it willingly there is “no victim.” Direct bodily injury is not the greatest harm one can suffer, nor is being robbed of material things the greatest loss. Injury to heart and mind and loss of reputation, honor, integrity and a good standing with God are of the most serious consequence, and produce the greatest damage.
Christ Jesus showed how vital it is to protect our hearts when he said: “The things proceeding out of the mouth come out of the heart, and those things defile a man. For example, out of the heart come wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornications, thieveries, false testimonies, blasphemies.” (Matt. 15:18, 19) If we defile ourselves or another by immoral practice, even though it be by mutual consent, we show either gross ignorance or a gross lack of neighbor love and concern, as well as a lack of love of God.—Rom. 13:8-10.
We are all imperfect creatures, prone to wrongdoing. But we do not help ourselves by catering to our human weaknesses or enticing others to give in to theirs. Human governments can never legislate righteousness into people’s hearts, true, but to give in to permissiveness can lead to moral anarchy.
You cannot stop the trend toward permissiveness that is growing in the world. But there is something you can do. You can help yourself and others by guarding your heart against being “hardened by the deceptive power of sin.” (Heb. 3:13) The hardening that leads to corruption does not come overnight. It is a deceptively gradual process that often has small beginnings. The only way to avoid slipping into its powerful grip is to hold to the standards of conduct found in God’s Word, letting its wisdom discipline us in righteousness.
Rather than feel shackled and cramped as to what you can do, such holding to divine discipline will give you a grand sense of freedom, freedom to do those things that bring true happiness in life. Yes, it will “cause you to tread in the tracks of uprightness. When you walk, your pace will not be cramped; and if you run, you will not stumble. Take hold on discipline; do not let go. Safeguard it, for it itself is your life.”—Prov. 4:11-13.
Jehovah’s witnesses have found this to be true. Visit one of their Kingdom Halls and experience the healthful moral climate that the strengthening and upbuilding principles of God’s Word can bring.
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A MAJOR CAUSE
“Senator John L. McClellan, who has spent many years investigating crime and corruption is quoted in the “U.S. News & World Report” as saying: “There seems to be a lack of proper respect and discipline in the home. And in the schools today there is certainly a great lack of discipline. And I think this is also true in the churches. In my judgment, some churches no longer demand a truly high standard of integrity and morality today. They don’t have the same ideals of Christian living that were observed and practiced in the past.”
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PERMISSIVENESS—ONLY IN THE WEST?
In an article that is largely favorable to the Soviet Union’s trading abilities, “The Atlantic” of December 1974 also comments: “Soviet executives admit privately to problems with their younger generation. One Soviet executive said he had to take a fourteen-year-old daughter out of school to get her married because of pregnancy. Others privately voice exasperation with the craze of their youngsters for Western rock, jeans, and hair, though drugs are not generally a problem. . . . But many executives cater to these whims of their young.”
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The modern generation asks: “Why should anyone try to impose a moral code on other people?”