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When I became a Christian, I learned a happy truth that I previously had not quite believed: Morality is a matter of fact, not opinion. Correct moral rules are established by God, not by man. They are not human constructs, but facts that God has revealed about himself and his order for the world.

Christians often disagree with each other over the right answer to tough moral questions, but the dispute is in a sense empirical: either God commands A or God commands B. The disputants might both be wrong, but they cannot both be right.

A couple of years ago, I made this point in a talk I delivered to an audience of Episcopalians, fellow members of my own denomination (at least for the moment). During the question-and-answer session, a woman asked me whether I think God has only one will with respect to abortion. I repeated my point: God has only one will with respect to every moral question. She went away unsatisfied, never even asking me what I thought God's single will on abortion is.

Her unhappiness was not surprising, because America is more and more a nation that hates rules. The dominant American culture looks at life as a seamless web of choices, and the only form of wrongdoing the culture is willing to acknowledge is the wrong of interfering with somebody else's freedom to choose. When it comes to matters of sex and reproduction, the cultural message is aggressive almost to the point of tyranny.

To the devout Christian, such a theory of life offers a gruel so thin it would likely lead to spiritual starvation. The Bible commands us to be holy as well as righteous. God places restrictions on our freedom that are quite independent of the effect of our acts on others.

This distinction between ways of looking at the moral world ...

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Civil Reactions
Stephen Carter is the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University. He is the author of The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln (2012), The Violence of Peace, The Emperor of Ocean Park, and many other books. His column, "Civil Reactions," ran from 2001 until 2007.
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In the Magazine

September 3, 2001

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