Ever since the debate between Patrick Devlin and John Stuart Mill in the nineteenth century, conservatives and liberals have been arguing over the proper role of law in society. Devlin thought that the function of law is to uphold the moral values of society. In contrast, Mill thought that using the law to enforce the values of society stifles the development of free individuality, which is the engine of human progress. For Mill, the only function of law is to prevent harm to others. Individuals should have freedom of thought, speech, and conscience, so they may conduct their private lives as they see fit, without interference from the state. This is not to deny that there are private vices such as drunkenness, adultery, and prostitution. However, the state has a right to interfere only when these activities harm the interests of others—such as drinking and driving or luring minors into prostitution. Where consenting adults are concerned, the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. The debate between Devlin and Mill is still at the heart of the culture wars of our time—but something has changed. Modern liberalism is mimicking—not only conservatism—but also Christianity.
What sets Christianity apart from Judaism and Islam is that it is not satisfied with conformity of conduct with God’s law. It insists that believers conform to the law internally in their hearts. When the Christians re-conquered Spain in 1492, Jews had to convert to Christianity or leave the Iberian Peninsula where they had lived in peace for generations. Those who did not wish to leave converted, but the new Christians, or conversos, were regarded with so much suspicion that the Spanish Inquisition was established to determine if some of them were Jewish at heart. Even though they were baptized, went to Church, took Holy Communion, and did all the things good Christians are supposed to do, they were accused of Judaizing, or being secretly Jewish, and brought before the Inquisition with tragic consequences.
When Pope Benedict XVI tried to prohibit gays from entering the priesthood in 2005, he was not outlawing homosexual acts, which are outlawed along with all other sexual acts for a celibate priesthood. His edict was intended to prevent men with a homosexual “orientation” from entering the priesthood. It was directed at the homosexual disposition or state of mind.