Opinion: Public opinion is a poor moral guide

April 1, 2013


“If there is anything that links the human to the divine, it is the courage to stand by a principle when everybody else rejects it.”

— Abraham Lincoln

History is full of warnings about what happens when people follow public opinion instead of standing by their principles. In its most extreme manifestation, public opinion might well become mob rule when vigilantes take the law into their own hands.

Major media have whipped the crowd into its latest frenzy over same-sex marriage, or should I say “marriage equality,” the latest euphemism, likely intended to make the masses more accepting of what was once unacceptable. And the masses, which increasingly answer “none” when asked about any religious affiliation or moral code, appear ready for it. The U.S. Supreme Court, not the Supreme Judge, now rules supreme.

But there are consequences for living as one pleases. Look at the fallout that our culture continues to experience from the ‘60s generation and its throwing off of the ideals and structures of mainstream society. The “Age of Aquarius,” and its countercultural revolution, has given way to an increase in drug use, no-fault divorce, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births and abortion. Everything’s fair game. Nothing’s off limits. Anything goes.

Now, we are about to witness the latest cultural domino to fall. Imagine states without boundaries and speed without limits. What same-sex marriage proponents seem to be asking the court to do is to remove ancient boundary lines for human relationships based on what they wish to do. That opens the door to anything and everything else, depending on how well organized they are and what political clout they can muster.

Personal experience, like that of Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who announced recently that his son is gay, is now supposed to trump scripture and the will of California voters? While most politicians take their oaths of office on the Bible, many of them prove by their actions that they don’t believe, or follow, what’s in it. Better they should place their hands on Rolling Stone or People magazines, which more accurately reflect the direction and attitude of contemporary culture. Perhaps Kim Kardashian should decide where the country stands on same-sex marriage?

It’s when individuals, not God, become the standard by which truth and right and wrong are judged that we get a Supreme Court deciding our ultimate direction.

Some liberals believe the Constitution is a “living” document that must constantly evolve to fit the times. It is not. Some liberal theologians believe the same about the scriptures. They believe these, too, must evolve, because serving God is no longer the standard; serving Man is.

Suzanne Collins, author of “The Hunger Games” trilogy has observed: “...collective thinking is usually short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.”

In his 1882 play, “An Enemy of the People,” Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen wrote, “Public opinion is an extremely mutable thing.”

Indeed it is, and the fickle public, relying on the opinion of others, instead of eternal truths, to shape beliefs, is treading on very thin ice that has already begun to crack.

Following public opinion can and usually does, lead to moral, social and political anarchy. I give you the Roman Empire and the ancient city of Corinth, in the event that anything about history and how it can repeat itself, absent immutable principles, is being adequately taught in schools today.

— Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.


Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 11 months ago

"Some liberals believe the Constitution is a “living” document that must constantly evolve to fit the times. It is not."

The author has forgotten that the Constitution has a mechanism called a Constitutional Amendment that allows it to change to fit the needs of a changing society. For instance, women can now vote, even!

"Some liberal theologians believe the same about the scriptures. They believe these, too, must evolve,"

Religious thought on what the Bible really means has changed a great deal over the last few thousand years. It is true that some are still literalists, but many more today believe that the Bible is full of allegorical stories that illustrate the human condition, and our relationship to the divine, but not in a literal way. Of course, opinions on that matter differ a great deal.

UneasyRider 4 years, 11 months ago

Public opinion is a much better moral guide than Cal's mythical "god". Cal can't accept simple fact that not everyone believes as he does.

Tim Quest 4 years, 11 months ago

Awesome. Cal Thomas just argued AGAINST constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and is probably too blinded by bigotry to notice.

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, there are too many oddities in here to cover them all, but...

"Anything goes" was written by Cole Porter in the 1930's, which is ironic, given that it precedes Thomas' ideal '50's society.

Also, in one breath, he argues that public opinion is a bad guide for these issues, but in the other, that the "will of the voters" is a good one - what's the difference between those two things exactly?

There were positive and negative attributes before and after the '60's - with more freedom you generally get the possibility of bad choices.

Paul R Getto 4 years, 11 months ago

Some liberals believe the Constitution is a “living” document that must constantly evolve to fit the times. It is not. Some liberal theologians believe the same about the scriptures. They believe these, too, must evolve, because serving God is no longer the standard; serving Man is.

Of course it is. Otherwise blacks would still be slaves and women couldn't vote. Relax, Cal. No one will make you marry a man. PS. The "bible" has been amended too over time, mainly for political reasons.

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 11 months ago

Kansas is one of a handful of states squealing for a Constitutional convention. Ironic, no?

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 11 months ago

Cait, I would appreciate it if you could find a synonym for squealing. Thanks.

fiddleback 4 years, 11 months ago

LJW, why do you run this guy's opinions when they so clearly cease to make sense beyond basic grammatical proficiency? Moreover, why does any paper or website give this simpleton a platform? His is by far the most convoluted op-ed writing I've ever laid eyes upon.

So Cal wants to hold aloft the public opinion of the ancient world, a.k.a. the Bible, which condones slavery, gender inequality, draconian punishment systems, and condemns homosexuality. He can't admit that such enshrined bigotry was written by men, not God, and thus is really just calcified groupthink, whereas our current groupthink is very belatedly becoming more tolerant.

In complete denial of the Bible's having plenty of manipulative, fallible cooks in its kitchen, Cal offers up another tired tirade against modernism, spouting every lazy slippery slope argument that's handy, unable to make any cogent arguments for how gay couples receiving equal benefits actually destabilizes our society in the least. It's as half-hearted and half-witted as an old man muttering at those up-to-no-good kids from his porch.

Come on, LJW, Will and Krauthammer are facile enough; Cal Thomas' rubbish is even more feeble, getting by with only the most superficial coherence. Do your rag's reputation a favor and chuck this chaff.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 11 months ago

Thomas is syndicated by Tribune Media Services and individual papers decided whether or not to buy his column, so I suspect that LJW has a contract which must be honored. Also there might be enough conservatives who read the paper to justify printing all sides.

fiddleback 4 years, 11 months ago

Yes, LJW presumably has a contract that likely hasn't been scrutinized since back in the day when Dolph Sr. chuckled to himself, "This young upstart Cal Thomas sure does tell it like it is!"

My point is that Thomas doesn't actually offer another coherent "side" to consider, certainly nothing beyond what the other pseudo-intellectuals Will and Krauthammer excrete every week. And who does LJW offer on the liberal side besides Pitts?

If Dolph really cared about balance, he'd replace Thomas with a moderate liberal instead of offering 3 near-identical flavors of crotchety old man bile.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 11 months ago

Cal, oh Cal....come down from the tree and hear some realities.

There is not a "God", at least in the form that many of today's "religions" couch him. The Bible was written by a commitee in 1611 by the order of the King of England (James the first, hence, the "King James" version....get it??) The "Holy" Bible was written, every word of it, by men..

There is no old man sitting on a cloud passing out blessings and lightening bolts

. There IS a divine power that creatred the Universe, but no human can say that they know what or who "he", "she" or "it" is. Anyone who proclaims to talk to "God" is a liar trying to get to your wallet.

Now that is NOT to say that there is not a great deal of valuable information and adivce in the Holy Bible, but to use it as a hammer to beat up your political enemies,... werll it just doesn't hold water

And homosexuality is not a disease as some religions idiots like yourself seem to believe and your sense of "morality" is just your bigotry and prejudice speaking ..

Get a chill pill and stop blathering.

Leslie Swearingen 4 years, 11 months ago

Wrong, wrong, wrong, the Bible is comprised of writings that go back a thousand years. I can assure you that it was not wrote in 1611. There was a lot of controversy among both Catholics and Protestants as to which books should be included in their Bibles.

I do understand that you wrote this in a moment of white anger, and you most assuredly do have the right to believe and write what you choose, but I would appreciate it if you took another way besides simply belittling those with whom you disagree.

Thank you.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 11 months ago

"before we had a civilized society" - When in the course of human history has there been a civilized society?

fiddleback 4 years, 11 months ago

"the Bible is comprised of writings that go back a thousand years." Yes, but interestingly, even the oldest versions of the gospels date back to nearly a century after the crucifixion, so it's still a huge game of telephone.

The King James was indeed compiled and edited in 1611, even if most of the content was written previously...I do understand that you wrote this in a moment of white anger, but I would appreciate it if you didn't take exception and needless umbrage based on the difference between the verbs "was written" vs. "was compiled"...

Thank you.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 11 months ago

Right, right,right!!

The Council of Hampton Court was conveined by King James to create a bible that would agree with the teachings of the Church of England. Also, to agree with the teadhings of the head of the Church of England, who was King James.

Council members of this august body were well aware that they should comply exactly with the king's directives or suffer the consequences of having your head cut off.

The King James buble contains many ancient scriptures, but ONLY those that comply with the motives of the King of England in 1611.

In_God_we_trust 4 years, 11 months ago

"It’s when individuals, not God, become the standard by which truth and right and wrong are judged that we get a Supreme Court deciding our ultimate direction."

A very well written article. It is very refreshing to hear the truth, instead of the usual hype from the media that the ungodly gravitate towards, as evidenced by the usual liberal / anti-Christ response. It is good to hear an article that still respects God's Word and boldly proclaims it's great and wonderful integrity.

In_God_we_trust 4 years, 11 months ago

Christians (those that accept Jesus sacrifice for their sins) have the record of Jesus the Son of God, and have already become perfectly acceptable to God. "The law was not made for a righteous man." However, those that refuse Jesus, only have their own performance compared to the perfection of God's law to rely on for justification. It's your choice.

jafs 4 years, 11 months ago

Not at all true.

Recent polls have shown a majority in favor of same sex marriage - DOMA was passed in 1996.

Pastor_Bedtime 4 years, 11 months ago

Frustrated theocrats would be well served watching The History Channel's Banned Books of the Bible for another perspective on the origination of the texts they love to take literally ~ but only when it fits their needs. And proclaiming moral superiority over others, while attempting to force your scripture on the nation, will help assure the continued marginalization of the Republican Party in the years to come. The era of marriage inequality is done ~ even O'Reilly and Rush admit this to be the case, as the nation grows to reject the bigotry so entwined in your faith.

Pastor_Bedtime 4 years, 11 months ago

I'll be glad to address any specific issues you have with the content of the series, which includes perspectives from a wide range of Biblical Scholars who are far more versed than you or I on the topic. I'd venture that only a small fraction of "Biblical literalists" in our nation could pass a simple test as to the origin, the editing and the expurgation that their beloved text has undergone by those with political agendas. But they won't let that stand in the way of attempting to force their faith's agenda on others, and for that reason they will most certainly fail.

In_God_we_trust 4 years, 11 months ago

The Bible is the Word of God. Perhaps this video will help with your search and be a better source of the background of the Bible. http://youtu.be/HRemWMIy2IY

Pastor_Bedtime 4 years, 11 months ago

Which bible? Which god? Biblical literalists who hang on every single word of their expurgated, edited text (modified by men as political agendas demanded ~ and this is a fact) as sanctified dismiss any other perspectives, because it threatens the entire house of cards they've built. Your heresy is another's truth, and in no way should your text dictate our path as a nation. I'll tolerate your beliefs only when you refrain from applying them to others and to our nation, as you biblical literalists are but a small minority. I see your link is a response to the clearly evil "Harry Potter" series ~ good luck in steamrolling that viewpoint. The Taliban would probably agree.

Fred Whitehead Jr. 4 years, 11 months ago

Hear, Hear!! Amen! (sorry!)

But why did you have to mention the brothers Nazi in your post? They are non-existant in any reasonable discourse or doscussion.

voevoda 4 years, 11 months ago

Odd that Cal Thomas would argue so vociferously against our Constitution. Our Constitution enshrines the primacy of "popular opinion" in determining policy: popular vote and majority rule. To be sure, the Constitution also lays down certain basics that even a majority vote cannot override. But the Constitution doesn't say a single word about most of the things that Cal Thomas is so exercised about: "drug use, no-fault divorce, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births and abortion." The Ten Commandments don't say anything about these things, either. And in fact, except for the New Testament's prohibition on all divorce, with fault or without fault, the Bible doesn't speak to these issues, either. So I'm not sure which Constitution and which Bible Cal Thomas is reading.

bevy 4 years, 11 months ago

The New Testament does allow for divorce in cases of adultery.

voevoda 4 years, 11 months ago

It depends upon how you interpret the passages in the New Testament, bevy. Mark 10 prohibits divorce completely, and 1 Corinthians 7 strongly discourages even separation--that is, living apart without any possibility of marrying someone else. Only Matthew 19 leaves open the possibility of divorce for a single cause, the wife's adultery. The Roman Catholic Church takes its stance on divorce--not permitted at all, except for the purpose of taking monastic vows--by privileging the passage in Mark over the one in Matthew. If I am not mistaken, Cal Thomas identifies as a Catholic.

tomatogrower 4 years, 11 months ago

"Some liberal theologians believe the same about the scriptures. They believe these, too, must evolve,"

Cal Thomas is an old testament Christian, which means he really isn't a Christian. He spouts crud from the old testament that was the way things were done, until Jesus came along. Maybe he should stop worshipping the death of Jesus, and start trying to live his life like Jesus. What a jerk. Jesus was a liberal, who wanted to change things.

Armstrong 4 years, 11 months ago

"Public opinion is a poor moral guide." Nowhere is that statement proven better then this site"

Cait McKnelly 4 years, 11 months ago

Well, government is a even poorer guide. HB2253 passed Senate approval today, which mandates telling known falsehoods to pregnant women that are aborting. It certainly puts the lie to that old saying, "truth in government".
On the other hand, as far as I know there is nothing that says a doctor can't say, "The state says I HAVE to tell you this but it's a lie."
I seriously hope it goes to court challenge.

juma 4 years, 11 months ago

I wonder Mr.Holzwarth if the Biblical belief that the Jews should have what is now Israel could also have a 'modern' interpretation??

scaramouchepart2 4 years, 11 months ago

Constitution states public opinion is what makes this country. Government by the people. It is the lack or apathy of the people that hurts the republic. As apathy allows corporations to vote by the top money maker and not it's people will kill the country. Apathy that allows eveironmental damages, food chain strengths, I.e. endangered animals forced die off, constitutional rights beyond the bill of rights, laws more important than justice and on and on. Apathy not public involvement has a better chance of destroying this country. Should we be happy living in barracks working 10/12 hour days for pennies as Romney believes. Those who supported Romney better watch out. Unless you are entitled rich your business will fail because people will not be able to afford what you sell - product or service including insurance or banking. The heart and soul of this country is the people's will.

jayhawxrok 4 years, 11 months ago

If you want to live in a theocracy, move to Israel or Iran.

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