Every time there is some terrible crime committed or a horrific disaster, someone is sure to say “there oughta be a law” to prevent such mayhem from ever happening again. Governments are happy to oblige, but is there any evidence the laws are helping?
A poem that was often recited in the Christian school which my daughter attended was about the choice between a fence at the top of the cliff and an ambulance down in the valley. The following verse gives the essence of the moral taught by the poem.
Then an old man remarked, “it’s a marvel to me
that people give far more attention
to repairing results than to stopping the cause,
when they’d much better aim at prevention.
Let us stop at its source all this mischief,” cried he.
“Come neighbours and friends, let us rally:
If the cliff we will fence, we might almost dispense
with the ambulance down in the valley.”
– written by Joseph Malines, circa 1895
This all seemed to make sense at the time, but in later years I began to wonder what this poem was really teaching. My suspicions proved correct, this is a poem inspired by the social gospel and the temperance movement. The ambulance down in the valley is Christian rescue missions reaching out to the down and out, especially those brought low by alcohol abuse. The fence on the cliff represents prohibition of the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.
Well, prohibition was tried in the US. It did nothing to reduce the need for rescue missions. Legislators keep passing new laws every year to prevent people from falling off the cliff, yet somehow people still go tumbling down. What has happened is that Christian missions have fallen into some disrepute and the ambulances are not always available for those who need them.
The social gospel taught that it was a mistake to think of people as sinful, the real sin was in society and a benevolent government would make laws to eliminate the sinful machinations of capitalists and other evil forces in society, so that everyone would be free to live as Jesus taught us to live.
It was all a fantasy dreamt up by folks living in cloud cuckoo land. The Bible has man sized up as he really is: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Forget the fences, the world is in desperate need of more ambulances and ambulance attendants.