THE minds of religious people are naturally shocked at any exhibition of what they regard as a sin; and under the influence of this shock they are prone to forget the important distinction that is to be maintained between sin and crime. A failure to observe or to respect this distinction leads to very serious results.
Religious people are shocked alike at exhibitions of both sin and crime. And there are some sins which occasion a greater shock to the sensibilities of such people than do many serious crimes. To the mind trained to revere the name of God, it is as shocking to hear the street urchin shouting profanity as it is to see him appropriating an article which does not belong to him. A mock celebration of the “Lord’s Supper,” by some persons who wished to make sport of it, would be quite as distressing a sight to Christian people as an exhibition of assault and battery. But would the one thing be therefore as properly a subject of legislation as the other?
It is very distressing to some good people to witness “Sabbath desecration.” And it distresses them for precisely the same reason that a mockery of religion would distress them. On their way to church of a Sunday morning, it may be, they pass a group of boys indulging in a noisy game of baseball. On any other day nothing more would be seen in this than an exhibition of healthy, innocent sport; but being Sunday,—the day which they regard as the holy Sabbath—the sight gives them a painful shock, and they naturally feel that Sunday baseball ought to be suppressed by law.
Now it is for religious reasons that these good people are shocked at the sight of a Sunday ball game, and it is a fact that whatever is wrong for religious reasons, is a sin. What these good people really ask, therefore, is that the civil law shall forbid a thing because it is a sin. But it is certainly true that while good people are greatly shocked at some sins, they are but little disturbed by others which are quite as bad. A sin is to be viewed in the light of righteousness,—not the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, but the righteousness of God. Is Sabbath desecration any worse in the sight of God than covetousness, or idolatry, or pride? Is the self-sufficient person who scorns the gospel offer of salvation, or the proud church member who refuses to humble himself as the Scriptures enjoin, less guilty in the sight of God,—in other words, less guilty as a sinner—than is the youth who desecrates the Sabbath? Is the one sin to be passed over while the other is punished?
From the Word of God it is plain that Sabbath-keeping is a spiritual matter, and that mere cessation of work on the Sabbath day does not satisfy the requirements of God’s law. They who worship God acceptably must worship him in spirit and in truth; and the proud or covetous person, or any person who is not truly a Christian, cannot keep the Sabbath, and is just as guilty of Sabbath desecration in God’s sight, even though he may go through all the forms of worship, as is the ball player who spends the Sabbath in recreation.
Considered as a sin, therefore, it is altogether inconsistent and improper to demand that Sunday baseball be suppressed by law. It must be dealt with, is at all, as a crime. But it is not a crime, because, considered apart from religion, it would not be condemned as wrong.
A wound to our sensibilities may be felt as keenly as wound a wound to our bodies, or even more so; but this fact cannot justify the civil law in undertaking to guard our sensibilities against injury. Our training and education in religion may have been faulty. The heathen is trained to reverence his idols, and would be greatly shocked at an application to them of the doctrines of Christianity. The devout Catholic might easily be shocked at the actions of the consistent Protestant; and the good Protestant who has looked with horror on a game of Sunday baseball, may, by changing his religious views so as to regard the seventh day as the Sabbath, arrive at a condition where he would pass an exhibition of Sunday ball without any shock whatever.
Very little intellectual progress has been made in the world without a shock to some person’s ideas and sensibilities. To say that these ought to be protected by law, would be to disregard alike the lessons of history and the dictates of reason.
God deals with sin. He alone understands sin perfectly and is competent to deal with it justly and effectively. Crime is a different thing. The law of man cannot properly take any cognizance of the question whether a thing is right or wrong or not it is sinful; and must be left to another and higher authority than that of man. Crime must be based upon a different ground,—that of the right of every individual to liberty in the pursuit of whatever he may deem essential to his welfare. And the individual rights of all being equal, the rights of one cannot interfere with the rights of another. “To preserve these rights, governments are instituted among men;” and this alone is the province of the civil law.