Sunday, April 28, 2002

Sinning while we speed

A funny thing happened. It's Sunday. A few of us went for Chinese. To my surprise, this included out pastor. This wasn't bad - just unexpected, and naturally I ended up sitting next to him, and, of course, somehow I felt the urge to talk about my most recent philosophies on the "sinfulness of speeding."
I didn't go to much detail, but now I want to.

Here's my position in short. Legalism and morality are cousins, but not brothers. A moral thing may not always be legal, and a legal thing may not always be moral. Inversely, an immoral thing may not be illegal and an illegal thing may not be immoral. Moreover, the black and white nature of the law does not reflect the flexibility in moral choice.

Here's my example. The law says it is illegal to speed, but when you are speeding a sick child to the emergency room, it is not immoral. This means that there are reasons or conditions that can flex the moral position of a legal question.

Consider the law for speeding. It is illegal to speed because it is dangerous. It is dangerous you, but that is not the purpose of the law. The law is for the people around you; the law is intended to protect others' rights from the exercise of your own.

If you are cruising through a school zone where kids are unloading for their elementary school, you could reasonably pass a moral judgment on the "wrongness" of your breaking the law for speeding.

However, if you were in the middle of New Mexico where it is flat and you can see for miles in all directions that you are alone, speeding not only minimizes your separation from assistance, but also fails to threaten the safety of other drivers on the road. It would be a far greater stretch to cast a moral judgment against the latter situation.

This means that we are removing the moral element from an illegal act based on the degree to which the illegal act threatens people (including you).

Taken to the next level, we might be able to assert that a very skilled driver would need only a much smaller distance in order to similarly remain unthreatening. Moreover, an even more skilled driver might be able to reasonably speed with only a quarter mile of highway in front of him - even with some other cars sharing the same road.

Because of this line of logic, I believe that speeding is not necessarily a sinful thing. I could never really argue that it is a legal thing, and contrasting a moral thing - it is simply not an immoral thing.

However, this cannot be left at that. Speeding, like all things, bears responsibility. Caution and wisdom are not something that can be discounted. An error in judgment can be positioned as a moral wrong. Moreover, presumption in judgment can be even greater a moral wrong.

Overestimating your skill, underestimating your counterparts, or just being wrong about the landscape of the decision still bears with it the full brunt of responsibility. Though the decision may not be morally wrong, it can bear moral consequences.

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