The Wages of Sin

It seems almost incredible that within the same week, two of the most enduring icons of our age, baseball great Mickey Mantle and rocker Jerry Garcia, have died. In both cases, death was served up prematurely on the platter of substance abuse. Alcohol killed Mickey Mantle, and a long-term addiction to hard-core drugs killed rock star Jerry Garcia. Apart from the personal, family grief each death caused, the passing of these remarkable men provides an arresting lesson for the American people—in particular, for the children of the sixties. That the wages of sin really is death—that unfettered personal liberty has very real personal consequences. But the deaths of Garcia and Mantle also remind us that the relentless pursuit of personal freedom also has public consequences. This point is illustrated by the fact that during the very week Garcia and Mantle died, Thomas Constantine, head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, told a Senate committee that Mexican drug smugglers could soon displace Colombia as the leading supplier to U.S. markets. "If that happens," Constantine warned, "life as we know it in . . . the United States . . . will change dramatically." That's because our border with Mexico makes it easier to smuggle drugs into the U.S. and, theoretically, will drive down their cost to consumers. This will lead not only to increased drug use but to greater government restrictions as well—restrictions that will be imposed evenhandedly on all of us. For example, ordinary, law-abiding citizens are already forced to undergo humiliating forms of drug testing as a condition of employment. And public housing residents are asked to submit to random police searches because some residents violate drug laws. The same erosion of rights occurs whenever enough citizens decide to break any law. For example, at our nation's airports, the acts of an irresponsible few—drug traffickers, hijackers and terrorists—mean that security guards go digging through your luggage and mine. And thanks to citizens who abuse alcohol, all of us have to put up with the inconvenience of roadblocks erected to snare drunk drivers. What's at work here is something I refer to as Colson's Law: If you throw away the Bibles, it's time to start polishing the bayonets. As social scientist James Q. Wilson put it, there are only two restraints on behavior: The first is morality, enforced by individual conscience or social rebuke. The second is law, enforced by the police and the courts. And, Wilson adds, when internal restraints disintegrate, the heavy hand of the law must come down ever harder—even to the point of trampling on basic civil rights. The result is that whenever citizens go jaunting off on quests of unbridled personal liberty, they drag the rest of us a little further down the road to tyranny. The early deaths of Mickey Mantle and Jerry Garcia are a wake-up call to millions of Baby Boomers who think their generation is indestructible—that if it feels good, you ought to do it, because the wages of sin will never have to be paid. But it's also a cautionary tale for all Americans: The abuse of personal liberty could ultimately lead to a loss of public liberty for us all.


Chuck Colson



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