The moral life aims at happiness, but by happiness Aristotle doesn’t mean what the utilitarians mean—maximizing the balance of pleasure over pain. The virtuous person is someone who takes pleasure and pain in the right things. If someone takes pleasure in watching dog fights, for example, we consider this a vice to be overcome, not a true source of happiness. Moral excellence does not consist in aggregating pleasures and pains but in aligning them, so that we delight in noble things and take pain in base ones. Happiness is not a state of mind but a way of being. . . . But why is it necessary to live in a polis to live a virtuous life? Why can’t we learn sound moral principles at home, or in a philosophy class, or by reading a book on ethics—and then apply them as needed? Aristotle says we don’t become virtuous that way. ‘Moral virtue comes about as a result of habit.’ It’s the kind of thing we learn by doing. ‘The virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well.’ . . . If moral virtue is something we learn by doing, we have somehow to develop the right habits in the first place. For Aristotle, this is the primary purpose of law—to cultivate the habits that lead to good character. ‘Legislators make the citizens good by forming habits in them, and this is the wish of every legislator, and those who do not effect it miss their mark, and it is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one.
According to Calvin, the law of God—as well as human statue law, when it is well modeled on the law of God—functions in three ways: (1) as a mirror, because by exhibiting God’s standard of righteousness, it makes fallen humans aware of their sins and imperfections,; (2) as a curb, because it restrains the unregenerate through fear of penalties; and (3) as a teacher, because it instructs the regenerate in the requirements of sanctity [drawing on Institutes, 2.7.6-12]. . . . According to Calvin, the first use of the law—as a mirror—has two branches. In the first branch, the mirror of the law accuses sinners so that when God at last condemns them, they cannot claim ignorance of the standard by which they are judged. . . . But in the second branch, the mirror of the law prompts sinners to flee to the refuge of God’s grace. . . . If the second branch of the first use is real, then statue law that is well modeled on God’s law ought to serve the same use today . . . . The purer the laws, the more vividly citizens might conceive the ideal of justice; the more vividly they conceive it, the more sharply they might feel their sin; the more sharply they fell their sin, the more deeply they might long for the One who can do for them what government never can.
Budziszewski acknowledges however that "the vision of their sins in the mirror of the law" may lead to "enraging others so that they desire to transgress even more" (drawing on Institutes, 2.7.7).
J. Budziszewski, Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 48-49, 50, n. 37. (See review)
Some American states, not to mention Canadian courts, have legalized ‘marriage’ between homosexuals. Most Western democracies run or sanction large gambling establishments. Confessional Catholics and Protestants alike will be displeased with the former, and confessional Protestants will be displeased with the latter. Their own liberties are not curtailed by such legislation or judicial decisions, of course: they are not forced (at least, not yet!) to sanction homosexual marriage or to gamble. But many Christians will see such steps not only as contrary to the ‘norming norm’ of Scripture but also as deeply harmful to society. Whether they think the harm comes in the social categories of deteriorating families and desperate addictions and bankruptcies, or in the theological category of the threat of God’s wrath on the nation, or some combination of the two, they feel morally constrained, not only out of loyalty to God but out of concern for the nation, to influence policy in another direction. In other words, we would prefer to se laws in place that forbid certain conduct because we are convicted that such conduct is bad—bad both theologically and socially. Secularists will view this as religious meddling; we view it as the entailment of love for our neighbor and as inescapably tied to our confession that Jesus is Lord. Secularists may well view Christian political efforts along these lines as frightening examples of theocracy; Christians may well view secularist rhetoric as an attempt to stifle Christian efforts to pass laws they judge to be moral—indeed, as a sign of desperate moral decay that does not care for the well-being of the nation, let alone for the glory of God.
It is unclear how far such polarities can go without democracy itself changing its shape. Indeed, most efforts to point the way forward implicitly adopt either a Christian or a secularist stance.
Many countries have laws that its citizens know will be broken. A recent controversial example would be that of the torture of terrorist suspects. This led some in the USA to suggest that it might be desirable to change the law. Should torture be legalized and this subject to regulation? Or should it be kept illegal, even though it is tacitly understood that the law will on occasion be broken? Both arguments have a certain power, but my own // instincts incline me to the latter position for the simple reason that laws represent in part the moral aspirations of a given society. Nobody, for example, believes that outlawing abortion will stop abortion; but many of us would wish to live in a society where the statue book represent our aspiration to be an abortion-free society. That is one reason we want it to be illegal: laws set before us a vision of the kind of society we would like to see realized.
Carl R. Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 177-178
This does not mean that Christians ought to push for erecting a Christian utopia or theocracy. Indeed, they ought not do so. Jesus notes that even God, as the divine Legislator, took into account the hardness of Israel’s hearts when legislating the Mosaic law (Matt. 19:8). As already noted above, the law can enrage sinners so that they press for their sin all the more. In addition, Carson notes that Paul distinguishes between the kind of holiness that may be pressed for with the church, and enforced by church discipline, and public morality. Paul’s focus is firmly placed on the former (Christ and Culture Revisited, 165). Furthermore, Aristotle’s view of the law as a habit-forming tool falls short of Christian obedience, which includes not only actions abut also affections. Nonetheless, a nation’s laws are not morally neutral. Laws will reflect a moral vision, and Christians should press, as they have ability and with prudence, laws promote the biblical vision of righteousness.