Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What if Law =/= Morality?

    So this post is partially inspired by an essay I just turned in on Shakespeare's Richard III. (Sidenote: while I'm aware of the play's historical inaccuracies and I'm actually inclined to take a sympathetic view of the historical Richard III, I'm dealing completely within the realm of Shakespeare's world here).
     Technically, towards the end of the play, Henry Tudor commits treason by revolting against King Richard. At the same time, Richard has unrepentantly murdered children and his friends and brother, and so Henry's revolt is seen in a redeeming light, and rightfully so. Yes, he broke the law. But there was something more important at stake, was there not? People were at stake.
    In Nazi Germany, people broke the law and lied to hide their Jewish friends. And we cheer them as heroes, again, rightfully so. Time and time again, throughout history, many of our heroes went against the because there were people at stake under the law.
    Even in the Bible, Rahab lies to hide the Israelite spies, who probably would have been executed if caught. I remember being taken aback the first time I heard a pastor say that she was wrong to lie, but that it was understandable since she barely knew God then. I'd always figured that, given the circumstances, she'd been right to lie because she was saving the lives of two people who happened to serve God (another sidenote: the Israelite's massacre of the people of Jericho is a matter I'm not addressing here, because I have no idea what to make of that).
    But, anyways, he was a pastor, so I figured he was right: Rahab just should have trusted God, told the truth, and it all would have worked out. And, I mean, I've heard stories in which people did exactly that, and God apparently did protect them. For instance, a woman in Nazi Germany tells the Nazis' she's hiding Jews under her table, and in fact there was a trapdoor there, but the officer just thought she was insane. Or a man told a patrol he was carrying Bibles, and the officer simply laughed at him.
    Still, I'm not sure I believe this is the best way anymore. It seems akin to handling snakes in your worship service - and I'm sure most of us heard about that tragedy last week.
    After all, didn't Jesus himself say the first commandment was to love God with all we have, and the next was to love people as ourselves? And, in a way, Rahab imitated Jesus then, by taking a sin on herself to keep others from death. Granted, Jesus didn't actually commit a sin, however.
    Yes, lies are false. But in these case, a lie was said to preserve the lives of people. Is the value of people, beloved and made in the image of God, not a truth in itself? Perhaps a truth more important than knowing where people are?
    I have no answers here. All I'm saying is, maybe strict adherence to the laws, so valued in many faith communities, isn't exactly how it's supposed to go.
    If you have thoughts or questions, please let me know. I'd really value other perspectives on this.


  1. I'm going to give this a really thoughtful reply, or attempt to, when I get home from work tomorrow. Just drop me a reminder! I have to go to bed soon and I fear that I wouldn't get it typed out in time. :)

  2. Okay! I will remind you. Looking forward to your reply! :)

  3. Hey! In college I transcribed an incredibly respected professor of religion's analysis of the Rahab situation (the prof didn't teach at my college, by the way, and I can't recall his name but I can find out) and he pointed out that Rahab is called righteous because she hid the spies, and she HAD TO LIE to do it. He explained that by disobeying the letter of the law--do not bear false witness--Rahab was actually obeying the spirit of the law--love thy neighbor--by protecting the Israelites (who were technically her enemies) as her neighbors. Rahab was embodying Jesus' higher version of the law.

    1. Yeah, that's what I was thinking about.
      Also something my roommate mentioned, as loosely quoted from Martin Luther King, Jr. : "if you disagree with the law, break it righteously, but enough respect to know you'll face the consequences."
      So maybe Rahab was wrong to lie, but it was more* wrong not to?

    2. I'm horribly pleased there is a quote to go along with this train of thought! Granted, I'm far from religious but I can agree, a lie for the greater good is worth it; like, your example.
      Basically, in a nutshell, laws are there for a guidelines. Though, if laws are skewed, people have the right to break them, within reason.
      Questions, comments, concerns?

    3. I have been eagerly awaiting your comment. :)
      I think I agree with you. Laws are unfortunately necessary, but I think there are times when you ought to break them for reasons of morality, the greater good, etc. Although I'm not a philosopher, I think following the law might be a kind of morality/good, but I'm not sure it's the highest level of morality/goodness.
      (Me, the legalist, saying law isn't the final authority? Shock! There's hope after all! :P)