Friday, March 9, 2012

What's Law Got to Do With It?



  • My last post was about a conversation I was having on Facebook, trying to explain why we don't follow Dt. 22:13-21 by stoning non-virgin brides. On the original Facebook discussion, one of the interlocutors (not the person who originally posted) responded with the following:

    So what you're saying, Casey, is that Humanity is now mature enough that your god and he alone can dole out punishment for sins? So, I guess that means that Man should stop wasting time making laws about things that are not in our realm to punish or reward. Hmmm. Thanks for backing up our entire argument and wholly negating the entire religious right all at the same time.
    Reading this, I could see that we were coming with different preconceived notions of what human law is, and what the Church's role is with regard to human law, so I responded with the following. Again, if anyone out there has a clearer understanding of human law and the role of the Church, please feel free to help me out.

    Picture found at: www.canonlaw.info
    Response:

    I was not arguing in favor of anarchy--the lack of human law and punishment. I can see how you might jump to this conclusion if the discussion ended at "God no longer allows humans to give those punishments anymore." I should have been more specific in stating that God doesn't put that in the Church's lap. The Church has certain Church laws for Her members, but She has never asked to be the arbiter of civil punishments. Civil laws are in the care of the civil government. The Church only asks that She and her members (including 1/4 of the US population) be treated fairly.

    Please accept this as an explanation from a Catholic perspective. You may not agree with all of my statements, but if you hear me out, I hope it will help you understand our viewpoint:

    We must consider what the purpose of human law is. Human law is an attempt to codify the natural law--to push people away from vice and toward virtue. God has given governments the authority to enact laws for just this purpose. Enabling people to live at their highest potentials of goodness, truth, justice, etc. Forming truly GOOD citizens is their aim. The ultimate goal of these laws is to draw people closer in their relationships with God (the source of all perfections: Existence, Goodness, Truth, Happiness, Beauty, Love, etc.).

    Law, therefore, is actually a movement toward God. Who wouldn't want to be united to Goodness Itself? For the sake of an example, imagine every piece of goodness you've ever felt--every happy emotion, every good feeling, every joy felt resting in the delight of an attained good. Combine together every single bit of goodness you've ever experienced, and multiply that by infinity. That's one INSTANT in the direct presence of Goodness Itself (God). That's what we call "Heaven." Heaven lasts forever--an unending satiation of infinite Goodness. THAT is what we're made for.

    To go there, we must be conformed to Love (because God is Love Itself--for a little background, see Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical on love). To be conformed to love is to have our priorities in line: 1) to recognize God as the source of all existence, life, love, goodness, happiness, truth, beauty, etc. 2) to conform ourselves to Goodness, and 3) to work so that as many other people make it to this state of supreme bliss as possible. That (if you will pardon the pun) is true love--to desire the ultimate eternal best for other people.

    Now you see, true love is not just warm, fuzzy feelings about other people; it is a sacrifice that we make to help others reach that complete perfect union with Goodness Itself in Heaven. Too often people speak of love as though it just means having good thoughts about someone, or physically assisting someone. That is not necessarily love--it CAN be, but it is not a given.

    To properly love others, we must first be able to recognize the finish line: Goodness. God is Goodness Itself, therefore Goodness is both objective and personal. It is personal in that the goal is a Person (actually 3 Persons in 1 God, but that's for another discussion). It is objective because there are actions that will objectively draw us closer in our relationship with God and actions that will move us farther from Him (just like in our relationships with humans--certain things make our relationships deeper and certain things stress our relationships). Everyone is in a state of flux (again, just like all of our relationships) until he/she dies. Death seals the person's relationship (if you will, the person's "decision" for or against objective Goodness).

    We draw closer in our relationship with God through virtue--doing what is good, avoiding what is evil. We push farther away from God through vice--acquiescing to what is evil, almost always by placing lower goods above higher goods. People almost never do what is bad because they think it's bad; rather, they hold up what is a lower good (like pleasure, comfort, etc.) to be above a higher good (justice, charity, etc.). Sometimes, there are things that people think are good, but they really aren't. This is a place where we deviate from modern society. Modern society is often relativistic. It sees goodness as subjective--"I determine what's good for me." Relativism says there is only one objective truth: "there is no objective truth." Of course, we can see that as a self-defeating statement. We need to look beyond ourselves (which often tend toward selfishness, or at least justification of our bad actions). We need to seek out REAL Goodness. The more we do, the more we are able to see the fullness of Truth, Goodness, Beauty, etc.

    Getting back on topic: law is there to push us in the direction that will most conform us to being truly good people--not just good as we define for ourselves. Laws are supposed to push man to pursue excellence. God has given man civil leaders to enact these laws and create punishments that justly redress any wrongs caused by breaking the law, and attempt to conform the law-breakers back toward Goodness.

    What part does the Church play? With regard to civil laws, the Church plays the part of a beacon (a clarion call, an informer). She proposes to all societies and governments the way of Goodness. She hands on the teachings as they have been handed on to Her. She doesn't conform Her teachings about Goodness to fit any particular society. She hands it on how God gave it to Her. She doesn't impose--she doesn't make the laws, but She proposes-- She reminds the governments of what is true, good, beautiful, etc.

    The First Amendment does not call for a freedom FROM religion; rather, it calls for a freedom OF religion. That is; it allows people to be religious and live how their religion lives, but it prevents the government from making an official state religion. It does NOT prevent the government from listening to the Church to gain wisdom about Goodness and the best ways to conform laws toward that goodness. It does, however, prevent the unjust discrimination against religions.

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