October 21st, 2005
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
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As a cultural anthropologist, I teach students about the importance
of legal systems in the development of a just and orderly society.
As ancient state societies emerged, systems of law and order accompanied
increasing levels of material wealth and social complexity. Law
enforcement systems were formed to protect legal rights and hierarchies
of judges and magistrates were designed to adjudicate disputes.
We can see in the world today that where there is no rule of law,
there is chaos and corruption. Democracies can not flourish without
legislative bodies to enact laws for the good of the entire society.
And whether we like it or not, most of us are “law-abiding
citizens” for our own good as much as for the good of others.
Here in the U.S., we are thankful to live in a society in which
we are all equal under the statutes of law.
But the Scripture lessons tell us there are other principles of
law that guide our lives and actions. A statute is a law enacted
by a legislative body. By general definition, a law is a rule of
conduct established and enforced by authority or custom as much
as by legislation. A St. Paul says to the Romans that he discovered
another principle of law. There is a law of human nature that makes
it difficult to do good because of the sin that dwells in us. Our
minds are captive to that sin, says Paul. Our problem with doing
evil even when we do not want to is a rule of conduct established
by the authority of sin. It is a common custom.
One way to deal with the problem of evil that dwells in all of us
is to establish a civil society under the rule of law. At the time
of Jesus, the Romans had enacted complex statutes of law for civil
society and systems of enforcement. And so had the religious leaders
of the time codified extensive rules of conduct and consequences
for violators. But Jesus said that that those systems were not enough
to create a just society or guarantee our freedom from sin. He said
we ought to be aware of a higher authority within us all that makes
it possible to know what is right and provides the principles for
just living. Jesus calls us to discover the wisdom and knowledge
of the Lord’s statutes, known to us in the commandments. The
authority of these statutes and precepts dwells within us along
with the authority of sin. But the authority of the Lord is greater.
It delivers us from the authority of sin says Paul. We can take
delight in that! And we can discover the wisdom and knowledge of
the Lord’s statutes through religious education. I don’t
teach those classes here at Creighton, but there are many who do.
We can take delight in that!
to the writer of this reflection.
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