Friday, February 29, 2008

Natural Law Symposium Questions: Is the Natural Law Sufficient for States?

God has revealed His moral law to human beings in multiple ways. We call His express revelation through the Bible “special revelation” and His revelation through the divine light, cause and effect, the nature of human beings, and the order of creation “general revelation.” Is general revelation sufficient for running a state? Many Christian writers have suggested that it is not.

While the Bible makes God’s revelation to us far more clear and specifically describes the work of God in history through Jesus Christ, it still must be said that while the Bible is the most desirable source for knowing God’s will, that the natural law is sufficient for running a human state. Why? Because for millennia states have existed without the Bible. Hence, it must be possible to run a state without the Bible. While most states founded on ideas other than Christianity and Judaism have been oppressive and unjust in one way or another (but then even states run by Christians are often oppressive and unjust in one way or another), there still have been remarkable successful states that relied primarily upon general revelation. While both the Greek city-states and the Roman republic had severe problems, if one compares them to states throughout human history, it is apparent that the Roman republic and the government of city-states like Athens were actually fairly good governments despite their injustices and abuses. The structure of the Roman republic was probably a better government than the proposed government of the states of Europe under the E.U. The small village democracies of tiny villages throughout the world throughout history cannot be said to be inherently bad governments. They merely reflect the character of their own citizens. While such good governments are rare, they are undoubtedly possible. Calvin compared the light offered by general revelation to lightening strikes out on a plain. In some ways this is not a bad analogy. We see a few very bright spots in the general darkness showing that relative success through the application of general revelation is possible. Hence, it must be said to be truthful that while it is preferable for states to be based on the entire Christian worldview—which would require access to the Scripture—the general revelation is sufficient for the running of a state.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Natural Law Symposium Questions: Is Mercy Part of the Natural Law?

One of the questions raised at Liberty’s Natural Law Symposium was whether or not mercy is a part of the natural law. Some of the professors in attendance indicated that they believed it was not. They thought that only justice was required by the natural law or the moral law and that mercy is something else altogether.

I believe that mercy is part of the natural law. To begin with, it is always difficult when we begin attempting to completely parse and radically separate divine attributes. Both mercy and justice are attributes of God. They find their pure expression in His own nature. As a result, true justice and true mercy must be in some way compatible or reconcilable in the person of God and in the person of Jesus Christ. Certainly we see this in God’s fulfilling the law in Christ and providing for our salvation through His sacrifice of Himself in atonement for our sins. But what do justice and mercy mean for human government?

As this blog has pointed out before, human law cannot be based on the pure totality of the moral law. All human beings violate aspects of the moral law every hour of every day. As a result, we cannot enact the moral law into human law and then enforce it in its entirety. To begin with, many violations of the moral law are simply beyond the state’s power to find out. And it would not be good to have a state with the totalitarian power to figure out what we thought or said. All human legal systems have to be a compromise. They must be based upon true morality but they cannot require everything that is moral or forbid everything immoral. If they did so, no human being could stand before the law. Since this is true at the very root of the nature of human legal systems, and since the natural law is a revelation from God intended in large part not only to encourage human self-government but to provide an international and trans-cultural standard for human government, it follows that it must be part of the natural law to recognize that human government must incorporate a compromise with pure morality. It should be the case that all human beings are aware of the fact that they are incapable of meeting the demands of pure and absolute morality. Hence they all know by reason and intuition that human government must be a compromise with the demands of absolute morality that both restrains evil for practical purposes and also allows human freedom in some way so that we are not all constantly guilty of violating the government’s rules all the time. Human law should forbid only the worst crimes, things that most of us can avoid doing most of the time. It would seem obvious from the nature of human government as ordained and designed by God. The inherent limitation of the scope of human law is an inclusion of mercy in human law – an inclusion supported by the Natural Law as in tune with God’s nature, God’s design for human government, and necessitated by human nature.

Many people try to deal with this question of the limited power of government by asserting that government’s power is limited by its “jurisdiction.” In the Scriptures they seek to find implied jurisdictional mandates limiting the power of government. While I respect this effort, I do not believe that it is really the strongest argument. While there are implied jurisdictional notions in the Bible, none of them are discussed expressly. In addition, while we do see substantive discussions of the roles of government in advanced non-Christian societies, we do not see the concept of jurisdiction as such appearing internationally and trans-culturally to the degree that one would expect if it were the primary limitation on government in the natural law or divine order of creation. Instead, I would say that the notion of jurisdiction is partially related to the application of other deeper concepts. One of these deeper concepts is the idea of mercy - that government must to some degree be merciful instead of requiring absolute morality and absolute justice.

We can see that Mercy is part of the Natural Law if we look at human reactions to an historic situation. One of the rulers of ancient Athens was Draco. Draco’s name is tied to the origin of our word “draconian.” Draco’s law ordered the death penalty for nearly all crimes. Draco said “the lesser crimes deserve death, and I have no greater penalty for the greater crimes.” Draco was succeeded by the Solon, the composer of Athens democratic constitution. Solon replaced the laws of Draco with a new legal system that did not punish all crimes with death, and allowed juries to choose between a penalty offered by the prosecution and a penalty offered by the defense. The Draconian code could be said to be supported by the moral law because “the wages of is death.” If there was no mercy in the Natural Law or in Justice then the Draconian code might be the most just. But we do not recognize it as such. Instead, generations of people, including generations of Christians have heralded the laws of Solon as more just and more in accord with Natural Law and Justice than those of Draco. While generations of humans can be wrong, their opinion on the application of universals like justice is some evidence of the truth – especially when not contradicted by scripture.

Proportionality of penalties to crimes and the mitigation of sentences when appropriate are both aspects of Natural Law, Justice and Mercy. The three go together rather than being in strict opposition.

Natural Law Symposium at Liberty

I have recently returned from presenting a paper at a Natural Law Symposium at Liberty Law School put on by the Liberty Law School Law Review. The event was really splendid. I was impressed with Liberty’s hospitality and with their students and faculty members. All of the invited speakers were very interesting and very much worth hearing and talking to. There were many interesting questions raised at the symposium. Here at the blog I will address some of these questions in future posts.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Your Questions Answered: Why is Huckabee Still Running?

I’ve been asked why Arkansas governor Mick Huckabee has stayed in the presidential race even though it is quite clear that he cannot win the nomination based on delegate count. I have some speculative reasons why he would continue the race:
1. The more delegates he has, the more influence he can have at the convention in matters like platform votes or discussions. I think Huckabee would stand firmly for the pro-life plank of the Republican platform and it will be important to have people who are willing to fight against legalizing stem cell research in the Republican platform.
2. I think he wants to be able to say that he came in second in the presidential primary season rather than third or fourth if there is another opportunity to run in four or eight years.
3. This is politics—you never know what might happen. What if, heaven forbid, McCain has a heart attack or a stroke before the convention? The more delegates Huckabee has committed to him at the convention, the more likely he might be able to salvage a nomination in the event of an unforeseeable crisis or emergency.
4. I think he likes running for president. People really enjoy traveling and making speeches, etc.
5. This is probably designed to help him be in a better position for a presidential run in four or eight years vis รก vis people knowing him, understanding him, and having a campaign machine available to him. I’m not conversant enough on the current incarnation of the campaign finance laws to know whether it would be legal or not, but I imagine he can maintain a campaign war chest for the next time around with whatever money he is able to raise this time. In fact, he may need more money to pay off debts from this campaign.

So, those are my speculations about why he continues to run.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Neiswonger on Post-Modernism etc.

Click on the title for a link to an interesting blog by TLS alum and TIU grad student Chris Neiswonger on Modernism, Postmodernism, and the Church.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The Death Penalty and Belief

As many have pointed out, if you are a thinking radical materialist, there are few things worse than death. So, such secular people tend to oppose the death penalty. At this link is a Weekly Standard article on how religious people tend to be more comfortable with the death penalty: . Hat tip to "This Wasn't in the Plan": .

If you believe in Christianity, death is not the end or the worst thing that can happen at all. So it sort of makes sense that Christians are more likely to allow the death penalty. The Bible justifies the death penalty by noting the special dignity of human beings as persons made "in the image of God."

I have been unhappy with the death penalty as applied. Too many innocent people get convicted in our courts. But I do believe it is in accord with justice and moral law when properly applied. Taking life intentionally and unjustly forfeits the right to life of the murderer. Human life is too sacred not to have the highest penalty for its destruction. But, as I say, you need to be sure the person you seek to execute is really guilty of murder.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Archbishop Forgets Last Three Millennia of Struggle for the Rule of Law

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that one law for everyone is not a good idea. Instead, Rowan Williams said Muslims in the UK should be allowed to have Sharia law, at least in some way or to some extent. Articles have appeared on Feb. 7 at "Cranmer" (, "if Sam . . ." (, "Gates of Vienna" ( and elsewhere.

Americans, Englishman, and many others (even Frenchmen) have fought for centuries against the idea of special castes and classes with separate laws. Part of real freedom is the idea that everyone is equal before the law and subject to the same law, and we make the law the most reasonable, proportionate, enlightened and prudent compromise between human weakness and pure morality that we can achieve in a society as a whole, with added respect for liberty to choose among goods, and with a healthy margin of safety against tyranny.

Some people claim that human laws are all about power and interest groups. If that were true, what the Archbishop proposes might make sense. But it is not so. Law is about unity and justice and mercy - about punishing evil and coordinating for the common good. There can be no justice if we licence some people to do things we know to be wrong because they belong to a group we are afraid of.

There is nothing wrong with protecting religious liberty with the occasional religious exemption. It is sometimes appropriate not to make some things that are immoral illegal because people cannot or will not abide by the law. Occasionally society cannot agree on what is best either because the application of morality is unclear or because the facts are unclear, and in those instances we often leave people at liberty. But when, as with slavery, something is wrong, even though it is popular with those who profit by it, we struggle for equality under the law for all human beings - even if a few examples with "Stockholm syndrome" or "false consciousness" can be found to claim that they love being in slavery.

We cannot let Sharia become the law of a separate caste within the west. We do so at our peril.

UPDATE: Williams did say in the interview "That principle that there is only one law for everybody is an important pillar of our social identity as a western democracy" which makes his conclusion even more puzzling.

An Interesting Health Care Observation

At the God and Governing conference Paul Marshall made a humorous observation with a point. He was critical of the way Pietists and Anabaptists are opposed to Christian involvement with government because they see (wrongly) government as solely a realm of evil under the control of the powers of darkness - the "antichrist." But many of the same people support socialized medicine - a huge enlargement of government power over our everyday lives. Marshall then quipped "Is it wise to entrust our health care to the antichrist?"

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Civility in Government

One of the recurring themes of God and Governing, a Conference on Virtue Ethics and Statesmanship was civility. All of the speakers mentioned the need for civility in politics and government. Os Guinness specifically spoke at length on the role of civility in the dispute over how our freedom of religion and freedom from establishment of religion should play out in the public square. He advocated a "civil public square" as opposed to a sacred public square or a secular public square.

After the conference, my friend Marc brought up an interesting idea. Everyone had mentioned the need for civility at the same time as we advocate zealously for different ideas and points of view. Marc noted that the old fashioned civility of Common Law Lawyers of the past and many lawyers still today is a good model for the handling of conflict in a civil and civilized way. While I have run into very uncivil lawyers, and occasionally should have been more willing to have lunch with my opponent's counsel my self, it is true that the tradition of the bar is one of civility, especially outside the courtroom. It is a model for how things should be.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Trinity Law School Video

Here is the new promotional video for Trinity Law School.

Post Conference Euphoria

Trinity Law School and the California campus of Trinity Graduate School just held our first major conference in ten years. By all accounts "God and Governing: A Conference on Virtue, Ethics, and Statesmanship" was a great success. DVD's of the conference should be available in a month or two.