Law as a Religion.

Author:Belt, Derrick


Law and religion share common elements. Both law and religion, for example, claim to elevate human conduct. Law claims to pursue justice (including racial justice) while religion claims to inspire love and good will among humans (including racial good will). Each also relies on blind faith that it achieves its fundamental goals. It calls upon this faith in defiance of evidence and reason. We know, for example, that the Resurrection of Christ could not and did not happen as a matter of science; yet, Christian religion calls upon the faithful to accept the Resurrection. Similarly, we know from history and experience that law will never deliver justice and that law in America will never deliver racial justice; yet, we are called upon to believe somehow justice is just around the corner. (1)

Even today, religion and law are each great and mostly unacknowledged mysteries. People gain basic religious beliefs at an early age and simply accept what they are taught. Some recognition of law comes later, but again there is more learning than challenging. There is little thought of how religion and law came into being, or how much respect they actually deserve.


    The concept of religion, likely 100,000 years old, grew out of man's recognition and need to address the fact of existence and to provide answers about the directions and purposes of life and the meaning of death. Religions vary widely, but each seeks to serve this function usually through stories of their origins that can most easily be described as miraculous and yet they offer extraordinary reassurance, particularly to those upon whom life has imposed heavy burdens.

    The Christian Bible, for example, is filled with stories of Jesus' virgin birth, the miracles he performed, his resurrection and reappearance after his execution, and his ascension into Heaven. Based on our knowledge of science, we know as a literal matter that these events could not have happened, and yet proclaimed belief in them is a prerequisite for membership in most Christian denominations. Contradictory explanations are not welcomed by the Church as Galileo Galilei and a long list of scientists learned in the sixteenth century, before and since.

    One need only read the Bible to learn that in the earliest writings about Jesus by Paul (circa 50-64 C.E.) there are no miracles, no virgin birth, and the resurrection is not understood as physical resuscitation. (2) The first Gospel by Mark (circa 70-72 C.E.) offers the first reports of the miracles. (3) The virgin birth is introduced by the second gospel to be written, Matthew, in the early eighties. (4) The resurrection, understood as physical resuscitation is introduced, or at least strongly emphasized, by Luke (circa 88-95 C.E.) and by John (circa 95-100 C.E.). (5) Rather clearly, as more time passed following Jesus' death, the gospel writers had to work harder to show what an important life Jesus had led. Thus, the later the account of the beginnings of Christianity, the more miraculous the details have become. (6)

    In modern divinity schools and in the writings of theologians, there is no question as to what the gospel writers were doing. For a variety of reasons, though, this knowledge has not filtered down to those who sit in the pews of our churches Sunday after Sunday. (7)

    Judaism, the religion out of which Christianity evolved, is based on a series of Biblical stories that are revered but could not have actually happened. The offshoots of Christianity are many, the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses to name a few, and all assert origins in happenings that belie what we now know about science and biology. The same can be said of Muslims who are adherents of the religion of Islam. The Qur'an describes many Biblical prophets and messengers as Muslim: Adam, Noah (Arabic: Nuh), Moses, and Jesus and his apostles. The Qur'an states that these men were Muslims because they submitted to God, preached his message, and upheld his values. (8)

    I could continue with a description of the origins of Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, etc., all of which surpass belief, but my point is that much of what we describe as religion is based on sacred happenings that as a historical matter did not happen and could not have happened. And yet, accepted believers are many. And yes, beyond their adherence to views that surpass belief and can lead to much evil, these religions can proffer inspirational guidelines for honorable and ethical living.

    It is said that religious belief is based on faith, a description that tends to end rather than advance discussion. The gaining of faith can include a spiritual component that can be experienced but is no easier to define than the basics of religion are to explain in other than miraculous terms.

    One aspect of religious belief is that most believers are unwilling, even unable to question the literal nature of their beliefs. Such questioning is not encouraged by most church leaders. For example, many Christian theologians find the biblical stories about Jesus are not a historical record but are intended "to narrate the identity of Jesus by showing us the kind of person Jesus was. The test of their truth is not whether the incidents they describe took place, but whether they truthfully narrate the identity of Jesus to us." (9) The belief that this suffering servant was raised to glorious life can make sense of our lives and provide an adequate symbol of life-giving hope.

    The value of...

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