Philosophically Speaking: What is a Just or an Unjust Law?

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King stated: “A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust” [As an aggregate, unjust laws cause more suffering, hunger, poverty, homelessness, and disenfranchisement to the human family than the aggregate of all other human conditions] (http://transgriot.blogspot.ca/2013/06/what-is-unjust-law.html).

This writer has a keen interest in how laws impact human lives from a point of view of God’s Law versus human laws. Christian theology teaches the Ten Commandments as God’s immutable Law. They are further comprehended in the Two Great Commandments. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40).

In simple lay terms human laws are crafted by the great legal minds within nations, with the intent to satisfy the goals of fairness and justice for all. Human laws have many classifications such as: probate, personal-injury, family, criminal, property, bankruptcy, malpractice, insurance, immigration, intellectual property, and patent (http://gradschool.about.com/od/lawschool/f/lawfields.htm). However, this article is not about laws as an academic study, but about the detriment of applying human laws apart from God's Law.

Undeniably, the history of incarceration of human beings will demonstrate that human laws are definitely not applied in the same manner to rich versus poor, to upper-class versus urban-class, and to “Black” versus “White”. More importantly, one can surmise that if human laws are not underpinned by God’s Law, human laws in near totality may be unjust in practice. More often than not, the winners in the justice system are those with financial capacity, power, influence and social standing in society. Conversely, the losers tend to be those without financial resources, powerless, and lacking in influence or social standing in society as well. Rather than declaring justice, we often declare “winners”, as in a battle between lawyers. As a consequence, the justice system may be served to the disadvantage of justice.

For instance, the wrongfully executed, and for the grace of God, those who have been exonerated from death row in prisons in North America, will provide insights into the conflict between legal rights versus moral rights. These two imperatives are essentially dissimilar, operating in the realm of the natural and spiritual. The judicial system, essentially, represents the legal elements of the law, conversely, projects such as the “Innocent Project” (Reference: November 02, 311 Exonerated. http://www.innocenceproject.org/) represents a striving for the moral elements of the law, underpinned by some legal recourse; using DNA evidence in search of truth, fairness, and justice; generally for the underprivileged.

Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the “Equal Justice Initiative”, fighting poverty and challenging racial discrimination in the criminal justice system says; “The opposite of poverty is not wealth…In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice” (http://www.eji.org/). When we think of human laws, there is a pre-occupation with crime and punishment however there is yet another great cause for concern regarding some laws, acts, guides, policies, principles, statutes, rules, codes, and standards that are operating as a species of laws, as the “Laws of Entitlement”. Entitlement is permanently written into the social and economic fabric of all societies, from the most primitive to enlightened modern societies. However, when rights take precedent over righteousness, it begins to erode the moral fabric of nations. 

In developed nations, “corporate welfare” is justified by corporate elites. Wealthy individuals benefit from lower bank interest rates than students and poor individuals. Developed nations provide a good standard of living for their citizens, as a right, but at the same time relegate the existence of indigenous peoples to second class status, intentionally or unintentionally. What good reason can a nation put forward to justify higher incarceration rates for poor, powerless, and disenfranchised individuals than the general population? Are these members of God’s creation less deserving of the rights to mercy, compassion, and the opportunity to experience the joy of the life which God has given us all equally?

What justification allows civil servants to be endowed with better subsidies, and better pension plans than those they serve? What justification can a nation provide for denying a (qualified) senior citizen the benefits of full pension entitlement, because of his or her misreading of, or absentmindedness in filing a claim on time? How does an entitlement become a de-entitlement? This is the great divide between rights and righteousness. Every law, act, guide, policy, principle, statute, rule, code, or standard that is written by man, must pass the ‘litmus test” of rights and righteous in order to be just, otherwise, it will fail humanity. The ruins of fallen empires of yesteryear stand in testimony to this indisputable fact. Must we, in the modern era, merely stand aside and watch.

Daily, we hear the cry of the aged echoing from some sub-standard nursing homes. Daily, we hear the cry coming from the broken soul of wounded soldier coming home from battle in physical and mental anguish as we provide excuses and justifications for their plight. Daily, we hear the cry coming from a victim of violence, or vehicular, or workplace accident, as he or she is denied justice. Daily, we hear the cry of the aboriginal mother as her son is taken away in shackles, or as mother waits, hopelessly, for her daughter to come home.

In his book Called to Worship, Vernon Whaley writes, "True worship embraces love for the people of God demonstrated through service…Our worship of God cannot be isolated from the real world or trapped inside the walls of our 'secret place' [Churches, Synagogues, Temples, Mosques or Ashrams]. It must impact us to reach out to and at times confront the culture around us." Can human laws, apart from God’s Law, succeed in bringing about just societies? Certainly not! [Christ Fulfills the Law] “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Notwithstanding, the tens of thousands of human laws have not demonstrated the capacity to stem the tide of inhumanity; neither can it, because human laws are REACTIVE. God’s Law is PROACTIVE.

This writer puts forward that with God’s guidance, we can achieve the eight noble goals set at the UNITED NATIONS MILLENNIUM SUMMIT in 2000, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, among other ambitious goals, such as, to achieve universal primary education by 2015 (http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/bkgd.shtml). First, we must strive to eradicate “unjust laws”. With “justice” and “just laws” the need for social safety nets, charity and missions will diminish, and self-sufficiency will flourish. Charity and missions will then be nobly consigned to serve the legitimate poor (Deuteronomy 15:11).

This writer pleads with all men and women of conscience, and with influence such as religious ministers, politicians, senators, educators, academics, corporate executives, social scientists, theologians, and lawmakers to take a step back from our reliance on purely human laws and ask the question: Who is the ultimate lawmaker and what can we learn from His Law? It is of dire necessity that “Men of the Robe” and “Men of the Cloth” sit at the same table to revisit human laws in the context of God’s Law, in order to engender just nations.

“In God We Trust”, so from whence cometh the “Separation of Church and State”. Western nations’ constitutions reflect an omnipotent (all powerful), omnipresent (everywhere) and omniscient (all knowing) God in their constitutions, and we boast of it. We boldly call on Him (GOD) from every podium whenever there is a national or international calamity. God’s WORD counsels us to seek Him while we can yet find Him (Isaiah 55:6). Lamentably, it takes a personal, national or international calamity to awaken us to our vulnerabilities, as we cry out in our limited human capacity; realizing the limitations of the State.

Finally, this writer also puts forward with intuitive certainty that the great minds that craft human laws may not be as adverse as we may think in embracing this new perspective. Six thousand years of recorded human history is not only in the carnage of wars, genocide, slavery, colonization, and apartheid of past decades, but also in the continuation of these atrocities in the crucible of the twenty–first century and the new millennium. Human survival as a viable species is threatened. We must not set sail into the uncharted waters of the twenty-first century, with unsolved problems of the past, perplexing problems of the present, and new and emerging problems of the future. Let human pride take flight, and let us re-calibrate our legal and moral compass. To do otherwise is to deliberately deny the sum total of human knowledge, and the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of God.

By: Errol Gibbs


Errol-Gibbs7Errol A. Gibbs, Author, International Motivational Speaker
Books: © 2011 Five Foundations of Human Development (FFHD) & Tho
ughts to Enlighten and Empower the Mind
Milton, ON/Tel: 905.875.4956/ Email: egibbs1@sympatico.ca/
Website: www.ffhdwritersinc.com

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