By Ruxandra Ionce | TRINICY.org | The Christian Imperative
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Inspired by Kant's notion of the categorical imperative, the ‘Christian Imperative’ ought to stress the importance of Christianity as a Sine qua Non in understanding and interpreting reality and the impact on the development of Western Civilization. This will open a series of three short essays on relevant topics such as the rule of law, basic human rights and freedoms and civil authority, that should encourage the readers to further study and discussion.
The Rule of Law
We live in a self-contradictory era of postmodernism- the word of the age- an era where people doubt reason, logic, and absolute truths while at the same time claiming to occupy a position of superior objectivity. For us as Christians, it can feel as if we are being forced to retreat from professing our faith, as we are being bombarded with waves of explicit or even tacit opposition from the media or other societal pressures, constantly confronted with “scientific facts” raised to disprove biblical truths and to prove religion a thing of the past, incompatible with the modern man. Yet, the Bible is clear about where we should position ourselves as Christians, in the spiritual battle of ideas:
“Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3: 14-15,ESV).
We dispose of ample sources of encouragement and study, having testable, rational and historical reasons to be fully convinced that Christianity is the one true moral compass for our society.
In the West, the rule of law is a legal tradition meant to exclude the possibility of any individual or branch of the government to act arbitrarily or outside the law. Indisputable is the fact that human beings possess an innate sense of what is right and what is wrong; with few exceptions, the sense of justice, wrongdoing, good and evil is a common denominator for all civilizations throughout history, thus being commonly materialized into laws. This opens a moral discussion on the existence of higher laws, out of which principles for issuing legislation can be derived. In his book The Liberty of the Ancients Compared to the that of the Modern, the French philosopher Benjamin Constant states that, before Christianity, the notion of individual rights did not exist, as the individual in the social hierarchy did not benefit from legal recognition, and, hence, did not enjoy special protection. In Roman law (a legal source for Western law) for instance, legal protection was only granted by the Roman state to the social institution of the patriarchal family, where the pater familias (the oldest man in the family) exercised autocratic authority over all members of the family. But Christianity proved to be the only religion in history that elevated human dignity to a position of sacredness, which flows out of man's identity as a bearer of the image of God and the commandment, reinforced by Jesus Christ “[...] Love your neighbor as you love yourself'” (Mark 12:31).
In the ontology of law (the branch of metaphysics that attempts to explain the nature of the existence of laws), one can distinguish three main approaches:
Although all might serve as useful tools for interpreting certain legal texts, the latter is the only one capable of keeping an objective moral standard, as it offers a universal and transcendental view of the governing principles behind lawmaking, independent of context, time and personal interests. Justin Martyr (d. cca. 165 AD), the early Christian apologist, stated that the Christian belief is the only philosophy that is both useful and worthy of trust, arguing that the divine Logos enlightened ancient thinkers such as Socrates to see the errors of paganism. Ancient Greek philosophy was often used by Medieval Christian scholars as a useful tool in defending the faith- an approach known as natural theology, different from the revealed theology approach (used primarily by the Reformed theologians, although it existed prior to the Reform and used by Anselm of Canterbury, St. Augustine etc.)- in which they referred to the observable laws of creation in answering questions such as the existence of God and morality. This approach is confirmed by Romans 2:14-15:
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law” (ESV).
Natural laws originate from our God-given conscience and are common to all of humanity, according to Romans 1:19-20:
“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
The understanding of pre-existing, universal higher laws is the only defense against the abuse of power and tyranny. One of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, John Locke argued that any lawmaker who issues laws that conflict with the God-given natural laws (property, liberty and life) finds himself in a “state of war” against the society. The American Revolution, through the American Founding Fathers, was based on the idea that resistance against tyranny is not only justifiable but it is also a moral duty. They clearly affirmed the principles and practices of the Bible, even if sometimes not explicitly enough, to be the only guarantors of freedom and justice. Even today it is clear that the freest and most human-rights oriented states in the world are Western democracies, shaped by the Christian worldview.
As presented above, we do have the strong argument of natural laws, that God bestowed in the conscience of all human beings. However, the intellect alone cannot be the ultimate basis for judging right from wrong as human nature is corrupted by sin. Fortunately, we have the revealed truth- the Bible- to guide us and offer us the moral pillars for a free society. Many religions claim to be ultimate truths, but Christianity is the only one to provide perfectly coherent and testable answers to the question of meaning, identity, morality and salvation, questions so deeply ingrained in the human psyche.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV).
However, this line of argumentation remains incomplete. We have pointed towards the philosophical and practical necessity of higher laws as a source for legislation but, in order to argue for equality before the law, we need to take a deeper dive into the topic of individual dignity and the ontology of human rights and freedoms. This constitutes the subject for the next essay in which we will elaborate on the superiority of the Revealed truth.
Benjamin Constante, The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of Moderns (1819).
Colin Brown, Philosophy and the Christian Faith (1969).
Stephen A. Flick, America's Founding Fathers and the Bible.
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