Saturday, July 14, 2007

Another Good Read

One of the most stimulating articles I have read in a while is Ava Maria professor Lee Strang's The Role of the Christian Legal Scholar: The Call for a Modern Saint Benedict, 20 Notre Dame J. of Law, Ethics & Public Policy 59 (2006), which is available here via SSRN. Though it argues from a Christian perspective, many of its points would apply to scholars of other faiths, as well.

Strang argues that Christian legal scholars should have three distinct roles in the modern context-- building Christian law schools, rebuilding Christian law schools, and engaging in larger debates within the society.

Among other things, I find Strang's argument to be a personal challenge to make my own work more relevant and vigorous.

1 comment:

anon09 said...

It is a troubling notion that the difference in a Christian perspective on the law would be remarkably different than any other point of view, given the basis and circumstances of the founding of our country – and the cannon of English law on which it is largely based. The law is, after all, itself the result of hundreds of years of precedent, compounding precedent, determining how a primarily Christian society can best serve itself. The formation of those rules being based on societal determined “moral” values, or those values that most effectively allow a society to exist in a given time and place, amid the aspects and assaults of forces from without and persuasions from within.

Perhaps more enlightening is that the essence of Christianity is formed, not from the words of Jesus, but from his blood. By that I mean that despite his personal teachings, Christ did not exist until Jesus died. The movement of his ministry did not flower by his own hand, but by his death. His words inspired thought (a mere ~240 phrases recorded); his martyrdom gave impetus to the Christian movement and, the subsequent martyring of each of his disciples furthered that cause. It is their teachings that kept the movement alive. The noble tenets of the Golden Rule were certainly more appealing to most of the common people that were introduced to it than the amoral ruthlessness of the societies in which they hid just to survive. The Rome Empire was not entirely nor necessarily a happy place. Christianity provided a higher reason to live – rules were less important than belief. (Unlike the rise in the Islamic movement some 350 years later, which succeeded in giving its converts not only rules to live, but more compellingly, a reason to die. If I win, I gain the earth. If I lose, I gain heaven and its rewards will be bountiful.)

Constantine must have been exposed to the latent power of the Christian movement as the unwitting captive of Galerius. He was bright, ambitious, and tainted with the trappings of power, but without the personal gravitas of a Caesar. He must have clutched for something that would help him move his forces against greater powers. He rode to conquer under the banner of the sign of the Christ. He was successful. But, was that through God’s hand, or his own ego? No matter. It was only through the great help of Constantine presiding over the council of Nicaea that Christianity was finally institutionalized and survived as modern theology. Given the social environment of the place and time, it seems unlikely that it would have survived else wise.

One can certainly argue that Constantine was guided by the hand of God. That this was all part of God’s plan. The bible is full of this kind of explanation for leaders, conquerors, and prophets sprinkled throughout the old testament…but the new testament stops with Jesus as the Son of God. In Christianity, there are no more prophets until he comes again. Constantine and the Council of Nicaea were key to holding this tenet sacred. But were his actions in achieving power Christ like?

Again, in 350 years, Islam rises to the occasion with another final prophet in Mohamed who espouses the one “true” religion (with the clever twist of the “death” payout), and succeeds in conquering most of the known world through the same motivational tactics that Constantine employed. It seems that most of the religious impetus belongs to the mighty, the ego driven leaders that want personal gain on behalf of their lord. Unlike Christ, Mohamed was unwilling to die to prove his point, but more than happy, and in fact encouraging, to allow his followers to pursue death to their own greater glory.

The essence of Christianity is formed from His Blood. And yet, the Word of God is interpreted to us only through the imperfect filters of the conduit of time, the melding of egos, the happenstance of history and politics of rising societies. Without Divine interpretation, we are left to ferret out these rules for living by ourselves. How do we separate the love of our way of life from the interpretive teachings of the prophets? How do we separate the politics of the King James Version from more modern and probably more correct interpretations of the Holy Bible and yet still service those believers? How do we teach the law from a Christian perspective when the basis of it shifts and moves from the serendipitous drift of cases from which the Supreme Court must chose to build precedent, and by whom law becomes definitive even amid rancorous dissent among its own?

As Christians, we can all agree that there is a place for Religiously Affiliated Law Schools, after all western law is much in part an homage to Christian theological thought. But I think there would be far less agreement on the perspective from which the law can be taught to honor that ideal. There is a reason that we endeavor to separate church and state…because we, as a society, cannot agree on what the church means to us. We know it is important. We do not know how it fits. There are some rules that we must have as a society that keeps the social wheel greased, that are directly opposed to the embodiment Christian life. But, I would much rather we struggle with this now, no matter how imperfect our arguments, than see it disposed of entirely in another 350 years by the next Mohamed.