Friday, September 30, 2011

Brief Remark on Law in Islam and Christianity

Pope Benedict XVI

As the heading above indicates, I'm posting a brief remark on "Law" in Islam and Christianity. In yesterday's blog entry, I noted the tolerant views of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb. Let us recall his remark on "Law," which he calls Shari'a:
"The fact that all the divine revelations are [revelations] of a single religion should not lead us to believe that they all share the same religious law [shari'a]. 'Religion' is the constant core essence of each revelation. It is one and does not vary, because it is anchored in universal, constant truths that do not change. Conversely, religious law does vary from one divine revelation to the other. By 'religion' we mean the divine message that goes to the common universal principles shared by all revelations, such as the fundamental tenets of faith, morals, and worship. But 'religious law' is the divine law that regulates the life and social behavior of the believers, which changes from time to time and from place to place. While religion, according to the philosophy of Islam, is one, religious law is not. It varies among people, and in accordance with the environment, time, place and circumstances. Therefore, the Koran emphasizes the variety of religious law among the believers: 'To each among you have we prescribed a law and a course. If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single nation [5:48].'"
This sounds rather unlike what one usually hears from Islam, which often insists upon the primacy of Shari'a over all other systems of law because it is grounded in revelation. Al-Tayeb doesn't elaborate upon the grounding of law, but his Qur'anic citation suggests that Allah has "prescribed a law" to each religiously defined nation, presumably through revelation, though this revelation leaves room for alterations dependent upon time and place. On the one hand, this is tolerant on the part of Al-Tayeb, for it allows for difference. On the other hand, this is problematic, in that it leaves open the question of the law that a Muslim should follow when living in a non-Muslim state. Does Al-Tayeb think that Muslims have the right to follow their own Shari'a even in a secular state, such as those that make up the EU? There also seems to be no rational ground for distinguishing good laws from bad laws since Allah apparently prescribed different laws for different groups. But I'm speculating without sufficient evidence.

At any rate, Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent address in Berlin, reminded his audience of the mainstream Christian view of Law:
How do we recognize what is right? In history, systems of law have almost always been based on religion: decisions regarding what was to be lawful among men were taken with reference to the divinity. Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation. Instead, it has pointed to nature and reason as the true sources of law -- and to the harmony of objective and subjective reason, which naturally presupposes that both spheres are rooted in the creative reason of God. Christian theologians thereby aligned themselves with a philosophical and juridical movement that began to take shape in the second century B.C. In the first half of that century, the social natural law developed by the Stoic philosophers came into contact with leading teachers of Roman Law. Through this encounter, the juridical culture of the West was born, which was and is of key significance for the juridical culture of mankind. This pre-Christian marriage between law and philosophy opened up the path that led via the Christian Middle Ages and the juridical developments of the Age of Enlightenment all the way to the Declaration of Human Rights and to our German Basic Law of 1949, with which our nation committed itself to "inviolable and inalienable human rights as the foundation of every human community, and of peace and justice in the world".
The Pope was speaking to the Germans, and he begins by noting -- in a manner similar to Al-Tayeb -- that Law has often been based on religion, differing according to the religion of a people. But unlike Al-Tayeb, he ends up in a different legal place. Christianity does not propose a law grounded in a particular revelation. Rather, it grounds Law in universal Natural Law discovered through reason. There is, then, ultimately one Law for all humanity.

On the surface, Al-Tayeb's view sounds more tolerant, but it allows for arbitrary laws, including those that most civilized people find repugnant, such as the cutting off of hands for thievery. Conversely. the Pope's view sounds less tolerant, but it insists upon the rationality of Law and thus offers a standard for rejecting laws repugnant to civilized people.

Or so things seem to me . . .

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At 5:45 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Benedict XVI's journey to Germany has been quite an interesting one. Ratzinger is considered to be a right-wing thinker by leftist theologians, both Protestant and Catholic ones, but things are quite more complex than that. As you justly point out, the Pope's views are more open-minded than what they may appear at first glance.

In fact, what I find really interesting in his addresses, etc., is that he draws on ancient traditions (espec. Church Fathers, Medieval theologians) which had been abandoned from the 1960s, since, in the Catholic Church, Deep Thought has been replaced by second-hand let's-go-have-a-pizza sociologisms. Those traditions were not obtuse at all, weird as their language may sound to nowadays ears.

As to the issue strictly, Benedict XVI's presentation of European history is - say - all too optimistic. Besides, centuries of theological and philosophical thought have shown that to define what "Natural Law" is, is a tough job. Let alone assuming Nature as some objective stuff ("As if a Kant had never existed," Schopenhauer would stress.)

Probably the main point of interest in Ratzinger's words does not lie in their reference to past patterns, as rather to future working hypotheseis, "Let's try to build a society where faith and reason function that way. It may be a chance."

At 7:16 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, I agree about the problem of grounding Natural Law, and the Pope too lightly finds a direct line from Greek rationality to modern views on human rights, as though the middle ages were not, arguably, some sort of detour.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:51 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Well, hmm. What does the middle ages have to do with it, or what is Ratzinger doing too lightly?

Do you mean the Pope doesn't pay enough attention to Revealed Law? That struck me as I read the passage.

And just to complicate things, in Torah study you learn that while God (or Moses) hands down Law, and there is an expectation that people will follow the "Law," there is also ample textual evidence showing God (or Moses) knew full well that despite "expressed expectations" people would NOT follow the Law. The emphasis or meaning of Torah, therefore, is not upon "following the Law," but rather upon repentance, God's forgiving nature and his loving Grace, and the self-knowledge that comes to people when they make mistakes and learn from these mistakes. This is central to the meaning of the Gospels as well (and quite frankly I find little difference between the old religion and the new one when it comes to this core meaning). As Milton said, I think, in a discussion of Antinomianism, "Jesus didn't go against Mosaic Law, not one jot or tittle" or something like that. Ergo, Dario's concluding point is right on the money, although it is in fact not a "working future hypothesis," but is rather central to the meaning of both Testements as well.

In other words, Ratzinger kicked this one right through the goal posts. Now, ahem, if only if he would abolish the celebate Priesthood....

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Um, "celebate Priesthood," does that mean "celebrate Priesthood" or "celibate Priesthood"?

Yes, I was thinking of revealed law in Christianity, partly, but also on the extent to which Natural Law actually was mainstream throughout the middle ages.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:48 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

In fact, the phrase "Middle Ages" is basically as definite as "middle age"...

What I had in my mind was the late medieval period, the 13th-14th century, which marked the peak of the attempt, in the history of Christian western civilization, to harmonize Bibical revelation and "universal reason" i.e. our specific philosophical heritage.

During the whole Middle Ages, anyway, the law never became some sort of a Shari'a: the Roman Code (Justinian) always remained, more or less, the basic source. - The very Inquisition, though founded in the Middle Ages, was fundamentally a Renaissance phenomenon.

So, what could be argued against Benedict XVI, is that the existence of a "universal reason" cannot be taken for granted. In the 13th and 14th century, the "reasoning" was based on the outcomes of both classic Greek philosophy and its Muslim restylings in the Mediterranean area, but nowadays the horizon is much wider and more complex.

An appendix. St Thomas Aquinas, besides his more known Summa theologiae, wrote a Summa contra Gentiles, i.e. an attempt to rationally show to the "heathen" = Muslims, the truth of the Christian tenets. See also Ramon Llull's Book of the Gentile and the Three Wise Men... not those in Bethlehem, but a jewish, a christian and a muslim thinker, trying to ground their respective faith before a non-believer. Interestingly enough, there is no 'winner,' though Llull was a Catholic Spaniard (born in Palma de Mallorca).

At 3:12 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Dario. There were also the Nominalists of the time, whose God was hardly rational.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:46 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Right, but the Nominalists were a minority - at that time, at least: the effects would emerge later.

At 7:01 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Perhaps . . . but they 'revealed' the precarious character of the synthesis.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:08 PM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Everything is precarious.

At 9:36 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, sooner or later, everything ends up like rotten teeth . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:15 AM, Blogger Carter Kaplan said...

Please excuse my spelling, gentlemen. The constant flurry of blog, email, facebook, and International Authors activity casues me to rush through sometimes.

"What I had in my mind was the late medieval period, the 13th-14th century, which marked the peak of the attempt, in the history of Christian western civilization, to harmonize Bibical revelation and "universal reason" i.e. our specific philosophical heritage."

But isn't this Locke's project as well? If so, we might say the peak occured around "1689" . . . and is on-going since.

In other words, I am reading the essence of modernism as being this harmonization. It depends upon how you interpret Biblical revelation, I suppose. The interpretation I am using--referenced in my post above--is elaborated in Tamudic commentary and the liberal fusion of Calvin, Arminius and Socinus.

What exactly was it that Rev Dimmesdale found in the Old Testement that so transformed his understanding of Hester Prynne and little Pearl, and would lead him to at last despise the Mass Bay Colony and contemplate running away with these two outcast women?

At 4:25 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

It depends upon how you interpret Biblical revelation, I suppose

That Is The Question.

At 4:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There are yet today Christian apologists who attempt to synthesize reason and faith. Among Protestants, there's William Lane Craig, who insists on human free will and divine rationality and appears influenced by Arminius as well as by the Jesuit theologian Molina on God's Middle Knowledge.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:51 PM, Anonymous Sperwer said...

"Unlike other great religions, Christianity has never proposed a revealed law to the State and to society, that is to say a juridical order derived from revelation."


At 5:25 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yeah, I'd wonder about that word "never" . . . especially since the Old Testament speaks of many laws revealed by divine authority.

Jeffery Hodges

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