The Source of Law
This book review, found on an aggregator, is on a subject that is irresistible to a certain kind of geek – such as myself. What’s more, this is a good question to ponder on the day that our Parliament issues its throne speech, setting out its agenda for the coming sitting of the lower house:
Brague does not attempt to answer the Socratic question — what is divine law? — by un-Socratic means. He instead sets out to show that this idea — its articulation by the ancient Greeks and the three monotheisms, and in its rejection by modernity — carries within it the essence of how we understand ourselves today.
The story begins in Jerusalem and Athens. Brague isn’t the first to link the two by contrasting their interpretations of law. “The leading idea upon which Greeks and Jews agree,” Leo Strauss said, “is precisely the idea of divine law as of a unique and all-encompassing law that is at the same time a religious law, a civil law and a moral law.” But the two civilizations, Strauss added, interpreted that idea “in a diametrically opposed manner.”
In the Bible, the law’s divinity derives from its revealed character; the law is divine because commanded by God. For the Greek philosophers, however, the law is divine because it is perfect, an expression of natural order. The law is permanent, unwritten, and requires no proclamation. Sophocles talks of laws “that live on high; laws begotten in the clear air of heaven, whose only father is Olympus; no mortal nature brought them to birth, no forgetfulness shall lull them to sleep.”
So it is no surprise that although it imposed sacred obligations toward one’s family and city, Hellenic culture furnished no holy books. Its gods — as conceived by the philosophers — give advice and warnings, but they seldom command. No particular law is issued by a god; as Heraclitus puts it in the first Greek mention of the term, “all the laws of men are nourished by one law, the divine law.” The divine issues not in external command, but in the intellect that emanates from both nature and man.
If the Greek thinkers emphasized the natural character of law, the Israelites called forth its revealed, historical character; thereby, Brague says, they “revolutionized the relations between the normative and the divine.” Unlike the Greeks, the Hebrew Bible invents a law that is both written and divine; in fact, it is said to be written by the very finger of God (Exodus 31:18). This law, moreover, becomes the instrument of a covenant with God: the first appearance in history of an alliance between a people and its god.
A great read; the article raises many interesting questions.
The other story I want to share is one that I read even before Scott Adams linked to it. The story, from Scientific American, is about a neuroscientist who claims to have discovered a part of the brain that contributes to “religious experiences.” Interesting in its own right, the thing that surprised me most was a the acknowledgement – albeit at the very end of the story – that:
Moreover, no matter what neural correlates scientists may find, the results cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Although atheists might argue that finding spirituality in the brain implies that religion is nothing more than divine delusion, the nuns were thrilled by their brain scans for precisely the opposite reason: they seemed to provide confirmation of God’s interactions with them. After all, finding a cerebral source for spiritual experiences could serve equally well to identify the medium through which God reaches out to humanity. Thus, the nuns’ forays into the tubular brain scanner did not undermine their faith. On the contrary, the science gave them an even greater reason to believe.