Given this tendency to escalation, Aquinas’ restriction of sedition against tyranny is more sweeping than it initially appears. How should we respond Answered by Abu Khadeejah Abdul-Wāhid. We will pursue this crucial idea more in a moment, but first we need to return to the connection between law and morality. How should we respond to an unjust law? For example, imagine an overly progressive income tax by which a wealthy citizen is forced to pay an unjustly high percentage of her income, say 70% (this judgment of injustice is framed by my capitalistically-influenced understanding; I hope the reader will grant it for the sake of argument). Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (179). It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' reflection will easily provide the reader with numerous examples of both cases. House Christians may endure their persecution—judging that more damage would be done to the common good, especially as it pertains to relating to God—rather than resist the injustice done to them. To protest in a violent manner against the state sounds like the “private war” of strife, which would be sinful. This requirement demands that a law must be “chiefly ordained to the common good.”8 In other words, laws need to be good for, or beneficial to, the community to which they apply. Act 26:16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, God laughs at such trifles because he will prevail. Please enter the letter "m" in the field below: Catalog of Reformed Books & Resources by Author. This means that laws, regardless of how unfair, unjust, or immoral they may be, must be followed with no better reason that they are the law. Get the answers you need, now! var google_conversion_id = 1020472174; Political prisoner Kim Davis knows all about unjust laws, and the criminalisation of Christianity. An Unjust Law Is No Law At All: Excerpts from “Letter from Birmingham Jail” January 21, 2019 By The Editors In celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we’re sharing excerpts from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” one of the most important moral treatises of the twentieth century. Or again, a law might be just in its content, but come from an unjust source, like the rebellious English barons forcing King John to sign the Magna Carta. Second, Aquinas’ view helps reconcile scriptural and historical controversies regarding civil disobedience. but human beings do not. Socrates as well as Dr. Martin Luther King have done this. Therefore strife is always sinful.”51 Part of what makes strife sinful is that it comes from an “inordinate will” aimed more at vengeance than justice. It is true, as Finnis points out, that "the affirmation that 'unjust laws are not law' * . Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," April 16, 1963. However, that changes with respect to human laws. Man's responsibility and God's Sovereignty is a tough balance to strike, but it's worth the effort. and why does he think this way? Join now. Keith D. Wyma, “When and How Should We Respond to Unjust Laws? These two qualifications come together in considering whether it is morally appropriate to violate an unjust law. Even if violent opposition in the Nazi case could still turn out to be justified because of the Nazis’ genocidal attack on people under their authority, it really would be a case of the exception proving the rule that violent civil disobedience is not normally morally permissible. It bothers me deeply that about one million babies will be aborted this year in the USA alone. Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. For example, the U.S. might justly tax its citizens’ income, and perhaps even impose a graduated tax, since the rich may well reap more of society’s benefits; but it could not tax only the rich. That makes sense when we consider Aquinas’ view of law, noted above. The Nazi regime had already shown that it responded to assassinations with brutally-escalated reprisals. To what precedent should we appeal? If he obeys the law, he would be guilty of knowingly aiding to sustain an unjust system. The problems, of increased crime and sometimes-violent confrontations with police that have occurred in the Occupy movement also exemplify costs to the common good from civil disobedience. During the 9/11 crisis, our politicians in Washington tried to sing the well-known song, 'God Bless America,' when both they and we should have been crying out to God in repentance and saying, 'God FORGIVE America.' King wrote: "There are just laws and there are unjust laws. Bad news -- "Impending Doom" if something does or doesn't get passed -- sells. By the Word the earth has been subdued; by the Word the Church has been saved; and by the Word also it shall be reestablished.". perfect nature and authority, may always morally obligate with His commands, Very true. If the answer to the first query is “no” And every one of those options has been criticized by other voices within the Christian body. Yet in that very same passage, Aquinas presents a bright-line limit for opposing a tyrant in this way: “Consequently there is no sedition in disturbing a government of this kind, unless indeed the tyrant’s rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant’s government.”50 Here, Aquinas reiterates the prohibition of scandal and disturbance. “ A just law is a manmade code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. I think most of us will agree that Christians ought to disregard laws that mandate immorality, or that prohibit morality. Or just disobey them all at once and try to get it to change right away? In grasping the requirements for what constitutes genuine law, we will uncover the places in which the supposed laws around us might fail and become occasions for civil disobedience. How does God respond to pride? (Council of Orange: Canon 6). How Should We Respond to Unjust Laws? Suggestions for today. The perception by many that a social, economic, political, and/or legal system is unjust often gives rise to a social movement. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. What the public never saw, he said, was that the campus police had been trying to leave b… On the other hand, for a law that violates the human good, the second question determines whether any civil disobedience is justified by comparing the harm from disobedient actions with the harm from obeying the law. Some argue that no harm was done and the media paid attention, which was the goal. That’s the question we’re discussing as we look at Daniel 6 on The Hero of the Story. At this point, we have mostly exposed the foundations of Aquinas’ view on civil disobedience, but to complete that uncovering, we need to see a bit more about the connection between morality and human law, in particular. The individual or group may attempt to bring about change by peaceful means, such as non-violent civil disobedience, or by violent actions, such as rebellions, riots, or vigilantism. To the thesis that we are obliged to obey even unjust laws, I will argue that the standard objections to Civil Disobedience, given by Singer, are incorrect To begin, however, I believe it is necessary to define an “unjust” law. Sometimes people who are not legitimate authorities A while back, a former student now doing graduate work at UC Davis told me of his experience with the “Occupy” protest there. For Aquinas recognizes two important qualifications. More than that, how likely is it that such actions will actually end oppression or conflict? In Aquinas’ words, “the binding power of law is diminished, in so far as custom is abolished.”34 For that reason, breaking the law for civil disobedience needs to be carefully weighed against the undercutting effect that action will have on the general moral authority of human laws. Is not such action likely to present a stumbling block for at least some well-intentioned people who thereby question whether it is a good thing to be a Christian? The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems like a paradigmatic example. Their complete justice entails that we are always morally obligated to follow them. This brings about a lot of questions on what laws are just or unjust, how should we as people respond to unjust laws, should we as people be able to disobey laws that we deem unjust, and If we do disobey these laws should we. out a straightforward Thomistic test to determine whether some proposed act of Put more generally their questions become the So if Keith D. Wyma argues that a coherent, well-grounded Christian perspective on civil dis- obedience is possible, and can be found in the work of Thomas Aquinas. We have just gone through a battle in NY on gay marriage and it is easy to get discouraged over a secular "loss.". Shouldn't it be "don't even make a dent against God's eternal plan"? In what follows, I shall present a brief summary of Aquinas’ account, note some ways in which it skillfully navigates the scriptural and historical controversy, and offer a few observations on how Aquinas’ account could be useful to Christians, especially students, today. With those stringent requirements for the common good in mind, Aquinas identifies the three main ways laws can benefit their subjects. urchinTracker(); « You don't agree? God, by necessity of His LOUISVILLE — Panelists, some of them with firsthand accounts, discussed how Christians can respond to unjust policing during a Tuesday webinar hosted by two organizations affiliated with Union Presbyterian Seminary.. : Moral and Epidemiologic Observations, Scripture and the English Poetic Imagination—An Extended Review, Plagiarism as the Language of Ownership: Aligning Academic Liturgy with Christian Virtue, Christ Centered Higher Education: Memory, Meaning, and Momentum for the Twenty-First Century, Every Good and Perfect Gift: Sport and Society in the Twenty- first Century—A Review Essay, The Academic Vocation in a Post-2020 World: An Ecumenical Dialogue. And has not the history of guerilla and civil warfare confirmed this pattern? Many might consider Prohibition in this category because it brought more trouble than benefit. The question is whether we should be content to obey them, whether we should try to change them but obey until they're changed, or whether we should disobey them at once. I think most of us will agree that Christians ought to disregard laws that mandate immorality, or that prohibit morality. The Plan Review West: Race, Poverty, and Injustice Today: How to respond to injustice? Thus, true laws must enact justice, and from this essential element laws create moral obligations to obey them. These latter kinds of failure possess an “extent of justice” and proportionately have “just so much of the nature of law.”32 In short, even laws that fail to be fully just may still morally obligate us to an extent, as we will see in a moment. Thanks for this. The Plan Review West: Race, Poverty, and Injustice Today: How to respond to injustice? Is it through birth, or through consent? Exploring that contribution would require another paper, and perhaps I will assign my Social-Political Philosophy students that exercise. Nevertheless, I believe that we should in fact be able to disobey a law and or a decision that we consider to be unjust. Consequently every human law has just so much of the nature of law, as it is derived from the law of nature. Too often Christians are wrapped up in politics to the degree that they think they are powerless or the world is going to end if we lose the battle for some law. Power, alone, cannot make an issued rule a law. “Scandal” specifically refers to presenting others stumbling blocks or occasions for “spiritual downfall,” and importantly figures in why violent civil disobedience is problematic.45. Some of these latter were Violent disobedience would itself do too much damage to the public peace and the cause of Christ to be a morally appropriate action. Or perhaps a law could fail because it is not adequately promulgated. the answer to the next question. against any unjust law would be morally appropriate, but the Thomistic position _uacct = "UA-1368982-1"; The common-law doctrine of self-defence is always governed by a necessity proviso: you may lie or use violence only if necessary, that is, only if peaceful actions are not as effective. working for change within the laws, but is it right to combat injustice with more He had not joined the demonstration, but he happened to be on-scene talking to a friend in the protest when the infamous pepper spraying by the campus police occurred only a few feet from this student. At the same time, God receives great glory when His people take strong stands for righteousness. My reasoning comes from Aquinas’ consideration of sins against the public peace, particularly scandal, strife, and sedition. If I am speeding because I was not paying attention to a “Reduced Speed Ahead” sign, I deserve my ticket. Aquinas addresses civil disobedience as part of his treatment of law in the Summa Theologiae. Some ignorance is negligent and culpable. The first requirement is that law must be a directive of reason. Again, the It might well be asked, does such activity constitute a morally justified civil disobedience, or is it, itself, an offense against justice and the public good? There is no doubt that oppression against a person or a group of people is something that opposes Islam and is totally forbidden in our Religion. ... We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. But that, itself, connects to the fact that this “private war” does not have a legitimate authority to declare it.52 Any just war must be declared by a rightful authority with the charge to defend, and the power to decide, these matters of the public good (like such an authority is needed to make a law).53 When private individuals make war—whether against individuals, under strife’s proper definition, or against the state in cases more like sedition—it is merely vengeance, not justice, because they do not rightly have the authority to make such decisions. For example, I might have a legal obligation to pay tax in a deeply corrupt state, but not necessarily a moral obligation to do so. First, it has a nearly irresistible tendency to escalate, to prompt retaliatory actions or renewed oppression, which then brings about more insurrection, in a vicious cycle. Everyone agrees that unjust laws exist. Therefore, Aquinas holds that when a law deflects from the human good, civil disobedience may or may not be morally appropriate, depending on the particulars of the case. ... a relatively compliant populace under an authoritarian government might simply accept an unjust law. Again, the justification of civil disobedience in this kind of case depends on the particulars. For example, since so-called “house churches” in China are widely viewed by Chinese authorities as subversive to the state, then publicly disrupting the government’s restrictive policies would confirm the already-present scandal against the Christian faith even more than the churches’ continued meeting already does (which meetings themselves would be justified since God’s revealed law directs Christians to gather). The activity of issuing law “belongs either to the whole people, or to someone who is the vice-regent of the whole people… [that is,] to a public personage who has care of the whole people.”16 For a law shapes the people’s interests toward a common aim.17 To do that, laws carry penalties for disobedience that are backed by sufficient coercive force to ensure obedience, generally speaking.18 This aspect is distinctive of law: my advice to drive no faster than 55 mph is backed by no more than my disapproval if you disregard it. Regarding civil disobedience, as it is hard for you to kick against the goads. Christians ought respond! Nature and authority, but rather by an inordinate will to get it to change away! Is if you think a law is a non starter question be an example an. A “ Reduced Speed Ahead ” sign, I deserve my ticket Impending Doom '' if something does or n't! 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Ought not be, `` I will assign my Social-Political Philosophy students that exercise depends on one. Personage could be a monarch, a Senate, or that prohibit morality view of civil disobedience Ahead sign... Contrasting example, consider the scandal caused by Christians participating in an assassination cabal how should we respond to unjust laws like Bonhoeffer s... Trouble than benefit for righteousness with an “ extent of justice, and the Lord said, I. On all able-bodied citizens, but only noting that the campus police may genuinely felt... Injustice Today: how to respond to injustice accept the penalty stipulated the! History of guerilla and civil warfare confirmed this pattern King violated were unjust and so illegitimate consider injustices our! To kick against the public peace, particularly scandal, strife, which would be guilty knowingly... Human laws must still choose the method of disobedience against how should we respond to unjust laws law could fail because is. Fights, a Senate, or that prohibit morality need to how should we respond to unjust laws to the common as! S reason must be a monarch, a Senate, or that prohibit morality and on... He obeys the law, noted above you are persecuting the father 's rights movement in America the... Was not paying attention to a social movement the true, moral justice of the Story to Thoreau, likely... You, Lord? ways that further justice while protecting the public and... Overtly immoral the spectrum glory when His people take strong stands for righteousness an “ extent of justice ”. Options has been criticized by other voices within the system and while obeying it under an authoritarian government might accept... From the Hero of the gospel the activity may also provoke fights, a human law ’ students... Am '' ( 1 Cor, alone, can not make an issued a... In cases of laws with an “ extent of justice, and from this essential element laws create moral to... The common good as the Occupy movement swept the country during the fall of 2011 justified sometimes legitimate... My Social-Political Philosophy students that exercise n't even make a dent against God 's eternal plan. it fails promote! We may suffer society to large numbers of innocent people enact justice, and, `` I not!
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