Thursday, January 12, 2006

On the Mutual Exclusivity of Law and Religion

Err... rather the opposite of that. Alex is precisely right to point out that law and theology are far from being mutually exclusive. Each realm, it could be argued, is entirely subject to the other - as a case in point the Catholic Church has repeatedly found itself accountable to the legal system in recent years. Similarly, for those accepting a theological outlook on life, involvement in the legal system has no bearing on the consequences following this world, the plethora of lawyer jokes notwithstanding.

One major impetus for my interest in law is that within its confines Justice, as it were, is blind. That is to say that unlike many other fields, one's status in terms of socio-economics, ethnic identity, race, sexual orientation, previous suspicion of wrong-doing and, generally, previous wrong-doing has no bearing on the determination of one's guilt or innocence (I speak here of criminal matters). Justice depends on it. In the proper practice of law, the side of reason will prevail regardless of any of those factors.

Good theology is like good law; it puts aside the irrelevant criteria, creating a system which is free of the biases of the outside world.

All that said, both religion and theology frequently suffer from impediments. For its part, the practice of law is "fixed" through laws created in the Legislature which all too often hold one group above or below another. Enumerating certain rights which override legislative efforts helps at alleving this problem. Another flaw of the legal system is that the access to the best attorneys (those most capable of employing solid arguments based upon reason; those who excel at the practice of law) are so regurlarly lured away by those least-deserving of their services with salaries often starting $100,000 above those working for the traditional victims of social ills. Even the law suffers from some of the flaws of the capitalist system. For its part, theology too often gets caught up in matters of textual interpretation and historical tradition which are counterproductive to its purposes.

In their own ways, both law and theology offer greater promise for justice than so many fields, but yet neither field is free of defect. And I know that for me, both of these facts compel me to enter the legal field; I believe that there is work worth doing here and that that work can have significant tangible and beneficial effects. As for Alex, I think he's going to Divinity School for the money. ;-)

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