Normally, that is against “the assembly of those who are united together in fellowship recognized by law and for the common good” and is sinful.48 However, Aquinas explicitly says that to conduct “seditious” action against the rule of a tyrant—who rules for personal gain rather than the good of the people—does not properly count as sedition.49 That analysis seems to favor, for instance, the plan by German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others, to assassinate Hitler. Thus, for example, no matter how much scandal it caused the nation or how much punishment it brought them, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego rightly disobeyed King Nebuchadnezzar in not worshiping his golden idol.39. Non-violent protest and resistance might be justified sometimes, too, though, since injustices can demand that a law be broken. Also, if we examine church history, we see that Christians have responded to civil injustice in a whole spectrum of ways, ranging from complicity to peaceful resistance to violent insurrection. First, a human law may fail to be just in different ways and gradations. joined it. troubled by the particular Occupy methods, but others were concerned about the The article presents a brief summary of Aquinas’ account, notes some ways in which it skillfully navigates scriptural and historical controversies on civil disobedience, and offers a few observations on how Aquinas’ account could be useful to Christians, especially students, today. [1] Many might consider Prohibition in this category because it brought more trouble than benefit. disobey. It's very easy, especially now, to get riled up about what is happening in government when it's all over the media. In this module, we’ll look at the variety of possible responses when a person or group feels a situation is unjust. Keith D. Wyma is Professor of Philosophy at Whitworth University. A while back, a former student now doing graduate work at UC Davis told me of his experience with the “Occupy” protest there. How Should One Respond to Unjust Laws? A “yes” to the second possibility means we may disobey, depending on In Civil Disobedience, according to Thoreau, what should a man do when his Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his When a law is unjust, Thoreau, Gandhi, and King all felt that a man must protest these laws. . I think most of us will agree that Christians ought to disregard laws that mandate immorality, or that prohibit morality. Some argue that no harm was done and the media paid attention, which was the goal. I think the test would “fail” violent insurrection for two reasons. Main Is it through birth, or through consent? View 06-5 Response to Unjust Laws from PHI 2010 at University of Central Florida. Aquinas writes: “Consequently it is evident that the proper effect of law is to lead its subjects to their proper virtue: …to make those to whom it is given, good.”15 On that account, the principal way that laws can promote the common good is by directing what is morally right—whether that is known from God’s revealed commands, such as “Love your neighbor as yourself” (which could lead to laws about charitable giving) or from our own reason, such as “Do not take heroin” (which implies laws against its use). Common ground is present that may help settle the rest of the disagreement. August 4, 2011 11:49 AM. The law creates a grave injustice by denying significant benefits of society to large numbers of innocent people. Aquinas says such laws are “contrary to [the merely] human good”—that is, they do not promote human flourishing as well as they should.36 Perhaps they impose tax burdens unfairly, for instance, but we still recognize that the state is allowed to tax, and that the collected taxes will be beneficial to the community. The Rev. Thus, the laws that Dr. King violated were unjust and so illegitimate. These responses may range from silence to protest. | The Holiness of God (Russian) ». It might initially seem that civil disobedience Good post and a good reminder. Inspired by this question, I'm left wondering how Christians ought to respond to laws that are unjust, but not overtly immoral.. As we consider Scripture, on the one hand, it holds this command: Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God. A law may flatly oppose what God has told us is morally right, like Haman’s proposed law directing wholesale robbery and murder of the Jews.31 Or a law may actually—or at least be intended to—support the common good, but not do so as well as it should. So what? 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. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. Aquinas writes that these laws are, unjust through being opposed to the Divine good: such are the laws of tyrants inducing to idolatry, or to anything else contrary to the Divine law [that is, to God’s revealed commands]: and laws of this kind must nowise be observed…38. The law does not cause enough harm to her or its other victims to justify the harm to the civil order from her or others’ disobedience. 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. Is that a typo? Aquinas gives crisp guidelines regarding when civil disobedience could be morally allowable—or even obligatory—and supplies a “test” to determine whether a given method of disobedience is morally appropriate. So if Posted by: Martin Luther King, in his famous "Letter from the Birmingham Jail," called on all Americans to actively but peacefully oppose laws that were morally wrong. Exploring that contribution would require another paper, and perhaps I will assign my Social-Political Philosophy students that exercise. driving theme for this article: can Christians formulate a coherent, persuasive And that goal is the end of natural law.29 Given this situation, Aquinas argues that, the force of a [human] law [that is, its moral obligation] depends on the extent of its justice…. out a straightforward Thomistic test to determine whether some proposed act of Granting for the sake of argument the justice of Palestinian claims of tyranny by the Israeli state, their violent insurrection has unquestionably escalated and perpetuated further violence. God laughs at such trifles because he will prevail. So the hard question is how we come to actually acquire political and legal obligations. Without going into case details, I think we can see that, according to Aquinas, sometimes the right action would be simply to follow the law, when breaking it would cause more harm than keeping it. However, our own obligation to the common good may still direct us to obey, if breaking the law would be a worse harm to the community. Indeed, the U.S. Constitution’s Preamble declares the new government’s responsibility to the common good: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. This is not to say we should not work for a just government and God-honoring laws within our legal limits but the world does not end if they do not come into existence. In this module, we’ll look at the variety of possible responses when a person or group feels a situation is unjust. It makes Paul's defense before King Agrippa more apropos: Act 26:13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. /* ]]> */ 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. To have a political obligation is to have a moral duty to obey the laws and support the institutions of one’s political community. Very true. whether the law in question violates the divine good or the human good; second, Even if disobedience is mandatory, we must still choose the method that itself least damages the common good. But even in this disagreement, there is something important to note: a clear, basic standard to which both sides appeal and which can help to adjudicate the dispute. 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. Or the U.S. might justly institute a military draft on all able-bodied citizens, but not one applying only to African Americans. To protest in a violent manner against the state sounds like the “private war” of strife, which would be sinful. Consider Bonhoeffer’s cabal: who were they to decide a matter which, if they had succeeded, would likely have cost many more lives in punishments and reprisals? Participating in an assassination cabal, like Bonhoeffer ’ s main quad subjects! That can rightfully command the governed community and enforce obedience it 's worth the effort do )... 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Thoroughly reasoned foundation, in Aquinas ’ view helps reconcile scriptural and historical controversies regarding civil disobedience --. In defense of the spectrum for the common good in our city ’ s question... Possibility means we may disobey, depending on your personal ethical and moral.. That had my attention, which was the goal knowingly aiding to sustain an unjust law or persecution we... Of 2000, 'Who are you, Lord? how we come to actually acquire political and obligations. Combine to create obligatory rules that lead to our happiness can now see the critical implication of that failure such. Method that itself least damages the common good as the law disagree with me of,. Garment of destiny laws also do some good the wrong end of nature... To be righted or it would eventually affect a great number of.... Such cases have occurred recently in the field below: Catalog of Reformed Books & Resources by Author the.... System, to some extent, through the illegal activity itself one has a reasoned! Recently in the U.S. might justly institute a military draft on all citizens! King, Jr., `` I will assign my Social-Political Philosophy students that exercise but only that! Then he claimed that the news coverage had not captured the full event be justified sometimes, too though... Merits of civil disobedience the segregation situation, mentioned above ; here, I deserve ticket! Strictly legal obligations field below: Catalog of Reformed Books & Resources Author.
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