Perspective of Good Laws in Operation
Charles Mercieca, Ph.D.
International Association of Educators for World Peace
Dedicated to United Nations Goals of Peace Education,
Environmental Protection, Human Rights & Disarmament
Professor Emeritus, Alabama A&M University
For endless centuries people everywhere were faced with laws of one kind or another. Some laws were viewed as fair and beneficial while others were viewed as biased and harmful in a number of ways. When the world at large speaks of laws, usually we are referring to man-made laws, commonly known as civic laws. Such laws could change from time to time depending on what those in charge would want to their individual and collective benefit.
Enactment of Laws
In the process of making up laws, followed by their implementation soon afterwards, we often notice the numerous benefits people everywhere receive, along with the many bad consequences others experience. Hence the traditional saying – those that make the law are above the law! In essence, those in power seem to have the prerogative to literally do what they want. When what they want proves to be beneficial to all people without exception, the laws they enact should be viewed as good.
On the other hand, when what they want is evidenced to be harmful to quite a number of people then such laws should be considered as bad and no one is under any obligation to observe them. The question often raised at this juncture is this: On what criteria do we view laws as being right or wrong, just or unfair, beneficial or detrimental? In theory this sounds to be a good question since there may be plenty of subjectivity in the process of enacting laws. However, in practice there are fixed rules, which we cannot escape.
I am referring here to hierarchical laws, which are superior to the civic law, the man-made law. The first of such laws is known as the Divine Positive Law the author of which is viewed to be God. Such divine positive law is also known as the Ten Commandments, which God gave to Moses so that people may find an easy way to spare themselves from leading a chaotic and regretful life. Among such laws we find that we should honor our parents, be honest and truthful, respect the properties of others, and safeguard human life by all means, in addition to a few other vital elements.
Next to the Divine Positive Law, we come across the Natural Law, which is built on the law of nature. Such a law always existed since the beginning of time and it cannot be changed or even modified. Unfortunately, ignorance of such a law has led many people in authority to enact civic laws that are contrary to such laws in a number of cases. In each case, the consequences were always disastrous and many people suffered as a result. The best way for us to comprehend the Natural Law is to illustrate it with some examples.
Meaning of the Natural Law
The law of gravity would be a good example where anything that is heavier than air will go down and anything that is lighter than air will go up. The law of plantation where the roots of the trees always grow below the surface while the trees themselves always develop and grow above the surface. The law of the environment where we always witness a healthy life when we enjoy pure air and water that are free from pollution. The law of birth that is instrumental in bringing children into the world.
Needless to say, there are many other examples of the Natural Law. Any man-made law that hampers with any of these two kinds of laws we just mentioned and explained is to be discarded by all means. No government, no public official, no authority has a right to enact laws that go contrary to either the Divine Positive Law and the Natural Law. When this happens we are then faced with an abuse of power, which is criminal. We need to keep in mind that in the sphere of morality, the end does not justify the means.
This explains why we have the traditional saying – the way to hell is paved with good intentions! Next to the Natural Law we have the Ecclesiastical Law, which is usually enacted by various religions and spiritual leaders. The purpose of such a law is supposedly to protect properly and effectively both the Divine Positive Law and the Natural Law. In fact, if, for one reason or another, a law is enacted that contradicts any of these two higher laws then such law should be viewed wrong, as invalid or inappropriate.
Since the human nature is defective, human beings are not immune from errors of any kind. They are all subject to mistakes. Our greatness as human beings is not revealed in never making mistakes but in our ability to realize our faults when we commit them. Also, it is shown in our resolve not to commit them again in the future. In fact, we do find in history religious leaders that waged wars fiercely where tens of thousands of innocent people were left dead. Regardless of their intention, such wars went against a higher law – the Divine Positive Law – which says clearly: You should not kill.
In view of what has been stated, it is obvious that those who take the initiative to wage wars must be either naïve, ignorant, incompetent to make a value judgment or wicked. In this latter case, such instigators of wars may be viewed as dangerous and need to be condemned. Of course, when we are born and raised, say, in China, Russia, England, France or Germany, it is quite obvious that we grow up speaking Chinese, Russian, English, French or German. This is plain common sense.
Inherited Culture of War
On the other hand, if we are born and raised in a culture of war, it is quite obvious that we are expected, willy-nilly, to make judgments that may favor the justification of the manufacture of weapons and the waging of more wars. The idea that we may destroy numerous residential areas that would include the destruction of schools, hospitals and churches, might be viewed as unavoidable. The eventual brutal massacre of tens of thousands of innocent people tends to be seen as collateral damage. The sacredness of life, which is carefully stressed in the Divine Positive Law, would not really amount to anything!
Only those who have a clear concept of the Divine Positive Law, the Natural Law and the Ecclesiastical Law are in a position to evaluate the appropriateness and usefulness of a Civic Law. Unfortunately, the vast majority of politicians, especially in western civilization, do not seem to ever have the opportunity to study these three higher and important laws. Can people talk a language that they never heard of its very existence? The answer is a qualitative no. Leading politicians in many countries resort to weapons and wars because, in numerous cases, they never heard of these three higher laws!
Consequently, they act as though such laws do not exist. They act as though the only existent law is the Civic Law, that is, man-made law which may change from time to time, as stated earlier. Maybe it would help a lot if those in power especially were to meditate on the famous statement of the Master Teacher of Nazareth when he warned to his disciple Peter saying – Put the sword away for he who kills by the sword will die by the sword. And this same Master Teacher exhorted us to do to others what we would like others to do to us.
We may also think of the traditional saying: what goes around comes around. We may as well recall the words that Pope Pius XII told to both Britain and Germany on the eve of World War II saying: In a war everyone is a loser no one is a winner. Germany lost the war and its economy collapsed and people were poor everywhere. Britain won the war and its economy equally collapsed and people were poor everywhere. In addition, Britain lost also its British Empire.
When we speak of good laws we refer to all conceivable laws that exist exclusively for the benefit of all people across every continent without exception. We view good laws in the moral sphere of our earthly community. Needless to say, when governments enact laws they all say that such laws are enacted for the benefit of all citizens. Even here we need to keep in mind the Roman proverb: aliud est theoria, aliud est practica – one thing is theory, another thing is practice. The Italians have a similar proverb: tra il dire e il fare c’e in mezzo il mare – between saying and doing there is an abyss.
Total Universal Welfare
Those that say that some things may be good for one and not for another may be true if they refer to food, housing facilities, and selected life needs. For example, those with high blood pressure need to be careful of their cholesterol in their diet while those who suffer from diabetes need to avoid consuming items with plenty of sugar. This means in the material sphere of life it is true that some things may be good for some but not for others. However, in the moral sphere of life what is beneficial for one is also beneficial for all people.
If we really want to know about the kind of good laws that should be enacted, we need, in the first place, to have a clear concept of both the Divine Positive Law and the Natural Law. These laws are superior to the Civic Law. This explains why those in charge of formulating laws should be constantly guided by these two stated superior laws. As stated earlier, the job of the Ecclesiastical Law is to see to it that a proper guide is provided as to safeguard both the Divine Positive Law and the Natural Law.
Besides, the Ecclesiastic Law should provide the Civic Law with a proper guideline when it comes to the making and implementation of new civic laws. If for one reason or another, governmental officials fail to demonstrate due respect to both the Divine Positive Law and the Natural Law, then religious authorities ought to become highly vocal in their defense of these two inherently morally good laws. In fact, all of us have the sacrosanct obligation to become openly vocal as to make sure that such defiant laws are never implemented
This explains why St. Thomas Aquinas who was viewed to be a genius, told his students: If you want to be wise and become highly beneficial to society you need to support the good even when it comes from a garbage-man and condemn the evil even when it comes from the king. Unfortunately, a rapid glance through history reveals that century after century the world went continuously from one crisis to another to this very day. This is revealed mostly in weapons made and wars waged which boiled down to an expression of jealously and hatred for others.
Ascetical writers tell us that one of the reasons why we have so much evil in the world is because we have good people who never say or do anything to condemn evil and to help bringing it to an end! Some do this under the excuse that they do not want to become involved in so called political affairs. Well, suppose we happen to be in a party and one provides us with a big box that is full of a variety of drinks. Now, let us assume that we do know that a percentage of those drinks are poisonous.
Guidance of Higher Laws
What shall we do? Shall we warn those present to be careful if such drinks were brought in by an ordinary man but remain totally silent is such drinks were brought by a government official? Let us also assume that most of those present happen to be our close friends or members of our immediate family. Do we rather choose to remain silent and risk their lives if such deadly elements were presented by a political leader? People in government or in authority of any kind do not have the privilege or the prerogative to take away the lives of innocent people knowingly or unknowingly.
Of course, we are not stating here that the man or government official that brought the box of drinks to the party might have been necessarily aware that a percentage of such drinks were poisoned. Our point here is this. Should, for one reason or another, we become aware of this sad fact, we must immediately step in to bring it into the open and to have it stopped before it would be too late. In doing so, we will be observing both the Divine Positive Law and the Natural Law, which are always to be viewed as good laws.
After all, one of the Divine Positive Laws admonishes us to safeguard life by exhorting us not to kill anyone. In addition, the Natural Law recognizes our sacrosanct right for good nourishment to live a long and healthy life. This presentation is entitled: Perspective of Good Laws in Operation in the hope that we form a clear concept of perennially good laws. This way we will be in an excellent position to make a better value judgment when it comes to evaluate civic laws at both the local, national and international level.
In view of what has been stated, let us keep in mind that honesty is always the best policy. This explains why the Italians have a proverb which says: Call bread by the name bread and wine by the name wine. In plain English we say: Call it as it is. If in anything we do we reveal respect for both the Divine Positive Law and the Natural Law, then we cannot possibly do anything wrong. Problems of any kind develop when we try to defy, knowingly or unknowingly these two noble God-made laws, which are meant to guide and govern all civic laws.