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Questions of Faith 4

Thanks for comments so far.  I'll get around to responding later on today or tonight.

Continued from here.

Can there be a place for Sharia law in our multi-cultural society?


Any provision of Sharia law within a multi-cultural western society would be extremely complicated, and not something I’m in any position to comment upon.  But it’s complication shows us something – it shows that admirable liberal values like “respect” and “tolerance” can’t, by themselves, arbitrate in a multicultural society. What does it even mean to “respect” a cultural practice that is entirely alien to modern, liberal western values?  How should the British Raj have “respected” the Hindu practice of burning widows on the funeral pyre of their dead husbands?

For all talk of “respecting” different faiths and outlooks, a single rule of law must, by the nature of the case, outlaw certain religious practices that are dear to certain of its communities.  The tolerance card only goes so far – everyone finds something intolerable.  There are, it turns out, taboos, sacred cows and unforgiveable sins even for the most secular legislator.

Therefore, for all the attempts to make our laws neutral with regards to faith communities, the rule of law cannot be neutral.  Every rule of law is faith based.  It embodies a certain vision of the healthy, flourishing society.  It comes from a certain worldview.

What faith is embodied by this country’s laws?  I’m certain that we have passed a tipping point whereby Christianity is no longer our shaping faith commitment in the passing and upholding of laws.  Instead there is another faith informing our laws: liberal, pluralistic humanism.  That is our grand vision for humanity and what we are and what we should aspire to – it shapes our legislation and our judiciary.  And necessarily so.  All laws come from faith commitments.

Now I’m not here advocating that we lobby against liberal pluralistic humanism and try to get Christianity back onto the statute books.  I don’t think you legislate Christianity, I think you preach it.  But I’m a preacher – of course I think that.

If the debates about Sharia law do anything, I hope they make us more self-consciously aware of the faith commitments we already hold as a society.  I hope we scrutinize carefully what it is that Sharia law wants us to believe.  It has a vision of what it means to be human, what it is to be woman, what it is to be man, what is right, what is wrong, what is just.  And I want us to scrutinize and question those things very carefully.  But I also hope we scrutinize what it is that our own law-makers want us to believe.  Who are we, what do we need, what must be protected, what must be rejected, what is true, what is just.  The answers to those questions are not obvious.  And simply to slide along with the majority view on those questions is not wise.  Neither will it allow us to say a firm "No" when a faith community demands something really abhorrent in the name of "tolerance."  We need a firmer foundation than "tolerance" or "respect."

Jesus Christ says, Come to me and I will show you who we are, what we need, what is true, what is false.  He frees us to think again about what life is really about.  And His vision is not the Sharia vision and it’s not the liberal humanist vision either.

But His rule is the one rule which outsiders should fear the least.  Because here is One who loves and bleeds and dies for His enemies.  He does not merely wish us to "tolerate" outsiders.  He commands us to love our enemies.

And He invites you into an alternative, counter-cultural kingdom, even as you live in the United Kingdom.  He tells you to honour the law-makers as far as is humanly possible: He says “Give to Caesar what is Caesar, but give to God what is God’s.”  And a society in which Christians are vigourously living out Christ’s other-centred life in the world – whether they happen to wield political power or whether they are a small, oppressed minority – that society is better off.


Once again, I very much appreciate your comments...


0 thoughts on “Questions of Faith 4

  1. Scott Miller

    "In closing let me remind you that it is important that you follow the law spelled out in these instructions in deciding your verdict. There are no other laws that apply in this case. Even if you do not like the laws that must be applied, you must use them. For two centuries we have lived by the constitution and the law. No juror has the right to violate the rules we all share."

    This quote is the last instruction that a judge gives to jurprs in criminal cases in the state of Florida, USA, which I have heard hundreds of times in my nearly 20 years of practicing law. Most Americans undersatnd the concept of "the Constitution" of two centuries, but few really understand the weight of the phrase, "the rules we all share." This is actually a nod to the concepts of the Common Law of England which we inherited and was the well from which our founding fathers drew when they enshrined our rights in the Constitution. The idea that "the rules we all share" refers to a built in sense of morality and justice that is ours by custom and common practice and springs forth from our cultural inheritance as a Christian people, is something that we have forgotten in our post-modern, materialistic, and thus utilitarian view of "government."

    I have seen this utilitarian view as legislators have, with well-intentioned zeal, written out concepts of Common Law that have served society well for centuries (much before the written Constitution), in favor of ill conceived utilitarian laws that promise some specific instance of justice at the expense of the inherent dignity and value of the rights of man. This tendency of legislators to write and of judges to create loopholes in the Common Law and the Constitution is shared by activists on both sides of the political spectrum.

    The fact that multi-culturalism itself threatens the whole basis of law founded on the principles of men being "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights," I have written about when I vainly opposed "gay adoption" of children, in Florida, the last state of the union to abandon its prohibition of such practice.

    Ironically, the abandonment of a religious context of our laws paves the way for the adoption of religious law in the form of Sharia Law. There is a precident for the adoption of Sharia Law in a modern secular society. I studied Israeli family law under professor Phineas Shiffman of the Hebrew University while I was at the University of Miami (where I was the only Goy in the class). Different laws of divorce and adoption apply in Israeli depending upon the religion of the parties. Of course a question arises when the parites belong to different faith communities as to which law should apply and to which community a child born to a mixed marriage would apply. Since both Rabbinic and Canon Law do not recognize as valid mixed mariages, but Sharia law recognizes marriages between Muslim men and Jewish or Christain women, the child born to such marriages would be considered Muslim. This is because the "best interest of the child" standard, when divorced of religious context would aknowledge the interest of the child to not be considered a bastard. Thus Sharia Law's children of a Muslim Father's recognized marriage would trump Rabbinic Law's children of a Jewish mother's illegitimate marriage.

    As Islam becomes more and more "mainstream," the values and mores of a secular multi-cultural society will by necessity become more and more accepting of Muslim concepts of justice. Eventually, custom finds its way into practice and becomes part of the Common Law tradition - sooner or later to be Formalized by statute.

    The answer to the Islamification of society by force of law however is not the encoding of Christian or even secular values (whatever that oxymoron is) into statute. It's the evangelization of the non-believer and secular minded believers to the point where Christian values are enshrined by common custom as moral norms. Nature abhores a vacuum, and the necessary alternative to evangelization will be the inevitable acceptance of Sharia Law to fill the moral vacuum of secularism.

  2. Glen

    Scott - that's really helpful thanks. Nice to have another wise Floridian in comments (John B lives in your neck of the woods too). And I totally agree about evangelization as the answer!

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