Monday, July 2, 2012
Beyond the Law
This mid-morning shot of clouds and sun and ocean feels like freedom to me. 4th of July falling in the middle of the week seems to make the whole week a celebration of our independence and of summer. There are still a lot of people hanging on after the weekend.
Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of the development of moral reasoning helps me to understand the thnking of the founders of our nation. Level 4 is the law and order stage where we decide what's right or wrong simply by looking at the law. Level 5 is the social contract stage which says that the law is necessary, but sometimes to do the right thing, we must go beyond the law.
When I read about the discussions among our founders, it is clear that some of them at level 4 cannot bring themselves to break with the king, the lawful authority. Those at level 5 grant that law is necessary but in this situation they are convinced that to do the right thing they must break with England. Gradually I see level 4 founders' becoming convinced of the reasonableness of the level 5 founders' reasoning. They express their agreement this way in the Declaration of Independence:
"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes....But when a long train of abuses evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government."
In the Gospels I see Jesus stress the value of religious law and at the same time disobey or ignore the law. That helps me to see that sometimes to do the right thing I must go beyond the law. I think, though, that Jesus would fit more exactly into Kohlberg's level 6, where a person acts purely out of inner conviction without any reference to the law.