Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Enforcing God's Law

Written by johnleemk on 11:14:57 am May 13, 2007.
Categories: ,

I have always found attempts to justify a theocracy bemusing. Although some people I have run into, mainly a few Muslim fundamentalists, have been honest about the only reason for theocracy — because God said so — most proponents of religious rule attempt to argue for a religious state on logical grounds.

The problem inherent in this approach, of course, is that both God and religion are irrational matters of the heart, not rational matters of the mind. It is extremely difficult to logically prove that a theocracy is superior to all other forms of government when it requires the illogical (like it or not, religion is illogical) step of believing in a supreme being or some greater meaning of life.

Tackling all the arguments of theocrats would be a very drawn-out process, and one probably requiring a whole tome to do logic justice. For this reason, this article will focus on one particular issue: the enactment and enforcement of religious law.

Although I am a Christian, I recognise that quoting the Bible has no authority — but I will quote it anyway, because I have found a particular passage which concisely sums up my opinion on religious law:

Quoted from: 1 Samuel 2:25
If one man sin against another, the judge shall judge him: but if a man sin against the LORD, who shall entreat for him?
This sentence makes a very secular argument for justice. Man can only take retribution against another man if that man sins against him; a sin against God can only be punished by God.

Of course, this argument holds no weight with Muslim theocrats, or Christians who pick and choose from their holy book. And since this debate is grounded in the irrationality of religion in the first place, I don't expect the sense of that statement to carry any water with proponents of religious law.

There are logical extensions to the argument as well, however. For example, we know that God is going to punish wrongdoing against Him — so why are we doubling the punishment of sinners who have not even sinned against us?

This in particular has always confused me. Fundamentalists preach fire and brimstone for those who violate God's law, and yet seem to think God's eternal justice is not enough for these sinners — not only must they be punished in the next life, but they should suffer in this one as well.

The sensible approach, preaching and leading by example, is rarely followed. Instead of trying to win heretics back to the true faith, Muslims would rather murder them. I don't know how fundamentalists from either Christianity or Islam can call their religion one of compassion when they actually would prefer to sadistically inflict greater punishment on sinners than God has already provided for.

Of course, on an irrational level, it may make sense in some twisted way to punish sinners before God punishes them. But God gave us reason for, well, a reason — and I don't think he meant us to ignore it and act like automatons whenever religion is in the picture.

Interestingly, polytheistic and nontheistic religions like Hinduism and Buddhism have generally not been keen on such punishment of the sinners in this world — or, at least, their modern adherents are not anywhere near as militantly sadist as many Christian or Muslim fundamentalists.

Part of the reason, of course, is that Buddhism preaches non-violence (although I think legalistic literalists would probably find means of punishment and torture that don't involve direct physical violence) and that such religions are generally not as dogmatic as monotheistic faiths.

But I also think that one reason (if not a conscious reason) monotheists are more keen on punishment of sin in this world than poly-/nontheists is based on their different concepts of the afterlife.

In monotheism, generally the good go to heaven and the bad go to hell. In Buddhism and Hinduism, the good are reincarnated as a higher form of life, while the bad take a lower form, in proportion to their karma — tally of good and bad acts.

As a result, the polytheist afterlife has a variable level of punishment, correlating with how bad your sins are. In monotheism, though, the sinners get one single lump sum punishment in hell, regardless of how badly they have sinned.

So, for this reason, I can see why an overly irrational and emotional monotheist might find it sensible to punish sins against God in this world — because otherwise there is no sense of proportion. But still, once logic is applied, this sort of thinking is clearly deficient — God obviously punishes sinners all the same for a reason, and it is going against his will (not to mention being exceedingly cruel) to apply excess punitive measures.

In short, you don't have to be a secularist or atheist to oppose the enforcement of God's law. To even a thinking fundamentalist, the argument for punishing those who sin against God is simply wrong.

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