Law in Contemporary Society
-- JackSherrick - 18 Feb 2021

I moved this topic to JackSherrickFirstEssayNotes so that when the standard essay template is created for you it doesn't conflict with these items.

Elaborating on one of the questions I posed in IdeasAboutIdeas

Question: Why do religious adherents who rely upon a Holy book of laws follow secular laws? What kinds of psychological gymnastics are going on there? (Question derived from Max Weber, Calvin, my hometown community)(Look most closely at the Folklore of Capitalism, Lawyerland)

I'm trying to refine my thoughts about the above question but as you can see below, what I've got so far is pretty much gibberish. I'm trying to distill a single idea out of this that I can really latch onto.

Potential Idea - y=β_1 X_1+ β_2 X_2+ ε

y = expected utility over span of life (assume soul is immortal so "life" is for all of eternity)

X_1 = temporal utility

β_1 < ∞

X_2 = heavenly utility

β_2 = ∞

β_1 X_1 < β_2 X_2 always

ε = error term (what does this capture with respect to X_2?)

Assuming this equation dictates behavior of religious adherents, a rational actor has no reason to do anything to improve their temporal condition. If heavenly utility is infinity, why care at all about earthly affairs.

  • Luther's reaction to the peasant revolt as support for this function
  • Luther's Freedom of a Christian essay

More of a helpful heuristic than a mathematical truth.

Discounting future preferences is irrelevant because coefficient is ∞

Miracle Motif

Kierkegaard on paradox of faith

"Mathematically correct" laws (Holmes) are those contained in the Bible. Why tolerate anything other than a theocracy if the perfect laws have already been written?

Eternity as a dissociative tool

It might be useful (and intellectually respectful) to ask how the relevant legal systems actually deal with the question. It would also be reasonable, I think, to draw not only upon theologians, but also the legal thinkers who necessarily must address the issue, perhaps with slightly greater sophistication than might be expected from the treatment you propose here. One could take a synoptic view of the discussion of this question in the history of Islamic law by jumping off from Noel Coulson's brief, comprehensive and insightful treatment in Conflicts and Tensions in Islamic Jurisprudence. The best introductory treatment of the subject with respect to American "Puritan" thinking so important to our national political and legal development is G.H. Haskins, Law and Authority in Early Massachusetts. The Jewish literature is, as one would expect, immense: this is, after all, one of the basic questions around which Talmud is organized. The very clearest introduction for the general reader, presenting its own masterful synthesis of the long tradition, is Chaim Saiman, Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law (2018), a brilliant work by a former student of mine now Professor of Jewish Law at Villanova, of which there appears as of yet to be no copy in the Columbia University libraries.

First Draft of Paper


In 1524, German peasants waged war against the aristocracy. The peasant demanded legal advantages that the aristocracy had deprived them. During the conflict, the peasants sought the support of the father of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther. Luther's opposition to the oppression of the Catholic Church suggested to the peasants that he would take a similar stance against the aristocracy's political oppression. However, rather than give the peasants his blessing, Luther penned a scathing letter condemning the peasant's plight and beseeching them to acquiesce to aristocratic rule. Luther agreed with many of the peasant's demands but nevertheless instructed the peasants to "suffer to the end, and leave the case to Him (God). "


Luther's position is representative of the outlook many Christians hold today. Many Christians are willing to subject themselves to secular laws that do not align with their religious laws because they put little stock in the quality of their temporal lives relative to the eternal wellbeing of their souls. They also have a belief that original sin has placed a low ceiling on the degree of justice that can possibly be achieved on earth. Regardless of how "good" a law is, the corrupt nature of the human condition precludes the law from having much of a positive impact. Instead, there is a prevailing belief in the that positive change is best achieved on an individual rather than institutional level. As a brief caveat, this essay is not seeking to paint all Christians with a broad brush. Many Christian organizations such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference seek to radically restructure society through legal means and do not hold the fatalistic or dismissive attitudes towards legal change that I describe in this essay.

Expected Life Utility

Many Christians view their life on earth as merely a blip in the eternal timeline of their existence. This makes sense if you assume that your soul has an eternal lifespan. (Average life span on earth/eternal life span of the soul ≈ 0). The following equation seeks to explain how those who believe in the eternity of their existence would seek to optimize their expected life utility.

y=β_1 X_1+ β_2 X_2+ ε where y = expected utility over span of entire existence; X_1 = temporal utility; X_2 = post-temporal utility; β_1 < ∞; and β_2 = ∞.

Assuming this equation dictates behavior of certain populations of religious adherents, a rational actor has little reason to do anything to improve their temporal condition. If post-temporal utility is infinity, why care at all about earthly affairs unless it impacts your post-temporal expected utility? The only concern is to ensure that sign on X_2 is positive and not negative, everything else is utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. This sort of thinking would justify Luther's command to "suffer to the end and leave the case to Him." The expected life utility would also predict Luther's stance on the Peasant's War because Luther believed that the Peasant's efforts to achieve reform were condemning them to an eternity in hell. The risk/reward tradeoff is so imbalanced that enduring existing structures is the most rational choice under the model.

Miracle Motif

The miracle motif is a belief held by many Christians that the best way to improve society is to "love one another" and to add more people to the church. The state of society is not dependent upon secular laws or institutions, but upon the character of the individuals that compose society. Emerson and Smith first analyzed the miracle motif and found that it contributes to white evangelical Christians' opposition to radical social change. The miracle motif allows people to disassociate the distinction between a whole and its elements. The rationale is that a country is made up of states that are made up of counties that are made up of cities that are made up of neighborhoods that are made up of families, that are made up of individuals. Therefore, the best way to improve the country would be to improve the individual. This line of thinking eliminates the distinction between individual and group action. Arnold's Folklore of Capitalism dispels the notion that an organization is merely the sum of the individuals that compose its membership. Arnold lays out laws of political dynamics that describe the unique qualities of organizations that are resistant to the changing character of the individuals that compose their membership. Failure to understand this nuance instill a belief that change can only be accomplished from the bottom up.

Original Sin

I worked in construction this past summer and would frequently exchange world-views with my foreman Jim, a devout Lutheran. One day, we were discussing America's military strength and I suggested reducing military spending as a means of preventing future wars. Jim gave me a perplexed look and responded, "why would I try to stop war? I don't try to stop the sun from coming up?" Jim's views can be considered representative of Protestant American Christians. Many Christians view the human condition as a depraved state devoid of significant potential for improvement. Original sin has marred temporal existence beyond repair and any attempt to reach the prelapsarian heights of Eden is an exercise in futility. Not only does such an endeavor have an impossible goal, it borders on the sort of pride exhibited by those builders of the tower of Babel who sought to be equal to God. This sort of attitude invites disengagement from legal reform. The courts nominal quest for justice serves an unachievable purpose. A belief in original sin plays a role in the promulgation of the miracle motif. Widespread reforms are seen as fruitless but change is possible on an individual scale.


This analysis is intended to provide helpful heuristic framework to understand some Christians' psychological relationship to secular law. It is not intended to be a hatchet job on Christian thinking nor an exoneration of the behaviors that arise out of this sort of thinking. This analysis could be further nuanced by considering factors such as political ideology and racial attitudes or by extrapolating my argument onto other faiths. While many Christians may have a fatalistic and unengaged attitude towards secular law, they still have outsized political influence in America. White Christians compose only 43 percent of the American public yet they make up 55 percent of American voters. This indicates that fatalistic attitudes may not necessarily depressed turnout.

Thoughts on how to improve this essay in the next draft/Notes

My weakness is from nature, who hath but her measure; my strength is from God, who possesses and distributes infinitely (Meditation VI Donne)

As therefore thy Son did look upon the coin, I look upon the king, and I ask whose image and whose inscription he hath, and he hath thine; and I give unto thee that which is thine; I recommend his happiness to thee in all my sacrifices of thanks, for that which he enjoys, and in all my prayers for the continuance and enlargement of them. (VIII Expostulation)

Massachusetts Puritans chose to merge the secular and divine. According to Haskins, a number of the colony's laws were based on the Old Testament while there was also a moderate embrace of various forms of English law during the early period. (Haskins page 7).

The Massachusetts meetinghouse illustrates the blending of the secular and divine. There was compulsory church attendance (88) Thomas Shepard pleaded for stricter observance of town bylaws, Hugh Peter urged the support of economic programs, and John Cotton preached on the ethics of trade and business practice. Each year, special election sermons exhorted reverence for the symbols of government by commending the fit character of civil leaders (88). Tried once by the civil authorities then again by the church. the county courts sentenced people to confess their sin before their congregation.

"Thus, the church communities were not only active agencies of law enforcement within the colony but also sources of positive law in the sense that law consists of the rules and standards whereby men are expected to order their conduct" (89)

Excommunication did not preclude one from holding public office (93)

Miller - the puritans showed "how a discipline gathered out of the Word could subserve the political ideals of civil supremacy and national unity" (93)

Augustine John Donne questions the relationship between physical frailty and divine

The Christian willingness to obey secular leaders yet abstain from involvement in secular government led to the establishment and rapid growth of an episcopal government.

Among many American Protestant Christians, there is a prevalent attitude that the secular and divine and largely unrelated.

Laws are, "the product of, or a response to, complex social and psychological pressures. Their purpose is to secure, limit, and adjust the demands and desires of men with respect to things, to one another, and to the community. Law in this sense consists partly of received precepts and ideals and partly of legislative enactments, judicial decisions and the orders of public officials.The law is a compound of past as well as of present forcesl it is both ananchor to tradition and a vehicle for change. The law is the highest inheritiace by which the people are preserved" (p. 4 Haskins)

Linking psychological attitudes towards behavior, as Weber does in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

I could discuss Brown as a counterargument wherein religious belief motivates one to actively oppose secular jurisprudence rather than acquiesce to it. Someone mentioned on the pad that there seems to be a correlation between being an activist leader and having strong religious beliefs.(e.g. Brown, King, Malcolm X). I agree but believe this correlation is only present in activist leaders, not necessarily in the less ardent supporters of a movement.

Also, I could introduce some Marx. I'm familiar with his quote "religion is the opium of the people" but I haven't read Marx's writings on religion.

A contemporary and somewhat ridiculous version of Luther's message to the peasants that they should "leave the case to God."

Remove the caveats, don't be so direct in discussing additional ideas that could be taken from this theory

Many Christians are willing to subject themselves to secular laws that do not align with their religious laws because they put little stock in the quality of their temporal lives relative to the eternal wellbeing of their souls. They also have a belief that original sin has placed a low ceiling on the degree of justice that can possibly be achieved on earth. Regardless of how "good" a law is, the corrupt nature of the human condition precludes the law from having much of a positive impact. Instead, there is a prevailing belief in the that positive change is best achieved on an individual rather than institutional level.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:



Webs Webs

r3 - 19 May 2021 - 02:35:50 - JackSherrick
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM