State Laws and Religious Exemptions- An Analysis

In our day we have assisted reproductive technologies, genetic engineering, abortion on demand, organ donations (requiring a refined definition of the moment of death), “partners”, and same sex marriage. Surely the God-inspired laws of Moses, written possibly 3000 years ago, are completely irrelevant in our day as guides on issues like these?If you wish to learn more about this, visit State Laws and Religious Exemptions

What chance is there that a law code featuring trial by ordeal, an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth judicial system, stoning to death of adulterers, and amputation of hands could help us?

Christians generally prefer to keep their eyes averted from these primitive guidelines and focus instead on the high moral principles of the New Testament. But modern management theory could offer a rationale for some of the crudities in the Mosaic laws.

Blake and Mouton found that the most suitable management system in a given situation depends on the maturity level of the people being managed and the nature of the task in hand — pleasant or unpleasant.

Who’s best? The bossy dictatorial type, or the nice tactful consensual team leader? Well, it depends what the task is and who is being led. The approach you would use in organizing a group of university lecturers in some project would not work if you were trying to lead troops into battle. An undisciplined army loses.

Bear that in mind as you contemplate Moses leading a horde of slaves through the desert for forty years. If punishments from on high or from Moses seemed precipitate and extreme in certain situations, perhaps they needed to be to achieve the overall goals.

The moral development of children and adults may also be relevant. Lawrence Kohl berg identified six stages in moral development. People in the first stage, which would apply roughly to children starting school and a few years after, behave in an acceptable manner only if told to do so by some authority figure (parent or teacher) who exercises authority backed by sanctions of one kind or another.

People at this level would not willingly submit to the rigors of structured learning without some kind of external discipline. To develop the skills from a tender age to become a top flight violin player or a world champion tennis player, for example, would require stringent external discipline to get the training program under way and to keep it going for the necessary length of time.

Quite apart from such extreme cases there is some evidence in Western (especially Anglo) countries that standards in reading and number skills are sliding precisely because the external discipline is inadequate.

Stage 6 describes a class of people who have respect for universal principles and the demands of the individual conscience.

Stage 1 could quite reasonably represent the level of moral development at which the Mosaic generation of Hebrews operated. It would be nice to think that later Jews and Christians, guided by the Holy Spirit, would eventually reach Kohl berg’s Stage 6 of moral development. Then they would not need to be guided by a set of rules. They could be guided by the universal principle of love.

The New Testament writer St Paul developed that very point. (Romans 13:8-10) If you genuinely love your fellow man you won’t murder, steal, commit adultery or covet what other people have, so there is no need of a law forbidding such things.

But before we reach that exalted state Paul identified a role for the Mosaic law as a “schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24 KJV) or a “disciplinarian” (RSV) to lead individuals to Christ.

Kohl berg claimed it is not possible for an individual to jump from Stage 1 to Stage 6, or even to Stage 3. Everyone has to pass through each stage of moral development without skipping any.

The average Christian plodder might still be at a level where he needs the help of the “schoolmaster” to grow more fully into the faith of Christ. In other words, even for many or most Christians, especially children, the counsels and illustrations of the Old Testament may still help him in his spiritual growth and development.

The early Israelite needed to be constrained by an explicit, concrete and immediate system of punishment. Their dim awareness of a coming Messiah and Savior was not reinforced by lengthy theological expositions about propitiation, reconciliation, justification or sanctification — but by deadly practical rehearsals of atonement through the continuous sacrifices of the sanctuary services.

An Israelite could be put to death for breaking the Sabbath or rebelling against his parents or for breaking any other of the Ten Commandments, including the one against covetousness. (Joshua, chapter 7) In other words, the Mosaic code taught in the most literal and direct sense the New Testament message that the wages of sin is death.

The stage of moral development of many people today is, with all due respects, not so high that they (and society in general) could not benefit in some contexts from a more primitive system.