Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Law and Theology: A Marriage?, Part I.

What do law and theology have in common?

In an occasional series, I will be offering my ruminations as to why these fields may be integrated and how they share crucial commonalities.

First, both disciplines elevate written texts. In law, the U.S. Constitution provides an obvious example. Laws or state actions that are found to conflict with this preeminent document are stricken down. In fact, the Constitution is referred to as "Supreme". Similarly, in most religions, biblical texts generally govern, such as the Torah, Koran, and the New Testament.

Second, the presence of an important text requires rules of interpretation. What does the text mean? In theology, this field is called hermeneutics, and presents many permutations. In law, various schools of thought have emerged, such as plain language, original meaning, original intent, and "living" document. (See prior post here.) Needless to say, not all agree what the Constitution means. An old saw goes that there are as many interpretations of it as there are lawyers.

Third, in light of these first two elements, roles for advocates emerge. Lawyers argue for their clients' positions as to what a contract, statute or published decision means in a particular context. Theologians also perform an advocate's role. In theological literature, they likewise argue why their interpretation of a biblical text is accurate. They build their "cases" with citations to authorities such as other verses, and influential publications. Like lawyers, theologians reason and contend for their suggested conclusion.

If you have suggestions for future posts under this topic, please feel free to leave a comment.