Whether LONANG is Religious
A. The Bible can be read in a non-religious manner
It is an axiom of all Bible-based religions, as far as I know, that knowledge, by itself, is insufficient to create or change a relationship with God. Which is to say, that knowledge alone cannot save. Religious faith requires more than mere knowledge – it requires some combination of belief, acceptance, agreement, commitment and/or confession before a ‘conversion’ occurs. But we must admit that merely reading any portion of the Bible will not impart or require any of these, nor will it necessarily convert anyone. It is quite possible to read anything and not believe it, right? So why not the Bible?
Further, even a belief that what the Bible says is true or valuable does not, by itself, constitute religious faith. Perhaps the best known historical example is Thomas Jefferson, who studied the Bible – particularly as to its morality, ethics and laws – and yet never claimed to have had a religious conversion experience. I once had an English class in a public high school in which we studied, among other things, a book of the Bible as literature. I can assure you that we never once had a discussion of that book in religious terms. The same thing is done regularly wherever comparative religion classes are taught – all manner of ideas can be presented, compared and contrasted without engaging in proselytization.
So let’s not be paranoid. I’m not going to talk about religion (with the one exception mentioned above), and that’s that. But we will present, compare and contrast legal implications drawn from the Bible with legal rules drawn from other sources.
B. Not everything in the Bible is religious
While I take it for granted there are indeed religious ideas presented in the Bible, I do not believe the evidence shows that everything in the Bible is religious. Are the genealogies, of which there are many, religious? Much of the Old Testament, certainly, is historical narrative of a rather political nature. Stories of kings, their exploits, their successions and intrigues, wars, uprisings and conquests are not inherently religious for some reason, are they? If so, what is that reason?
And what of the many laws described in the Bible? Dietary laws, sanitary laws, laws of war, laws of marriage, laws of property, laws of inheritance – all these and more are to be found. Are we able to learn nothing about them except religion? Good grief.
C. Redemption law vs. Other laws
One of the conceptualizations of God derived from the Bible is that he is the Creator, Sustainer and Redeemer of the world. These attributes of God are relevant to an understanding of the distinction between laws of the Bible directed toward religion and those of potential civil application.
If God is the Creator of all that exists, including the physical world, all humanity, and the laws which govern them (See Gen. 1:1; Col. 1:16), then God may also be considered to be the author of the laws of nature.
If the existence of the world and the continuation of life utterly depend on God’s sustaining power (See Col. 1:17; Job 34:14-15), then law can be regarded as the sustaining power of God, because it governs the entire creation, holding it together as a continuing reflection of God’s will. Acting in the capacity of Sustainer, God may be said to function as the Governor of the universe, suggesting the possibility that his government may serve as a model for human government.
Finally, if God is also the great Redeemer of mankind, bringing salvation to all men in order to redeem them from sin (See, Isa. 44:24; Titus 2:11,13-14), then we should not be surprised that there are laws pertaining to redemption in the Bible.
It is my thesis that only those laws relating to redemption from sin (salvation, the gospel, etc.) are religious in nature. Which is to say that all other laws in the Bible are non-religious. I know of no reason why we should not be able to tell when we have a religious law or a non-religious law in front of us. All we have to do is ask whether the law relates to, or is derived from, a redemptive principle. And merely asking the question is not a religious act, is it?
Conventional wisdom holds that a bare belief in the existence of God is itself religious. But how credible is this? Show me one religion where mere belief in the existence of God is regarded as sufficient to effectuate anyone’s personal redemption or salvation. As for the testimony of the Bible itself, the demons (fallen angels) are said to believe in God, but this does not redeem them (Jas. 2:19), and all men are said to know of God’s existence through what has been made, but this knowledge does not save them either (Rom. 1:21). So someone please tell me why mere belief in the existence of God is itself religious. What did mere belief in the existence of God ever do for anybody – religiously?
D. The law of religious tests
Apparently, the American founders came to a similar conclusion as that described above. At least, that is what I gather from the law of religious tests. I am referring to U.S. Const., art. VI., cl. 3, which provides that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Yet, that same Constitutional clause also provides that all federal and state public officials “shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution.”
Is it not true historically, that public oaths in the U.S. were routinely administered with the statement, “So help me God,” and/or with the official’s hand placed on a Bible? If, as we are told, merely mentioning the G-word is religious, then certainly swearing an oath on the Bible must also be religious. And both must be violations of the “no religious test” clause. Because to be a public official, one must take an oath, which is a religious act.
Oh, excuse me. A public official could choose to make an “affirmation” without taking an oath. So in other words, a religious test is not required to hold public office, it is merely permissible. As if that is any better.
Yet, there is no historical evidence I am aware of that any of the founders held the view that the manner of oath taking itself might constitute a religious act. Indeed, it would be very strange if the framers of the Constitution chose to put the prohibition of religious tests and the requirement for taking an oath or affirmation in the same short paragraph, knowing them to conflict with each other whenever an oath was administered. Are we to conclude that the modern view is correct and the framers didn’t know what they were doing? Or should we instead conclude there is no conflict between these provisions, and the modern view is incorrect? You tell me.
E. Of theocracies and such
If you still have reason to doubt the Bible can be used as a source of law in a non-religious manner, you may wish to see what I have to say in the matter of theocracy and the claim made by some that the United States is A Christian Nation (Framework of Law, Part 9).