“Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged.”
– Ronald Reagan
You must have heard of Criminal Law, Business Law, Family Law and Civil Rights Law. But what about Religious laws? Interesting topic, isn’t it?
What Is Religious Law?
Religion can be defined as the belief and worship in a supreme being or power and it is noted that the modern concept of religion was created in the 16th or 17th century. Did you ever want to know how many religions are there in the world? The answer is approximatively 10,000!
Different religious systems have different ethical and moral rules and regulations and these rules are called religious laws. However, the implementation of religious laws depends on the belief system of each religion. For instance, belief systems are usually categorised in two:
In theology, legalism or nomism is a concept that refers to putting the law above faith and grace and that one can only earn God’s approval by following the requirements of the law.
The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States defines legalism as:
“It refers to the need of performing certain deeds in order to gain salvation as opposed to the belief that salvation is bestowed upon an individual through faith in Jesus Christ.”
This concept emphasises more on God’s laws than our relationship with Him. For instance, certain social practices are prohibited, such as gambling, dancing, consuming alcohol and so on. In the bible, the Pharisees that Jesus faced are usually considered legalists.
Antinomianism simply represents the views that dismiss religious rules and norms. It is also the complete opposite of the legalism or nomism concept. For instance, in some Christian belief systems, an antinomian is a person who believes that salvation is attained through faith and grace of God and one who is saved should not follow the Ten Commandments.
Antinomianism is a concept which also exists in Buddhism and Islam. For instance, naturalist Buddhist antinomians believe that individuals who have gone through the enlightenment phase can break the monastic codes of conduct, or enlightened minds can face circumstances based on Buddhist morality rather than the monastic codes’ legalism. On the other hand, an example of antinomianism in Islam refers to a group called “Nizari Isma’ilism” or simply Nizaris, which emphasises the teachings of human reasoning and acceptance of racial, ethnic, cultural and religious differences. Another example is “Al-Hallaj,” who was a Persian poet and teacher of Sufism, a mystical form of Islam. He was highly criticised for his statement: “I am the Truth” as his claim implied that he was saying: “I am God.”
Now let’s take a look at the world’s oldest religion.
Hindu law consists of a system of rules and regulations derived from Hindu texts and is considered one of the oldest known jurisprudence theories in the world. The Hindu law appeared during the colonial rule in South Asia and in 1722, British colonial officials decided that the Hindus of India would not be ruled by the European Law but by Hindu Law. The Hindu Law’s core principles emerged from the “Manusmriti”, an ancient official text from the “Dharmaśāstras”, the Sanskrit theological texts.
The Hindu Law is also connected to dharma. What is dharma? The word dharma is found in Buddhism and refers to the universal law and order. However, in Hinduism, dharma means duty, the right way of living and a somehow concept of justice. It consists of the principles of law, order, harmony, justice and truth.
Even in modern India, when a new constitution was formed in 1950, the Hindu Law still formed part of its legal codes.
So, today you have discovered the difference between legalism and antinomianism. You have also discovered the Hindu Law. However, we have more to learn from the religious laws. So please share your comments and don’t forget to come back for part 2!