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Duties and Law

Duties and Law

Author: Ted Fairchild
This lesson will provide information on duties and law as articulated by religious traditions.
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Source: Qur'ān Majīd: Holy Quran. English Trans. Marmaduke Pickthall. Urdu Trans. Maulana Fateh Mohammed Jallendhri. Karachi, PK: Taj, 1969. Print.

Video Transcription

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Hello, and welcome to the Duties and Laws. In this lesson, we're going to look at duties and laws and how they are prescribed and proscribed in some of the religions. We'll see that the province or the territory of religious and secular laws often overlap and intersect, as well as some of the duties that are associated with these laws. And to demonstrate this, we'll look at a few examples from several major religions.

Secular law is designed to protect the interests of individuals and society. Basically its goal is to prevent harm from being inflicted on one or more individuals by other individuals or by society as a whole without due process of law. It therefore tends to emphasize individual rights.

Religious law, on the other hand, is much more comprehensive. It is designed to improve individuals and society to make individuals holy and societies righteous. In the past centuries, many nations have switched from religious law to secular law, especially for their civil law and for certain aspects of international law. However, many of these nations have also reserved a continuing role for religious law in certain aspects of law like family law in the internal use of religious organizations, and sometimes for contract law.

Many religions spell out that there are duties which an adherent is prescribed to perform encoded in the laws, often put forth by a particular deity or deities. For example, in Christianity it is believed that divine law limits rights, and God commands people to act according to his universal order. In the belief system of Judaism and Christianity, The Ten Commandments, or the Decalogue, were given to Moses on Mount Sinai in present day Egypt.

After Abraham, the first Hebrew patriarch, Moses was given the law to carry and lead the chosen people out of captivity and into the promised land. This was a promise given to all descendants of Abraham. The reception of the Decalogue is considered to be the second direct and personal revelation from a single creator, God, to a human being.

Some examples of what the Ten Commandments contain are worshipping only God, keeping the Sabbath, and prohibitions against idolatry, blasphemy, murder, theft, and adultery.

Another example is in the Koran where Allah speaks through the angel Gabriel to Mohammed.

Do not associate another deity with God. Know therefore that there is no God but God. You shall not commit adultery. Surely it is a shameful deed and an evil way. Do not covet the bounties that God has bestowed more abundantly on some of you than on others.

So you see, there are lots of parallels between the Christian and Hebrew Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments, and the passages from the Koran.

Another example of a proscription and prescriptions that are offered in sacred texts are the Eightfold Path, and the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The Four Noble Truths prescribe ways out of suffering for the adherent to Buddhism, that life is suffering, that suffering is based on cravings, and there is a way out of this. That there is attainment of nirvana is possible in this life. So there are sacred texts in Buddhism and Hinduism that offer guidelines for personal and communal release from eternal torment and suffering based on ignorance and desire and cravings.

We can look into that in more detail in the section on Buddhism coming down the line. So let's review.

We started out with the difference between religious law and secular law noting that many countries have shifted to a legal system based on secular law, and especially concerning issues of civil and international law. However, religious law is still often referred to for certain cases like family law and civil law, for example. And then we looked at some examples of laws and codes of behavior from two of the monotheistic traditions that have been handed down through a deity via a sacred text, or sacred texts.

And we compared that with the example of the Buddhist understanding of law and duty when we pointed out that the Eightfold Path is one of the Four Noble Truths that the adherent can follow to lessen the suffering in everyday life. So that wraps it up. Thank you. See you soon.