To say that law and religion are divorced from each other in the life of any society is an understatement. “When prevailing concepts of law and religion become too narrow and hence the links between the two are broken, a society becomes demoralized.”[i] The concept of law and religion is broad. This essay will thus relate it as much as possible to the Ghanaian society especially in our fifty years of independence. How has the interaction of law and religion benefit Ghana as a nation? What values have religion imparted to the Ghanaian as regards respect for the law. Let us define terms and advance reasons to support the view that law and religion are distinctly inseparable; they are a necessary condition for the progress of every nation and that taken individually, they do not stand a fair chance of imparting moral values to the citizens of any nation. St. Thomas Aquinas’ Theory of Law is going to be my point of reference.
To begin with, the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles defined law “As a rule of conduct imposed by a secular authority. The body of rules whether formally enacted or customary, which a particular state or community recognizes as governing the actions of its subjects or members and which it may enforce by imposing penalties.[ii] “The definition of law is based on the notion of the common good, promulgated by one who has the care of the community”[iii] Religion on the other hand comes from the Latin ‘Religare’ meaning ‘ bind fast’. “It is belief in or sensing superhuman controlling powers entitled to obedience, reverence and worship or a system defining a code of living especially as a means to achieve a spiritual or material improvement.”
For St. Thomas Aquinas, there are four kinds of law: the Eternal Law, the Natural Law, Divine Law and Positive Human Law. “The Divine law is the law God has revealed imperfectly to the Jews and perfectly through Christ”[iv] while the law of the state is called positive human law. Therefore, it is the duty of the legislator to apply natural law and support the laws by sanctions. For instance, murder is forbidden by natural law but there are no sanctions attached to it and so the positive human laws are enacted to apply sanctions and make it effective. It follows that positive human law is derived from the natural law and every human law is a true law only as far as it is derived from natural law. It is clear from the above that the foundation of any human law is God himself and so where law and religion appear to contradict in principle, then, it has no chance of imparting values to any citizen.
Ghana seems to be enjoying a meaningful interaction of law and religion in the past fifty years. But one cannot deny the fact that “Our whole culture seems to be experiencing a nervous breakdown.” One major symptom of this threatening breakdown is the massive loss of confidence in law not only on the part of law consumers (citizens) but also on the part of the legislature and the judiciary. A second major challenge is a massive loss of confidence in religion again, not only on the part of those who sit in the pews but also on the part of those who occupy the pulpits. A case in point is the recent call by some Ghanaians for the legalization of prostitution as a means to raising tax for the development of the nation, controlling HIV/ AIDS and people’s behavior. All these are laced in the context of human rights. “It is their right” some say but the advocates of this stand forget that when it is passed, it can lead to the disintegration of the moral fibre of society. This is where law and religion must work concurrently. Religion is fundamental to every human being. Karl Marx says, “it is the opium of the Masses” while J. S. Mbiti says Africans and for that matter Ghanaians are notoriously religious. Today, in Ghana, criminals are walking on the streets freely while innocent people are languishing in prison because religious lawyers and judges have developed blind spots to the sufferings of innocent people. The law which is meant for the common Good has become the preserve of a few. Thus law and religion seem to be divorced from each other. The blame may partly go to both the law schools and the schools of theology, which share a responsibility for the narrowness, and rigidity of our thought on this matter.
If we see law in dictionary terms as a structure or body of rules laid down by political authority and similarly we see religion as a system of beliefs and practices relating to the supernatural, the two seem connected with each other only very distantly or in only a few rather narrow and specific respects. Nevertheless, in reality, both law and religion are interconnected, interdependent and indivisible. “Law is not only a body of rules, it is people legislating, adjudicating, administering, negotiating – it is a living process of allocating rights and responsibilities and thereby resolving conflicts and creating channels of cooperation. Religion is not only a set of doctrines and exercises; it is people manifesting a collective concern for the ultimate and purpose of life. It is a shared intuition of a commitment to transcendent values.”[v]
Law is to give religion its social dimension and religion is to give the law its spirit and direction as well as the sanctity it needs to command respect. Where they are divorced from each other, law tends to degenerate into mere rules to be followed and religion into mere observance of religious rules. “LAW helps to give society the structure it needs to maintain inner cohesion; law fights anarchy. Religion helps to give society the faith it needs to face the future; religion fights against decadence”[vi] The 1992 constitution of Ghana amply demonstrates that law and religion cannot and must not be separated from each other. In the introductory paragraph, there is a portion which reads “THE CONSTITUTION OF THE REPUBLIC OF GHANA IN THE NAME OF THE ALMIGHTY GOD…”[vii] I believe that this goes to confirm the fact that law and religion are intrinsically linked.
Indeed, the peace Ghana is enjoying today is partly due to interaction of law and religion. The interaction of law and religion has brought about group solidarity. Ghanaians have come together in recent times to condemn some social evils like rape, homosexuality, lesbianism, occultism, armed robbery, among others. A recent case in point is the passage of the Domestic Violence Bill to protect the dignity of her citizens.
That notwithstanding, it cannot be said that the interaction of law and religion is devoid of problems. Evil continues to show its ugly head in our society. People still commit murder; armed robbery is on the ascendancy, rape and immorality are no exceptions.
The interaction between law and religion, which stresses the common good of the nation, has awakened Ghanaians to condemn anything that breeds inter ethnic conflict. “We cannot sit down and allow a few unscrupulous people to destabilize the peace we are enjoying in this nation.” The interaction of law and religion calls on us to preserve human dignity and to openly condemn all that threatens the sanctity and value of human life.
In sum, “as law without religion loses its sanctity and its inspiration, so religion without law loses its social and historical character and becomes a purely personal mystique.” Indeed, Ghanaians should be lauded for interpreting the law in the spirit of religion. I believe strongly that the teaching of religious and moral education and the essence of the law should be incorporated fully in our curriculum especially at the lower levels of education. In my ardent opinion, when children are brought to accept the role that law and religion play in the life of any nation in their formative years, then, there will be hope for Ghana.
[i] Berman Harold J., The interaction of Law and Religion, Abingdon Press, Nashville New York, 1974, page 12.
[ii] The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles (V.1), edited by Lesley Brown, Clarendon Press, 1973, P. 1544.
[iii] Izu Marcel Onyeocha, Introfil – A First Encounter with Philosophy, the Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, Washington D.C., 1996, p. 189.
[iv] Copleston, Frederick, Sj, A history of philosophy (v.2), Image books, New York, 1962, Page 138
[v]Berman Harold J., The interaction of Law and Religion, Abingdon Press, Nashville New York, 1974, page 24.
[vii] 1992 constitution of the Republic of Ghana, Assembly Press, Accra.