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Do What's Right, Not What's Legal

This phrase struck me as I was reading a story about Occupy Oakland protestors. One activist, in describing his strategy to bring awareness to issues of economic and social justice, indicated his desire to do what is right in the service of justice, i.e., protesting, agitating, and causing a ruckus, although those activities be illegal.

This reminded me of a bible story about Jesus, when he was teaching in the synagogues:

He entered the synagogue again where there was a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees watched him closely to see whether he would heal him on the holy day of the week, the Sabbath, so they might accuse him. He addressed the man with the withered hand, “Step forward!” He questioned the Jews who were scrutinizing his every move, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do ill, to save life or to kill it?” They were silent. He was fuming, his anger rising as what he saw as their stone heartedness. So he commanded the man, “stretch forth your hand!” and the hand was restored.

Here, Jesus is rejecting rule by law in favor of individual judgment, guided by compassion. The implication is this: If a man needs healing, and you have the power to heal, then you do it, regardless of the day of the week. Anyone with sense and feeling knows this in their heart.

Unfortunately, we have become a society of endless laws bereft of compassion, feeling, and judgment: they exist only because the sovereign commanded them so. Challenge any government agent to explain to you why this law or that regulation exists and you will get an exasperated sigh in return. Ask why you should obey, and the government agent will likely say, “because that is the law.” I submit that it is not sufficient that the law be obeyed simply because it is so, particularly not where the legal fiction of a representative democracy is just that: fiction.