Natural Law for Kids

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This effort
was prompted by a conversation with the Kid, who is fifteen. Not
quite sure how it got started, because it wasn't games or girls
or rap, but it was on the way to school and that, thank heavens,
is only about a six-minute drive. I felt like I was foundering but
he saved the moment by interjecting that he thought laws were written
by The
Man
. He explained that The Man is his little
group's name for the government…, and that they hate the government.
I mumbled something about that being commendable and then tried
to explain that Natural Law comes from the very nature of man and
codifies the way things ought to be. I still felt like I was foundering
but it came time for him to debark and he was off to his day at
school and with his group. I beat a quick retreat to my computer
and books, to organize this for him, and any other kids whose parents
will let them read it.

Natural Law.

Rules to live
by.

Don't like
rules?

O.K.

Think of it
as guides to living, acting, treating others and being treated by
others.

Think of it
as a way for people to get along, to do what they want, except for
those sensible few limitations we call Natural Law; to prosper,
get ahead, or just get along. To be happy and to have happy people
around us. To avoid troubles and being troubled. To have harmony!

Think of Natural
Law as assuring that we all may enjoy our Natural Rights. We'll
go into the Rights thing in another article but, in the meantime,
believe me, we wouldn't be a happy or even a successful people if
we didn't enjoy most of those Natural Rights (see the Bill of Rights.)

Natural Law
is directed at freedom; and Natural Law is summed up in one phrase:
the pursuit of goodness.

Natural Law
has come to us from the great thinkers of the world, philosophers
and religious theorists. Believers in divine guidance believe that
Natural Law comes to us from The Supreme Being, The Ultimate Entity…,
God.

Doubters, skeptics,
or pragmatists or non-believers in divine origin believe that Natural
Law comes to us from man's nature, through life's experiences, but
not just our own life's experiences; it comes to us through the
experiences and thinking and writing of those great thinkers who
have recorded their ideas down through history.

Those people
did not agree on what all the rules in Natural Law should be; people
today do not agree on what all the rules should be. But that is
only at the margins. The central rules are basic and largely common
sense.

The common
sense generally is not common enough and has to be informed by some
education and training and reflection on what Natural Law means
to you as an individual and to your groups: family, friends, organizations,
church, neighborhood, town, county, and state. That means you have
to read or listen enough to absorb those ideas and to think about
the lessons that you learn from your groups: family, friends, organizations,
church, neighborhood, town, county, and state.

The most important
aspect is that these rules be recognized as very much to your benefit,
not just selfishly to you as an individual, but of benefit to you
as a member of your groups: family, friends, organizations, church,
neighborhood, town, county, and state. Natural Law defines the difference
between good and bad, which is a good clue to sensing the rules.

So, what are
the rules?

Natural Laws
are pretty basic and sensible, and you'll recognize most of them
even if you didn't know that's what they were called.

Of course,
it's not possible to list them all, partly because of the disagreements
out at the margins, partly because no one person can know what they
all are, and almost certainly there are some tucked away that haven't
even been thought of yet.

But, here we
go:

You should
not kill a person.

You should
not steal.

You should
not lie.

You should
honor your mother and father.

You should
not covet or envy what isn't yours.

You should
not commit adultery.

Now, those
tend to be pretty negative, except for honoring your parents, which
is and should be a very positive sentiment. Negative is okay; it
leaves positive activities and Rights unrestricted.

Also, you probably
recognize those as being part of the Ten Commandments. There is
no apology for that; the Ten Commandments are the best guide to
a short list of Natural Laws, whether you are a believer or not.
For those who believe in the Judeo-Christian heritage the other
Commandments pertain:

You should
have no other gods than the Lord your God.

You should
not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

You should
keep holy the Sabbath day.

Well, that
last one is a good idea for everyone, whether you are a believer
or not. Taking off one day in seven is good for emotional and physical
health as well as for spiritual health.

If you notice
that there are only nine "commandments" above you can
see how I arrived at that by checking your favorite bible, Exodus
20, 1–17, and Deuteronomy 5, 6–21, unless you can do it
by memory from your good training. Chalk up 1.0 credit if you did
that.

Most of the
innumerable specific laws that come to mind seem to fit, ultimately,
under one of the six above. Fraud in commerce, small scale or large
scale, is covered by both the lying and stealing rules. Murder doesn't
need much explanation. Respect for family and community is implied
in the command to honor your parents. Coveting and envying are very
basic restrictions because they are the failings that lead to lying,
stealing, adultery and murder. And they are the toughest to avoid;
just think about it.

Somebody always
brings up all the exceptions; to murder: self-defense, just war,
etc.; to stealing: starving children, rightful ownership, etc. Natural
Law sometimes provides for such considerations, but those are part
of the stuff that lies at the margins and are the basis for legitimate
controversy.

Not everyone
even believes in the validity of Natural Law. Some skeptics believe
that rights are not inherent, are not natural freedoms; they believe
that rights are the "property" of government and are granted
by passing laws. That just doesn't deserve much comment. So much
for The Man.

Natural Law
skeptics just haven't looked at the lessons of history. They haven't
paid any attention to the grim record of The Man's dominance
over and cruelty toward "his" fellow man. The skeptics
haven't heeded the lessons and warnings of and the reasonable solutions
offered by the religious and lay philosophers.

Natural Law
exists. We can't define it precisely, we can't list it completely,
but we can't get along without it.

Natural Law
just says: Do to others as you would want them to do to you, if
they're agreeable to it; otherwise, leave them alone. Well, it might
be a bit more complicated than that, but that's the general idea.

January
18, 2006

Chuck
George [send him mail]
is a retired orthopedic surgeon in Alabama.

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