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Natural Law for Kids

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