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Com 220 - God's Law Versus Man's Law

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God's Law versus Man's Law


May 9, 2010

In times of civil and political unrest, many people find themselves longing for simpler times when God's word was truly Law and men bowed before it instead of technology and government. Ethics, morality, and common courtesy share a bond in the laws handed down by God, but where does a god's religion stop and man's legislation begin? Who sits in judgment of what is morally correct versus what is legally correct; and is there a deeper connection than first realized?

Religion and Ethics

Religion, and its engendered belief system, can carry a heavy weight when it comes to making major decisions in a person's life. People with a strong basis of morality often find tough or controversial issues easier to decide. For instance, regular churchgoers are more likely to endorse ethical behavior in the workplace - an environment often known for questionable practices. Robert P. Wuthnow, a sociologist of religion at Princeton University, conducted a survey of how corporate behavior was affected by religious beliefs. He found that members of small fellowships, generally consisting of fewer than 20 members, were much more adamant about upholding the rules in the workplace. However, those who attended services infrequently or not at all were almost 10% more likely to act in an unethical manner (Steinfels, 1993, para. 6).

Wuthnow's study involved a sample of 2,013 workers who were surveyed about their beliefs on workplace behavior and personal religious activity. His findings, as shown below, are quite interesting in the scope of difference between those with active religious practices and those with less frequent participation in faith-based activities. Those employees who participated in weekly worship sessions were far less likely than their non-worshipping counterparts to participate in ethically questionable behaviors in the workplace.

Ethical considerations in business go beyond merely avoiding illegal activities or adhering to general rules of conduct. The potential for developing a healthy, respectful relationship with society and its consumers, suppliers, and workforce should be a main goal of those in business. Regular demonstrations of the golden rule, taught in varied forms by most religions, seem to be the first step toward such unions. Those who are more active in their faith and fellowship appear to be stronger in their convictions to lead a wholesome life, both at home and at work. How do those same beliefs affect other aspects of the devout adherent's life?

Religion and Medicine

The topic of religious practice versus secular science has resulted in some heated debates in the field of medicine. Doctors and patients' families often differ immensely in their visualization of an optimal treatment plan. The majority of doctors prefer to rely on modern technology and scientific research to recommend the proper course of action for their charges. Many established faiths have similar beliefs when it concerns relying on faith instead of traditional medical discipline for treatment of physical ailments. Though they appreciate the science behind the decision, many true believers will often ignore the paid professionals' opinion, preferring to rely on faith healing in trust and appreciation of their God. Physicians often see both sides of religious fanaticism when dealing with medical intervention in their practice. On one hand, they may have to deal with a patient's refusal of medical treatment when the patient feels that the possible burdens of treatment outweigh the potential benefits. On the other hand, doctors are now facing many more cases of patients (or their families) demanding extraordinary treatments that the physician may feel to be inappropriate because of standards, cost, medical futility, or patient suffering.

Is forgoing medical treatment in favor of prayer a form of abuse or a religious right? In recent years, the United States has seen several instances in which religious law has come into direct conflict with local, state, or national government. Fitzsimmons (2009) states that that there have been 50 or more United States convictions since 1982 in legal cases in which caretakers withheld medical treatment from a child on the basis of religious reasons. In October 2009, Dale and Leilani Neumann were sentenced to 30 days in jail each year for the next six years and 10 years probation after being convicted of second-degree reckless homicide. Their crime? Their faith mandated that they refuse medical treatment for their 11-year-old daughter who died from untreated diabetes in March 2008 (Fitzsimmons, 2009, para. 2). The Neumann's defense relied on the 1996 Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which includes an exemption for parents who utilize religious instead of secular care for dependants. While all 50 states give social service workers the right of intervention in cases of child neglect or abuse, 29 states also allow protection for caretakers who choose to shun mainstream medical treatments.

Most recognized religions share a common set of ideologies about procedures such as euthanasia and life support continuation. While a rare few allow for ending the suffering of a terminal patient, the majority of religions espouse a "sanctity of life" credo when concerning the termination of another human's life. The neglect of care or aid in suicide is considered to be a cardinal sin to many such disciples. Buddhists believe that willingly contributing to the death of another person or ones' self is a violation of the rule condemning the destruction of a human life. The punishment for such an infraction is lifelong excommunication from the religion, also making the achievement of Nirvana impossible. Catholics, and many other Semitic religions, believe that suicide is an unforgivable sin, punishable by eternal damnation. The Buddhist, Christian, and Jewish faiths all support continued care for the terminally ill, in most situations, regardless of medical recommendation. Many physicians, however, believe that life support should be discontinued when there is no hope of sustainable life - regardless of religious beliefs. The waste of time and manpower imposed on care-takers and facilities in such cases can be frustrating to medical professionals, can take needed resources away from patients who may receive more positive benefits, and can cause friction between the opposing factions of science and religion. In a case that calls for continuation of heroic life support issues or cessation of



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