Based on extensive research (which consisted of me going through all 250 “Loony Laws” cards in my Balderdash pack looking for ones that still appeared on the books in Texas), I can tell you that in my home state, a person cannot go barefoot without first obtaining a special five-dollar permit, it’s a crime to go to church while in disguise, drink alcohol while flying on a blimp, and it’s illegal to put graffiti on someone else’s cow. In Dallas, you can’t wear spurs on an airplane. In Denison, a woman is prohibited by law from adjusting her stockings in public. In Texarkana, you can’t ride a horse after dark without a light on its tail and some kind of horn on its head. People in San Antonio could be fined for bringing a monkey on a city bus. Male citizens of Skullbone, Texas should take care that they are not found in arrears for having their fly undone.
I started to think about laws on the books because of two separate issues that arose yesterday. One of them was the injunction by a federal judge to stop enforcing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in the military. Public opinion varies on this law, but top brass seems to think it’s outlived its usefulness. At any rate, I knew, but didn’t fully think about, just letting a law go quietly into the night. What laws have fallen by the wayside from non-enforcement?
The other incident was at Beta Bible Study last night, where we were talking about inscribing laws in stone. Stone is solid and abiding, but stone is also subject to erosion. As Christians, we choose not to enforce all the laws written in the Old Testament, because we believe the spirit of the law was fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Following the spirit, rather than the letter of the law, means that we are subject to the intent of the law, and not the literal interpretation.
If we followed the law to the letter, we would stone or burn at the stake, those who: cursed their parents, worked on the Sabbath (and they don’t mean Sunday!), GIRLS who engaged in premarital sex (the boys get off with a warning, I suppose), GIRLS who are raped in the city limits (no joke, it’s in Deut. 22:23-25), and BOYS who disobey (I guess the girls should get a pass for the sex double-standard at some point). It’s not just our country’s laws that prevent us from carrying out these punishments, it’s our preference for the spirit of the law over the letter.
That might have something to do with 2 Corinthians 3:6 “Who has also made us ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: because the letter kills, but the spirit gives life.” It occurs to me multiple times a day, that I go by the Letter. I tend to be a black and white thinker. I am a rule follower. I drive under the speed limit. I have never used a fake ID. I like to have an ironclad syllabus each semester, so that arguments about due dates and page lengths and absences are strictly followed. Maybe I need to spend some time thinking about why the letter of the law in my classroom is so important, and why I want the Spirit of the law to be applied in my case, but want to apply the letter to everyone else.
Why do we do that? I think I do it because of the fundamental attribution error. I over-value internal influences on behavior and undervalue situational determinants. If someone cuts me off in traffic, it’s because they are selfish puddle-brains that don’t care about anyone else on the road. If I cut someone off in traffic, it’s because that car came up out of nowhere or the driver was being rude and not letting me over. When it’s someone else, I’m looking around for a cop to turn on their lights and go after the law breakers. When it’s me, I’m praying the cops have the attitude, “live and let live.”
Now, I’m praying for forgiveness, because I’m being a Pharisee, I strain the gnats but swallow a camel (Matthew 23:24). It’s an interesting story, Leviticus 11:10 prohibited eating anything that swarms, so, they would strain out their drinks to make sure no one swallowed a gnat. That was “gnat-picking.” That’s what I’m doing, nit-picking the letter of the law and in doing so, I swallow up the camel, devouring the SPIRIT in which the law was written. How do you do this in your life?