Having reviewed the modern applicability of the Mosaic law in a recent essay (see “The Christian law” under the Essays menu to the right), I find myself reaching rather an interesting conclusion. Because Christians are not, apparently, under any obligation to follow the Mosaic law (which includes the Ten Commandments), they are left only with Jesus’ brief discussion of law, found chiefly in the Sermon on the Mount. The problem with this is that Jesus takes both an excessively strict and excessively permissive view of crime (sin).
On the excessively strict side is Jesus’ support of thought crime. Merely lusting after a woman is, according to Jesus, an act of adultery, while harboring hate for someone is an act of murder.
On the excessively permissive side is Jesus’ generous attitude to wrong-doers. Thieves, instead of being punished for their crime, should be pitied and helped. Enemies, instead of being repelled, should be loved.
None of the these sentiments has any place in modern ideas of law and punishment, and rightly so. No one who merely thinks a bad thought is accused of committing a crime, and thieves are rightly subjected to punishments proportional to the harm they have done. Enemies are repelled for the very good reason that they are dangerous, and wish to hurt or kill us.
The mixture of paranoia and pacifism in the Sermon on the Mount cannot, then, form the basis of any reasonable criminal justice system (unless of course it is heavily reinterpreted, and it always is).
The Mosaic law, even if it did apply to Christians, is filled with barbarically disproportionate punishments that are quite clearly the mark of a much older, less enlightened society than our own.
Christians are therefore stuck between a rock and a hard place: neither set of laws available to them is consistent with the modern conception of criminal justice they have grown used to.