Hating the Law for Christian Reasons: The Religious Roots of American Antinomianism

87 Pages Posted: 23 Sep 2012

See all articles by Jay Michaelson

Jay Michaelson

Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Brown University - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior

Date Written: September 22, 2012


Popular American law-talk is a religious discourse. While Americans routinely valorize the “rule of law” and “common sense,” they express hatred for lawyers and laws, which are supposedly drowning our country in a sea of regulation and litigation. What explains this curious ambivalence is a Protestant ethic, beginning with the Apostle Paul, who, in an explicit rejoinder against Judaism, denied that the law (which governs the body) is a path to salvation (which is a matter of the soul). The result is a philosophy of “law without laws,” a religious antinomianism that has shaped, explicitly and implicitly, such disparate phenomena as the jury system, debates over the common law, and contemporary jeremiads about litigation and regulation.

This article, forthcoming in the anthology "Jews and the Law," edited by Suzanne Last Stone and Ari Mermelstein, traces this American antinomianism in secular and religious sources. It begins by analyzing three different moments in American popular legal history: the Clinton impeachment, the debates surrounding the adoption of the English common law in the early republic, and discourse about the value of the jury from the Colonial period. The paper then turns to the religious sources, chiefly Paul's letters to the Romans and Corinthians, and later texts by Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther. It concludes by observing that the contemporary American mistrust of law is not a secular, civic, or jurisprudential ideology but a deep, religious conviction.

Keywords: law, antinomianism, Christianity, Paul, Judaism, New Testament, Old Testament, common law, Clinton, Clinton impeachment, antisemitism

JEL Classification: K40

Suggested Citation

Michaelson, Jay and Michaelson, Jay, Hating the Law for Christian Reasons: The Religious Roots of American Antinomianism (September 22, 2012). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2150722 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2150722

Jay Michaelson (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior ( email )

Providence, RI 02912
United States

Hebrew University of Jerusalem ( email )

Mount Scopus
Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91905

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