The Uses of Law for the Formation of Character: A Classic Protestant Doctrine for Late-Modern Liberal Societies?

“The Uses of Law for the Formation of Character: A Classic Protestant Doctrine for Late-Modern Liberal Societies?” in Michael Welker, et al., eds., The Impact of Religion on Character Formation in Late Modern Societies (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanhalt, 2020), 261-283

19 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2021

Date Written: 2020

Abstract

This Article illustrates how religion has helped to shape and integrate modern liberal state laws of crime and punishment. Contrary to secularization theories, the Article shows how biblical laws on crime are still at the heart of state criminal law today and how classic Protestant teachings on the civil, theological, and pedagogical uses of the law still echo in the theories of deterrence, retribution, and rehabilitation used to justify criminal punishment. Through its published penal codes, its publicized criminal cases, and the publicity of its punishments, the Article argues, the state criminal law teaches and communicates some of the basic values of a basic civil morality. It affirms the dignity and rights of each person, even criminals, that deserves respect; the moral agency of each rational person, and their duties and rights of moral desert; the essential duty of all, on pain of punishment, to respect the body, property, interests, and reputation of their neighbours; and the command of all to honour the legitimate authorities of the state in their administration and enforcement of the law -- so long as these authorities, too, respect the basic rights and liberties of each defendant. State criminal law further helps form and reform the character and basic morality of duly convicted criminals – forcing them to confront and confess their guilt; making them pay for their violations of the community’s norms; rehabilitating them through teaching or reteaching the basic norms of sociability and good citizenship that they will need to make reconciliation and re- enter society.

Keywords: Law, Religion, Law and Religion, Protestantism, secularization theory, moral agency, three uses of law, moral law, criminal law, theories of punishment, retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation, sentencing, just desert, teaching function of law

Suggested Citation

Witte, John, The Uses of Law for the Formation of Character: A Classic Protestant Doctrine for Late-Modern Liberal Societies? (2020). “The Uses of Law for the Formation of Character: A Classic Protestant Doctrine for Late-Modern Liberal Societies?” in Michael Welker, et al., eds., The Impact of Religion on Character Formation in Late Modern Societies (Leipzig: Evangelische Verlagsanhalt, 2020), 261-283, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3959048

John Witte (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6980 (Phone)
404-712-8605 (Fax)

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