Is anybody above the law?
Published September 1, 2022
By Lib Campbell
Armand Gamache, Louise Penny’s protagonist in “Glass Houses,” is in the courtroom, in the middle of a murder trial. The discussion is around what makes people kill. “What makes someone kill isn’t opportunity, it’s emotions.” But as angry as people get, what stops them from killing? “Conscience. Or maybe cowardice. Sometimes not doing the awful thing is the fear of getting caught. What would we do if we were guaranteed not to get caught? If we knew there would be no consequences.” Can you even imagine living in the world with the assurance that you are above the law?
Gamache quotes Gandhi saying, “There is a higher court than the courts of justice and that is the court of conscience. It supersedes all other courts.” The guidance of a moral conscience, or as some name it, our “Better Angels,” shapes us into people who live together adhering to agreed upon values accepted by a majority of people. Webster defines conscience as the consciousness of the moral goodness or badness of one’s acts or motives. Conscience is a feeling of obligation to do what one holds to be right and to avoid what is wrong. It is conscience that keeps us acting in right ways; our collective conscience of goodness and morality is what makes us civil.
So, what happens when we begin the slippery slide of ignoring law and rules, and the voice of our conscience? In my teaching, talking about law, order and consequences in the Biblical narrative, I often use what I call my Parking Lot Theory. There is a parking lot painted with diagonal parking spaces. Overnight, the lot is painted with perpendicular lines. When people drive into the lot, they see the parking has been changed. Those who comply with the new parking, staying within the lines, cooperate with the order of the day. Those who don’t, continue to park like they want to park. Damn the lines. Disorder ensues.
It’s the same thing with speed limits. Speed limits are fungible, evidently. Drive I-40 and observe. Yellow lights and stop signs must be suggestions too. Are we above the law when we have no compunction to follow highway law and the rules of the road?
There is a certain entitlement mentality to thinking we are above the law. But when a tipping point turns the tide on rules and law, the very foundation of civilization is at risk.
We are at a crossroads in our country. Vigilante law, disregard of court workings and law, libertine voices fill us with a notion that we will fight our way into something greater. The higher court of conscience seems out of session.
How is conscience redeemed? How is conscience shaped in the first place? Our parents have the first few years to teach us. Then our peers have the greater influence. It’s who we spend time with, who we listen to, how we reckon with our own value system, and how we learn to tamp down ego that might overinflate to take us to places of power seeking, even if it includes bending and breaking with the rule of law. If we are what we eat physically, we are what we consume regarding media, television, internet sources, and all the tweets and tiks spewing mistruth and hate. We are shaped in that too.
When shaped by love and grace, a conscience with voices of Better Angels rises in us. We are mature enough to accept consequences of our actions when they are wrong. We bless others in the graciousness of what is good and right.
We live in some ugly stuff right now. The extremes of both political parties are pulling us away from what is good in North Carolina and America, to set agendas that benefit a few, not the many. Gandhi was right about a higher court. We all could use a little good news right now. And we need to remember that no one, not a political leader, not a political leader’s child, not a clergy leader, not anybody is above the law.
Lib Campbell is a retired Methodist Pastor, retreat leader and columnist who blogs at www.avirtualchurch.com. You may contact her at email@example.com