Posted by: aboutalbion | June 18, 2012

Temple of Albion (9)

I am coming towards the end of a series of posts which use an anthropological checklist for identifying a religion.   My overall purpose is to assess the strength of the case that the United Kingdom is an organised religion.  In other words, is it reasonable to consider identifying the United Kingdom as in some sense the Temple of Albion, say?

A ninth criterion on an anthropological checklist would look for a collection of scriptures, or a set of similarly regarded oral traditions.  Since I am attempting to measure up the (rule of law) United Kingdom as a religion, I think I only need draw an anthropologist’s attention to the statutes and the case law of England and Wales and their parallels in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I find that Steven Smith has relevant ideas on the religious significance of law.  He discusses four similarities between scriptural and legal interpretation.  First, in both scripture and law there is there is the assumption of ‘a surplus of meaning’ (Ricoeur).  In other words, what is written has (hidden within it) the capacity to be transferred to (and used in) fresh contexts.  Second, in both there is the assumption that what is written has authority for present day life, and that we should order our life accordingly.  Third, in both there is the assumption of harmony, in the sense of the absence of conflicting demands – despite knowing that what is written has come from many authors.  Fourth, in both there is something of a belief that what is written is ‘in reality the expression of a single, lucid and indeed omniscient author …’.  Smith quotes Richard Hooker when the latter says that law sits ‘in the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world’.

I think that ideas like these would be enough to interest an anthropologist in this criterion.

[Steven D Smith (2001) ‘Law as a Religious Enterprise: legal Interpretation and Scriptural Interpretation’ in Richard O’Dair & Andrew Lewis (eds) Law and Religion: Current Legal Issues 2001 Volume 4.  Oxford: OUP.]

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