A legal code is a governing principle that people of a certain society choose to assume as their guide in certain aspects of the society’s existence. All people who are subject to the code in the society are expected to abide by the code, failure to which serious repercussions or punishment are bound to be handed out to the offender.
A legal code may be compared to a law that applies to the subject irrespective of the subject’s opinion or willingness to abide by it (Bulliet 468). On the other hand, a moral code is the accepted principle of going about a certain issue in the society. Observing the moral code may not be a compulsory requirement for a member of the society (Bulliet 337). However, failure to observe the moral code may lead to adverse implications on whoever breaks them.
One may choose to regard a certain code in the society as either moral or legal code depending on the setting of application of the code (Dyzenhaus and Ripstein 12). Some of the codes that have existed in the world are evidently common to many societies and diverse range of cultures. Whether these codes exist as man’s universal social and political nature, or the laws and the codes are coincidental creations of the different cultures and environments that have thrived in the world over the ages is subject to debate.
A universal moral or legal code is that which has existed for a long time, and has maintained uniformity among the societies of the world. Several moral or legal codes have been used in the world, and have been introduced in their various societies of origin at different times.
It can be argued that the codes were versions of universal doctrines that exist in all societies, effectively making them universal codes. However, the codes can also be viewed from a cultural heritage perspective where they are local to the society of origin. Several codes can be analyzed to evaluate the nature of some of the most significant doctrines in the recent history.
One of the widely acknowledged codes is the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments is a code supposedly given to Moses, a servant of God on Mount Sinai near the borders between Israel and Egypt. The Ten Commandments are an important aspect of the Christianity, Judaism and several other religions with their history setting primarily in the Middle East.
In addition, the commandments were the rules that God had given Moses, then a leader of the migrating Israelites, for his subjects to observe and live by in order to be at peace with God (Brown 52). Furthermore, the code was written on stone tablets and contained ten regulations.
Traditionally, the Ten Commandments were confined to the tribes of the Middle East, but were later adopted by the Christians who emerged later as a result of the teachings of Christ of Nazareth. Later, the code spread to the Scandinavian countries who in turn preached it to the inhabitants of their colonies later towards the end of the second millennium A.D., and this gave the code a wide recognition around the world.
The code contains some of the basic rules of human coexistence that are common to most of the societies of the world. Some people argue that the commandments contain the natural rules that humanity should live by (Rooker and clendenen 26). However, not all of the Ten Commandments written on the tablets are of universal nature.
Moreover, some of the rules cannot be said to be universal without causing a moral or religious conflict, while others are common to all conventional societies of the world, even those that do not recognize the validity of the Ten Commandments and the tablets. The mixed composition of the Ten Commandments ignites a debate over their validity as universal codes (Rooker and Clendenen 27).
In the early seventh century after Christ, Islam was still a young religion and people were busy dedicating their lives to its spread. The Arab Muslims had conquered the Middle East, and held dominion over the Christians, Jews and other native religious groups that had lived on the territory before the conquest.
To maintain civil order and a sustainable government, caliph Umar I made an agreement with the patriarch of Jerusalem which was now under Muslim occupation, Sophronius, on the rules by which the natives were to practice their religion.
Less than a century later, caliph Umar II purportedly made similar agreements with the natives of the Middle East who were then known by the Muslims as the people of the book (Telushkin 104). The Pact of Umar stipulated that every one of the people of the book was allowed to practice whatever religion he or she believed in. However, this was possible on the condition that the people practicing native religion should not actively spread their religion to other people.
In addition, people were allowed to practice whatever religion they wished to believe in as long as they did not do it in public. Parents were also not allowed to influence their children in any way to practice the native religion (Telushkin 107). These basic rules of the pact reflect some aspects of the modern universal practices and ideologies. However, the pact contained some clauses that are hardly conventional in any respect.
It is the practice of many societies that people believe in whatever religion they choose to as long as they do not interfere with the liberties of other people. In contrast to Umar’s pact, most societies allow conversion of people from one religion to another. However, some religions such as certain radical Islamic sects do not believe in coexistence of religions.
Violent conversion or extermination is supposedly the designated fate for the non-believers. This pact has some codes that are similar to universal codes, but are not entirely universal doctrines. Similarity of Umar’s pact to the characteristics of t a universal code is limited. Some of the regulations of the code are practices of majority of societies in the world, but do not qualify as universal codes.
At around the middle of eighteenth century, before the birth of Christ, a Babylonian king, Hammurabi, drew a set of laws that governed the basic aspects of lives of his subjects. The laws are some of the earliest written regulations on the conduct of the members of a territory (Horne and King 3).
The laws contained curious similarity, in some section, to the modern law, as we know it. Moreover, the law stipulated the boundaries of all subjects’ actions and the consequences of breaching the said boundaries, which is also a common characteristic of modern constitutions (Horne & king 13). Furthermore, the law stipulated that no person could claim ignorance of the law, and anyone found guilty of the offences was bound to face the due consequences regardless of the level of information of the subject.
In addition, the code had provisions for civilized ways of conducting criminal trials such as bail and an allowance for production of witnesses. However, the consequences of committing most crimes were very severe according to the Hammurabi code. Death was the consequence of even the most minor of crimes (Horne and king 5). In contrast, the modern constitutional laws provide different correctional measures for crimes of varying gravity.
Although some comprehensive compositions of laws such as the Ten Commandments and the Hammurabi code have striking similarities between themselves and among the modern laws, they cannot be said to fit the definition of universal codes. However, universal codes exist as narrow aspects of the collective compositions.
In the case of the Ten Commandments, the rule that states that no one should commit murder is obviously a part of universal code whose breach is not acceptable anywhere in the world. In addition, the Hammurabi rule that prohibits stealing and possession of stolen goods is also a universal code accepted in all societies of the world.
The Hammurabi code and the Ten Commandments contain clauses that are universal codes but neither of the compositions nor the Pact of Umar can be justified as a universal code. A critical examination of the pact of Umar reveals the unfair nature of the agreement where the spread of the native religion is suppressed to obviously give an opportunity for Islam to take root in the future generations of the native people.
A practice of religious segregation where the Muslims are regarded as superior to the believers of the traditional religion is observed in the composition of the code. In today’s universal society, religious segregation is a pervasive vice for the majority of people. However, the caliph’s agreement to letting the Christians and the Jews practice their traditional religion is a popular practice in modern universal society.
This code contrasts with one of the regulations of the Ten Commandments that say that all people should worship one god. Evidently the inconsistency of doctrines among the codes shows an influence of the culture of the people involved, the level of civilization at the time the codes were composed and a great extent of religious influence on the practices that the codes advocate.
Since the comprehensive codes are not free of localized cultural and religious influences, they cannot be said to be universal codes. In conclusion, although universal codes exist as single and highly definite rules, no single collective composition of rules qualifies to be a universal moral or legal code.
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Horne, Charles F., C. H. W. Johns, and L. W. King. The code of hammurabi. Lexingston, KY: Forgotten Books, 2009. Print.
Rooker, Mark F., and E. Ray Clendenen. The Ten Commandments: ethics for the twenty-first century. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H Academic, 2010. Print.
Telushkin, Joseph. Jewish literacy: the most important things to know about the Jewish religion, its people, and its history. Rev. ed. New York: William Morrow, 2008. Print.
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