I posted awhile back on my inability to figure out why a criminal would commit a crime, when the punishment is so in excess of the reward. The comments section postulates a pretty good theory on this one, and I'd direct you to Hell in a Handbasket for further ruminations on the subject matter. It's a pretty darn good explanation.
I started to wonder about the laws our society has passed to govern behavior, and what good it ultimately all did. We are told by those who purport to govern us these laws are there to protect us from crime. Apparently, a large population of Texans (somewhere over 150,000 at the time of this writing are in prison. This doesn't count the ones locked up in jails.) are incarcerated. Obviously, the laws didn't do squat to prevent these criminals from doing whatever it is they did to get locked up. Why do we seem to think that passing more laws will make us any safer?
I am also of the opinion that a good law has some basis in a moral truth. A law against murder is fine and good, because it reflects an almost universal truth: killing without justification is wrong.
Obedience to a law based on a moral truth is pretty easy. We want to. There is something in our very nature that feels compelled to obey this sort of law, even if there weren't a law on the books to prevent it.
It's harder to obey laws that have no basis in moral truth. Requiring a business owner to hire only union employees does not appear to have any such basis. That sort of law becomes oppressive, because it appears to infringe upon a basic freedom. What business is it of the government's whom one hires to work their business?
A just law has a built in enforcement tool. Call it what you will: conscience, karma, moksha, the Holy Spirit, etc. There's something that most souls will respond to in a just law. There's a need to obey it. It strikes a chord within the soul, and something inside us resonates with the knowledge that we shouldn't do a certain act, or we should do another act. Why? Because it's the right thing to do.
James points out that a dog knows when it's screwed up. It hangs its head before you even begin the butt-chewing. While a dog learns what is right and wrong from its master, we have our souls to guide us. Not that people can't be twisted to confuse what is right and wrong, or that they can't choose to ignore it altogether. Again, there's far too many people in prison to suggest otherwise.
There's a fundamental sense of good and evil in all of us. Otherwise, repentance would never be possible under any circumstances. I've talked to far too many people who reveled in doing some pretty awful things. The ones who have managed to turn away from those things did so because eventually they were able to appreciate that what they were doing was wrong. They were able to be taught, and I don't think a man-made law caused them to have that revelation.
Perhaps the law did manage to open the door to repentance to these people. The point got through there were consequences for disobedience. We all know it's illegal to murder somebody. But recognizing that it's wrong irrespective of what the law says is something else entirely. There was no turning away from the bad stuff until they appreciated on a fundamental level their actions were wrong.
So it seems that obedience to the law because we fear the repercussions of the law is one thing. Obedience to the law because it's RIGHT is something else entirely.