Regarding the fruit of the Spirit, Paul writes in Galatians 5.23, ‘Against such things there is no law.’ However, the traditional translation of the preposition kata as ‘against’ is misleading. Of course there is no law ‘against’ such things – there is no law anywhere ‘against’ virtue. On the contrary, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1.9, the law is for lawbreakers. Rather, Paul surely means ‘there is no law which produces the fruit of the Spirit.’

The dichotomy between Spirit and Law hinges around what Paul calls the ‘flesh’. The power of this ‘sinful nature’ is experienced as our inability always to do what is right even when we approve it. All cultures are aware of this power, even though they may attribute it to various causes, and all endeavour in some way to inhibit it through the mechanism of law.

Sometimes this is the law of statute and regulation, sometimes it is the law of ‘spiritual rules’. Uniquely, however, Christianity admits the inability of either ordinance or abstemiousness to cut at the root cause of sin, declaring that the law, however perfect it may be, is constantly undone by this sinful nature (Romans 8.3).

Instead, Christianity points to the Holy Spirit as both the answer to sin and the fulfilment of the widespread human desire for freedom. And where Christianity infected the wider society, this issued in a minimalist approach to law and a widespread assumption of freedom. A multiplicity of laws were neither required nor desired where the Spirit brought his fruits.

Now, however, as Christian influence declines in our society, so law once again comes into prominence, and the response to every newly perceived social failure is a new law. David Blunkett’s proposal for a law against ‘religious hatred’ is simply another example of this trend. It has not yet dawned on our leaders that laws also need to deter by their punishments, not merely to censure by their proscriptions, but that will necessarily come if the ‘rule of law’ is to be effective. Already there is clear proof that (unsurprisingly) speed cameras reduce speeding. And as laws and law enforcement increase, we certainly become better-behaved.

However, we will not, unfortunately, become better.

John Richardson