This is Faith in Play #18: Order, for May 2019.
A lot of people think that lawful (and specifically lawful good) is The Christian alignment in Dungeons & Dragons™. They think this because they associate it with keeping the rules, and they think that Christianity is about keeping the rules. I would disagree on two counts. First, I don’t think Christianity is primarily about keeping rules—in fact, it might be that keeping rules has almost nothing to do with Christian faith. Yet at the same time, I don’t think that the law alignment is really quite about keeping rules, either. It’s fundamentally about something else entirely.
This is a continuation of our series on alignment as the True Religion in the Dungeons & Dragons™ game world, begun a year ago. Since then we’ve considered Goodness and Wickedness, and I hope discovered that they were not what they are often thought to be. We are now turning our heads sideways toward the other axis of the alignment graph, looking at law, which is opposed to chaos on the chart.
Somewhere C. S. Lewis contrasted two perceptions of humanity and society. On the one hand, he said that if it were true that people are born, live a few decades, and die, and that’s the end of the story, they aren’t terribly important as individuals. Some of them achieve greatness, and perhaps as Churchill said some have greatness thrust upon them, but even great men are small in the total picture. They matter only to the degree that they serve the larger entity, society, the nation, perhaps the race.
It is this thinking which gives rise to the famous saying attributed to Mister Spock, The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. In this conception of the universe, I don’t matter, and you don’t matter, but we can hope that humanity matters, that somehow we will as a people survive the planet, survive the sun, populate the universe, possibly become part of the larger society of intelligent creatures scattered among the stars. It is not the individual that matters, but the collective, the sum of all individuals.
Therefore, by this thinking, the individual exists for the benefit of the society, and the society can sacrifice the individual, use the individual however it believes will best benefit the total. As Caiaphas says, do you not see that it is better for one person to be killed for the sake of the nation? People individually do not matter; society is what matters.
That is the core of the lawful alignment. It expresses itself in many ways, including that there will be structure within the society, rules which bind the members. It is important that the society function smoothly, that the society itself is healthy and prosperous. It achieves that by laws, by customs, by taxes, by restrictions and permissions, by castes and privilege, by masters and slaves, employers and employees, and by anything else that keeps the society functioning as a society.
This sounds rather bleak, but it’s not all bad—it’s just not all good. In fact, it’s neither good nor bad, in itself. It’s simply a way of seeing the world in which we are more important than I, more important than you, or him, or her. It is about whether each of us matters within the context of all of us, whether a government should put the whole of society above the needs of individual members. It has the effect, pushed to the extreme, of making us cogs in a machine, but it can make the machine much better for all the cogs if it’s done right.
Of course, that is, as I cited from Lewis, the one hand. The other hand is the view that people are at least potentially immortal, that we will outlive the universe. That gives rise to the other side—but we’ll have to wait for another article to address that.