Facets of Alignment: Lawful

Caveat: This is a topic that has been, is being, and will be argued for time immemorial. So YMMV, of course.

I think of “Lawful” as a pattern of behavior that is organized and relies upon rules and systems to make things work. Discipline and “the rules” are how lawful people live their lives. Lawful people tend to be methodical, rigorous in sticking to a routine, and follow a very specific pattern of how they do what they do. Sometimes this makes them predictable, though sometimes they are very adept at outside-the-box thinking that can surprise opponents. While that may seem like a fundamentally chaotic thing, it only appears that way to an outside observer: a Lawful Neutral bounty hunter’s MO, for instance, might always include finding new and innovative ways to surprise a mark.

I’m going to give examples from comics, video games, and my own books to exemplify these alignments–note that these aren’t necessarily perfect examples, as many of these characters have had countless iterations and visualizations and you can argue lots of exceptions. A lot of these characters (particularly the LN ones) have good or evil tendencies, and that’s fine. In the case of Geralt, for instance, choices you make while playing the games he’s in can push him in a good or evil direction–he isn’t strictly neutral. These characters are sentient creatures who aren’t uniform in their behavior. Alignment isn’t a straight-jacket–it’s a general tool for describing behavior and outlook.

Lawful Good

A Lawful Good person believes in law and order being tools for the benefit of all, and will follow the laws of the land so long as the higher ideal of justice is served. A Lawful Good person has a strong sense of compassion and prioritizes helping those in need, even if it’s dangerous to do so. They are often extremely driven people, unable to tolerate injustice or stand by and do nothing.

Lawful Good types will be extremely uncomfortable with the very concept of bending the rules, much less breaking them, even if it’s for the greater good, in a way that a Neutral Good person would not mind as much, while a Chaotic Good person would advocate for breaking oppressive rules as the best course.

Superman, Defender of Truth, Justice, and the American Way

Examples: Superman is Lawful Good. Obi-Wan Kenobi is Lawful Good. Daredevil is Lawful Good. Triss Merrigold is Lawful Good. Kalen “Shadowbane” Dren is Lawful Good.

Lawful Neutral

A Lawful Neutral person believes in law and order for their own sake, basically “those are the rules and we should obey them because they’re the rules.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that a LN person always obeys the laws of the land they’re in, particularly as a traveler, but they always have a set of strictures or a code that they follow to the letter, and generally they default to a basic respect for the laws of the land, as in “those are the rules that others follow, and they follow them for a reason.” They are often thought of as mercenary or “just following orders” types.

There is a hierarchy of rules: a Lawful Neutral person will only violate an existing law if it comes in conflict with a more important law, and then usually with great discomfort. They may or may not put on the appearance of being good and are sometimes described as being amoral or unfeeling (which is sometimes accurate).

A True Neutral person doesn’t cleave to the law in this way, while a Chaotic Neutral person may have similar priorities to a Lawful Neutral person (getting paid to do a job, for instance) but goes about it totally differently, ignoring or violating rules and expectations as a matter of course.

Geralt of Rivia, Witcher

Examples: The Punisher is Lawful Neutral. Mace Windu is Lawful Neutral. Dexter Morgan is Lawful Neutral. Gerald of Rivia is Lawful Neutral. Levia Shadewalker (Shadowbane 3) is Lawful Neutral.

Lawful Evil

A Lawful Evil person believes in law and order as a means for securing their own power and dominance. The rules are important, primarily because they can be exploited to disadvantage others. A Lawful Evil traveler pays only lip service to the laws of the land that conflict with their own personal code and set of strictures, and will ignore those laws they consider to be weaker than their own or worthless. A Lawful Evil person seeks power through organization and alliance, relying upon others to provide them the support they need to achieve their goals, which involve crushing their rivals.

Neutral Evil people may take advantage of laws but don’t feel much compunction about violating them or working outside them at the drop of a hat, while Chaotic Evil people usually revel in defying laws and rules and will gleefully shirk them whenever possible.

Darth Vader, Dark Lord of the Sith

Examples: Lex Luthor is Lawful Evil. Two-Face is Lawful Evil. Ra’s Al Ghul and his daughter Talia are Lawful Evil. The Red Skull is Lawful Evil. Doctor Doom is Lawful Evil. Darth Vader is Lawful Evil. Vengeance (from Shadowbane 3) is Lawful Evil.

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Existential Morality: No God Required

A little bit of religious philosophy for your Monday.

Often, I come across the argument, advanced by theists (i.e. people who believe in one or more divine beings, usually in an American context we’re talking about Christians), that morality is somehow contingent upon the existence of God. Basically, if God doesn’t exist, then there’s no reason to be good–in fact, “good” and “evil” aren’t even real things!

Let’s give this some simple examination.

Theistic Moral Argument:

“God has to exist, because if God doesn’t exist, then we have no standard for morality! It’s all down to individual preference, and what’s to stop people from indulging their base impulses? If someone’s attracted to a child, why wouldn’t they act on those urges? What’s to stop people from murdering each other?”

The logical response:

So let me get this straight: are you saying that if you ever determined that God doesn’t exist, you would become a murdering, raping psychopath?

Because I wouldn’t.

And while that might not be what you’re saying, that’s what the above theistic moral argument entails: that without God, there is no standard of morality.

And that’s just not true.

It’s a logical fallacy called “begging the question” (i.e. assumes as a premise what it’s trying to prove). It assumes that God is the only source of morality in human experience.

And that’s a pretty empty way to look at the universe.

My morality doesn’t require the existence of a divine being to hand it down to me.

So where does non-religious morality come from?

Logic and reason are more than enough to figure out morality, and my morality starts with this:

Do no harm. Ask for consent. Respect others’ autonomy and basic humanity. Do good.

I think we can all agree that these are pretty standard moral principles. Does one really need them printed in a holy book?

How did the Greeks, for instance, establish morality? They’d never heard of the Christian God (predated its very conception, in fact), and their own concept of divinity was hardly morally perfect. They believed in deities that were great and powerful but also venal and fallible.

And yet they had concepts of justice and goodness vs. cowardice and evil.
And how are there good people in the world who don’t believe in God? Or people in the world who DO believe in God but still do evil things?

Thinking that a divine being must be the source of morality–or worse, a *particular* divine being–is a foolishly reductive argument. It’s also dangerous, because if you build no solid moral system for yourself, then when you have a crisis of faith (and we all do), then you will have no guiding principles.

Tying morality to religious doctrine is a recipe for societal ruin.

My Personal Context

And to clarify: I was raised in the United Methodist church and currently identify as a Christian agnostic.

Not because I’m not sure whether God exists, but because it’s ultimately not relevant.

One should live a good life, being good to others and doing right by humanity, whether God exists or not.

One shouldn’t do good things out of the hope of a reward (that’s a hollow, selfish reason to do good) or avoid doing evil things out of fear of punishment (that’s a hollow, selfish reason to avoid doing evil).

One should do good things and avoid doing evil things because it’s the right thing to do, because the world becomes a better place for all when we do good and avoid evil.

What if I’m wrong?

So what if I’m wrong, and there is indeed a god who disapproves of the way I live my life, and I end up condemned to some eternal torment?

Note that this god 1) refused to clarify exactly how to live in accordance with divine will, so as to avoid eternal torment (seriously, there are thousands of options out there—a loving god couldn’t have pointed out the right one, if it was that big a deal?), 2) continued to allow humans to live in constant fear and anxiety about existence, 3) throws people into hell because they didn’t do what they didn’t know to do.

I don’t know about you, but I’d define that god as an evil god—which is pretty far from any reasonable conception I might have—or at least as a vapid, ineffectual deity at best. A bad, alcoholic parent, who inflicts a radically elevated punishment for comparatively small slights you didn’t even realize were bad. Hardly a deity worthy of worship.

And, here’s the thing. I still lived a good life, doing good to people and to the world. If a god is going to condemn me for that—especially after not telling me the right way to do things—then there was no realistic way I could have avoided my fate. If I’m doomed anyway, then at least I did something good and useful with my life.

Cheers,
Erik

Further reading: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_morality