Sunday, February 11, 2007

Justice as Personal and World Trainer

Justice as Personal and World Trainer

By John Taylor; 2007 Feb 11

The following passage must be of extraordinary importance since Baha'u'llah repeats it word for word in both the Ninth Ishraq and the Thirteenth Glad Tiding,

"O people of God! That which traineth the world is Justice, for it is upheld by two pillars, reward and punishment. These two pillars are the sources of life to the world." (Tablets, 26, 128-129)

This does not define justice as much as it describes the role that it plays in human affairs. Justice is there to "train the world;" to advance morals and action by raising those two pillars of world order, reward and punishment. This implies faith in human perfectibility. It requires commitment to the enlightenment project.

In translating the above, Shoghi Effendi added an upper case "j" to the word "justice." By doing so he presumably meant to imply that Baha'u'llah was speaking of divine or absolute justice, as opposed to the limited, imperfect, relative, compromised variety that we are familiar with in daily life. This would make the above consistent with Baha'u'llah's unequivocal renunciation of worldly politics in the Kitab-i-Ahd,

"O ye the loved ones and the trustees of God! Kings are the manifestations of the power, and the daysprings of the might and riches, of God. Pray ye on their behalf. He hath invested them with the rulership of the earth and hath singled out the hearts of men as His Own domain." (Tablets, 220-221)

Here any involvement of religious leaders and institutions with politicians is decreed to be indirect, consisting primarily in praying for them and for the success of their plans and measures. The prime religious concern of faith, then, is justice with a capital "J", that is, with the heart. As Lao-Tzu put it, "The law is the husk of faith." (Tao Te Ching, J. H. McDonald, tr., ch. 38) Capital "J" Justice protects the delicate seed of enlightenment within; it acts as our personal trainer, as it were, while small "j" justice is the world trainer.

This is not to say that Justice has nothing at all to do with justice; quite the contrary, the temporal reflects the eternal. If, as Baha'u'llah says, a king is a manifestation of God's might and riches then that king will reflect the divine in himself and of himself, without outside dependence or interference. Hence secular power is not permanently bifurcated or divorced from the divine.

Returning to our original "trainer of the world" quote, "That which traineth the world is Justice, for it is upheld by two pillars, reward and punishment. These two pillars are the sources of life to the world." (Tablets, 26, 128-129) Baha'u'llah then goes on to add that since every age has its own problem with an "expedient solution," we should therefore refer current concerns to the House of Justice. We have, then, a moral obligation to turn new questions not covered in Holy Writ over to the House. They will mediate and resolve what is Just, what is just, and what is neither. Once they have decided what is right and expedient and what conduces to moral progress they then offer incentives for good actions and mete out sanctions for undesirable conduct. This is a unique mandate for any institution. The House of Justice is the first institution in history dedicated exclusively to Justice and, by implication, justice. Nobody can claim to know the existence of this body will change the nature of leadership, government and politics.

Fast Forwarding Justice

Here is an example from my recent experience of where I think that this mandate of Justice is pointing to.

After our philosophy meeting on Thursday we were preparing leave. We had only a few minutes to get out before the Library closed. One of the two men present named Mark and I were rapidly going over how traffic affects the environment when we discovered that we had a big difference of opinion. So, walking to the outside door, we an argument in fast forward.

Argument in Fast Forward

Mark said that marijuana should be legalized. I said I had no desire to share the roads with stoned dopers as well as inebriated drinkers. He said there is little evidence that dopers are as dangerous drivers as drunks. I said I did not wish to offer up my life and that of my passengers as a guinea pig. Anyway, why indulge this dubious right to lower one's own IQ by an average of twenty points? People are stupid enough already, thank you very much. There are a thousand ways that intelligence lowers competence, and not all are easily testable. What is more, we should aim at eliminating not only dope but alcohol too. Intoxication poisons the culture as well as the roads. He riposted that Prohibition proved that trying to outlaw drink does not work. I replied that it was unpopular with the majority of Americans who drink, but that does not mean that it is not desirable. We in the West have blinkers; we ignore the thousand-year-plus experiment with total prohibition in Islamic countries. It has irrefragably demonstrated significant health and other social benefits.

Mark was, to say the least, not impressed.

He piped in that legal impositions against human freedom, even the freedom to harm oneself, are bad because they oppress humanity, degrade the rights of all. We had to end it there, but this is how I would continue the argument: I would concede that freedom even to harm oneself is part of what freedom means, but unfortunately there is no firm line between harming myself and harming others. Neither is right, both are unjust, though only the latter is, as law is presently understood, under the purview of human rights. Admittedly, Prohibition was bungled, but more sophisticated legal measures limiting the freedom of smokers to smoke have shown over past decades that it is possible to reduce a so-called "victimless crime" gradually.

Statistics show that warning labels, publicity campaigns and gradual reduction of places where smoking is allowed have over several decades reduced the number of smokers in the population from about half of the population to less than one quarter. Not only that, the experiment in gradually curtailing smokers' rights and freedoms in favor of everybody else's rights and freedoms proves that it is not only possible but desirable as a social goal to chip away slowly and steadily at harmful vices, customs and habits.

If it is good to institute measures to reduce what the WHO calls the world's number one health threat, smoking, why is out of the question to institute similar measures against health threat number two, alcoholism? We have warning labels on cigarette packs, why not on booze bottles? I will tell you the reason: because the world trainer, justice, has been sidelined. The world does not value justice, and quails at following justice where it leads. Justice is gradually applying rewards for what benefits general social goals and instituting punishments for whatever harms the general interest. Why is it so hard not to face the first thing that every organism needs to face if it is to survive: take care of its own interests?

This is true of any threat to our vital interests that comes from within, that is, the will and heart of the individual. Why only concentrate on overt, outward crimes, when sin and imitation are the seedbed of all wrongdoing? For example, why not train our sights on increasing the number of vegetarians, considering how that alone would help the environment by reducing our ecological footprint by a factor of ten? And why let gluttony run rampant, without even trying to restrict it? Obesity is rapidly overtaking both smoking and drinking as the number one health threat, but still we hesitate to curb people's sacred personal habits and rights. Did I say sacred? Surely the reverse. What right do we have to profess concern for the environment when we indulge corrupt passions before all else? You cannot have your cake and eat it too. Do the rights of nature to live trump the right of humans to act foolishly and selfishly? Do we defend ourselves and the planet from danger by whatever means work, or do we not?

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