Monday, September 5, 2011

Religion, Law and the Need and Desire for Justice

Woman with sword in one hand and scale in the other brings about order and justice
Triumph of Justice by Hans von Aachen
Throughout history, people have been drawn to religion for a variety of reasons. Religious belief and practice often fulfill social, psychological and philosophical needs. Therein included are also the big existential questions like the purpose and meaning of life, the question of the afterlife, and a strong need, desire and longing for justice in a seemingly ambivalent world.

The meaning of life is ultimately a highly subjective question and in this case I subscribe to the existential and multifarious trend of choosing the best path for the given individual or, to dress it in colloquial jargon, the unobtrusive and egalitarian “whatever floats your boat” philosophy. When it comes to existence after existence, I have blogged about the mystery of the hereafter to a limited extent in my questions about the afterlife post. Here I would like to focus mainly on the need and desire for justice.

As a child, we rely on our parents as the ever-present enforcers of justice. In our eyes, they punish the wicked and reward the good. We hold onto the “childlike” belief that there is a justified and just moral order in the universe. At this point our morality is still in its budding infancy but when it comes to ethical questions we sense -- or may even deeply believe -- that good actions, such as being honest and telling the truth, not intentionally causing harm or suffering onto others will bring us benefits, candy, higher allowance, sometimes even abstract and intangible benefits to our psychology and well-being in forms of praise and respect.

On the other side of the spectrum, being “bad” is tied to negative consequences, such as (God forbid) corporal punishment, a decrease in allowance, and a denial of our wishes and desires, especially on the items petitioned for in a Christmas letter to Dear Santa. The latter by the way can be a useful tool for disciplining children in terms of negative reinforcement since evidently Santa asks parents if their children are well-behaved and his opinion and judgment carry weight and matter indeed.

However, soon enough we make some of our first and initially painful realizations about life. Our parents, after all, are human beings, and they are limited in their powers. They have to obey the law (not only of gravity but also the rules of society) and have to accept its representatives; the priest can order them about; they have bosses at work who are superior to them while our dear parents must swallow their pride if they do not want to lose their position (= income and livelihood) and so on and so forth. Moreover, they have their own share of flaws and weaknesses. In other words, they lose some of the power we had inferred upon them in our childish naivete as glorious bringers of justice.

As a result, they need to be replaced. The common phrase of retributive justice I will tell my Mommy / Daddy tinged with a fair amount of threat translates into its abstract equivalent I will call the authorities. The police then becomes the principal and most visible enforcer and embodiment of the law in addition to a host of government organizations.

Yet soon enough, we recognize the flaws of such fallible systems, we realize that even the sanctified law has its pitfalls and biases, not to mention its own price. You can literally get away with murder if you play your cards right or if you are rich and / or famous. This often profoundly affects, even shakes our belief in the justice system that is run, after all, by humans and humans tend to err being far from perfect; at the same time, everyone has to deal with their own demons and temptations.

So who can ensure that justice is served on our little planet? That is when some may desperately and pleadingly turn to God to fill the void. He is the Heavenly Father and hence very different and much more potent than the puny earthly one we are given down here. He ensures that Justice is served and whenever it seems that the opposite is the case we hold onto the belief that the wicked will be punished in the other life to come and will burn in eternal flames, while the good (like us) will have goods aplenty in the next life.

I am aware that my phrasing may make me sound like a cynic but far from it. I do believe in the ubiquitous balancing act of unseen karma. Eventually everything will be sorted out. The universe is operating on a rational and moral order; it is too structured to revert to chaos and randomness. It is the Logos or that divine and eternally vibrating and echoing Word that fills hearts and souls with the promise of Justice, served and redeemed for all.

1 comment:

jedilost said...

A great post, indeed. But the real question is, is there really a divine justice systwm waiting for us when we die. i know that there cant be a decisive answer to this question, but i would like to hear what you think about it.