14 July 2010

What is Justice?

Any pursuit of justice, if it is to be sustainable, needs for its participants to have a clear vision of the endeavor they are undertaking and the concepts they employ. With that in mind it's certainly worth asking; What is justice? and conversely; What is oppression? These are questions that must always be addressed and always submitted to thought for new exploration. I'd like to put some ideas out there on these questions. I hope they're helpful for you in your own explorations.

It seems to me that justice, as it is commonly understood, is that people get what they deserve. Justice is that people have enough food to eat, clean water to drink, adequate shelter, quality health care. Justice is that they are free to choose their religion or to choose none at all. It is to be able to associate with whom one wants. It is having a say in the decisions that most impact one's life. Oppression, on the other hand, is to be deprived of these things.

I think there's a lot of overlap between this conception of justice, and the way these issues are discussed in the Baha'i writings. But there are some key differences. They relate to a human's relationship with God. One of the most intriguing passages on this topic comes from Baha'u'llah's Kitab-i-Iqan. At one point Baha'u'llah outlines his idea of the most-grievous oppression. It pertains to a soul's access to divine guidance.
What “oppression” is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it? For opinions have sorely differed, and the ways unto the attainment of God have multiplied.
Kitab-i-Iqan, 21 p. 31
It seems to me that what makes this such a grievous oppression is that since a soul, according to Baha'u'llah, is created to know and  to worship God, that person is deprived of  fulfilling her purpose if she can't obtain the means by which to draw closer to her creator. Furthermore, as Baha'u'llah states in the opening to the Kitab-i-Aqdas: "They whom God hath endued with insight will readily recognize that the precepts laid down by God constitute the highest means for the maintenance of order in the world and the security of its peoples." In this way, God's teachings are the keys to both spiritual and material prosperity.

Another way to think about is that God provides for us in a multitude of ways. One way is through the guidance of his Manifestations amongst humanity. From time to time, God renews this guidance. The Holy Spirit assists us to put it into practice and draw closer to God. Justice is to help people partake of God's spiritual abundance. Oppression is to shut them off from it. Another way God provides for us is through the natural ecosystem. A balanced amount of water, minerals, and sunlight makes possible an abundance of life on this planet. Edible food grows wild in the natural environment. If I place a seed in the ground and care for it, the natural elements will assist that seed to grow into maturity and produce food. The natural ecosystem is characterized by abundance. Justice is to assist people in partaking of this abundance. Oppression is to shut them off from it.


  1. The quote you reference has meant a lot to me. I remember a time, during my second year of college when I felt absolutely shut out from God without any means to find her/him again. This quote gave me hope, that at least, I knew where to seek.

    Also, if the natural ecosystem is a sign of God's justice, then are other planets unjust? Also, just a thought, nature gives life, but also takes it, sometimes cruelly.

  2. Interesting post. Made me ponder the relationship between justice and education - educational opportunities, the structure of educational systems, etc. - especially given the implication of the quoted passage of the relationship between oppression and the search for truth.