And don't forget truth, honesty, beauty and love
Review: "Toward the Most Great Justice: Elements of Justice in the New World Order" by Charles O. Lerche, Bahá'í Publishing Trust, London
If asked to summarize the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith in a single word, many of its followers would give this simple answer: "unity."
Yet, as a new book from the Bahá'í Publishing Trust of the United Kingdom shows, the question could as easily be answered by the word "justice."
For as Toward the Most Great Justice: Elements of Justice in the New World Orderdemonstrates, a deep concern for the concept and promotion of justice is a major theme in the Bahá'í writings - and a major thrust in the activities of Bahá'í communities.
Composed of nine essays by Bahá'í authors from around the world and edited by Charles O. Lerche, a professor of political science at the University of Limburg/Maastricht in the Netherlands, Toward the Most Great Justice offers readers a broad survey of how Bahá'ís approach questions of justice, covering issues from its theological underpinnings to its practical expression in society.
More specifically, the essays address the creation of social justice, the relationship between justice and law, the necessity of establishing equality between women and men as a requisite of justice, the means by which our economic system might be made more just, and the imperative of including justice in the formulation of a new global ethic.
In an essay entitled "The Process of Creating Social Justice," for example, Holly Hanson argues that simple obedience to religious law, such as the exhortations to act unselfishly or to associate lovingly with others, can foster a powerful movement for the creation of social justice.
"If we think concretely about what happens when people follow the exhortation to associate and love each other and create the emotional bonds that are to characterize a united community, it is clear that love of God is the essence of economics. When we begin with the human heart, we can arrive at a redistribution of wealth that incorporates a redistribution of power, authority and the right to be perceived as honorable and worthy."
Sun Libo, an assistant professor of politics and law at China University in Beijing, contrasts the Confucian, the Western (as rooted in ancient Greece), and the Bahá'í views of justice. Confucianism, Prof. Libo writes, essentially argued that justice is best achieved through the proper moral education of individuals, who will then act justly in society. The Greeks and the West, he writes, essentially believe that justice comes from the establishment and enforcement of good laws, which keep injustice in check.
In the Bahá'í view, he writes, these two ideas come together, saying that while it "emphasizes the importance of individual spiritual development in realizing justice, it also stresses the need for the establishment of a universal administrative order." Without such an order, he writes, "universal peace, unity and love will be like a beautiful flower which will eventually wilt."
In an essay entitled "Shifting the Balance: The Responsibility of Men in Establishing the Equality of Women," sociologist Hoda Mahmoudi argues that the implementation of true justice on a global scale requires full equality between women and men - and that such a step can only be achieved when men adopt new attitudes toward women. To achieve that, she writes, men must come to understand that the promotion of equality is in their best interests. She quotes from the Bahá'í writings in support of this view:
"'Abdu'l-Bahá writes: 'As long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs,'" Ms. Mahmoudi quotes. "This view explodes traditional notions characteristic of dominance hierarchical thinking, that if one group flourishes or benefits it must necessarily be at the expense of another group's well being."
One of the most revealing essays in the book is the opening one, entitled "Justice as a Theme in the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh." In it, the book's editor, Prof. Lerche, discusses the philosophical and theological underpinnings of the Bahá'í view of justice, stating that it can be seen as stemming from a "perfect" standard established by God. Although this is perhaps an oversimplification of Prof. Lerche's point, he essentially compares the Bahá'í view to an updated and more modern version of Plato's theory of a "universal Good."
"The Bahá'í writings unequivocally portray justice as a reality, and as a fundamental, attainable virtue for both the individual and social institutions," Prof. Lerche writes. "Furthermore, they provide a unique perspective on, and insight into, many of those problems and contradictions in current thinking which have contributed in large measure to the prevailing skepticism."
It is on that point, really, that the power of this entire volume hinges. In an age when, as Prof. Lerche points out, many traditional standards of justice have been rejected as inadequate and secular approaches have bogged down in the cross-fire of cultural relativism and ideological analysis, the views expressed in these nine essays offer a refreshing antidote.