Friday, January 13, 2012

Justice and nonviolence: Pair boards the ark of the moral universe

How do we address conflict in ways that reduce violence and increase justice in human relationships? (Lederach, 2003, p. 20)
John Paul Lederach asks the key question for our field of Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution. How we answer that question determines our future as a species.

Morally, the very least we can do is work to decrease violence. This makes justice possible because it it means that the citizenry can work democratically to seek justice rather than having a ruler use violence to impose his version of justice.

It is easy to wrestle with the question of violence and nonviolence. Nonviolence is vastly superior in every way. But to properly understand this, we need to grapple with the notion of justice, since we find so many misusing that term to justify horrific crimes.

Is the system of laws all that there is to the concept of justice? If so, we have achieved what some have called natural law, that is, law that aligns with some perfect cosmic, universal justice. In the era of the Lawgivers, the dictators who presumed personal juridical omnipotence, the likes of Hammurabi and Moses

 claimed to have a hotline to God. They gave us versions of the retributive justice approach, an eye for an eye, which has informed the laws of many nations from East to West, North to South. No, my liberal friends, these precedent-setters were not just the progenitors of the philosophy of laws that have been self-inflicted in the West. They both arose in what we now call the--what?--Middle East. They gave us this extraordinarily cruel tool called the law and it is the basis of Roman-English Law as well as Sharia. What?! Yes, the foundations are the same.

No, I don't mean that Roman or English Law quotes on and on from the Qur'an, like Sharia Law does. But Mosaic Law starts with that twisted idea of justice--equal harm for harm and so does its later follow-on, Roman Law, as does its other even later scion, Sharia Law. While much is different, the bedrock of inflicting vengeance rather than seeking compensatory and relational repair is more or less equally in the building blocks of both. The corpus of Roman-English Law has really resisted more than accepted the influence of Jesus, that is, the idea of reconciliation, and of course Jesus is no real influence in Sharia Law either.

I am not arguing that a new model of justice, a restorative model, should be based on some faith in Christ, only that the idea of Jesus, at least as given in the Bible, would seem to align with many of the indigenous approaches to justice that focus on relational repair rather than meting out revenge as justice. Yes, Jesus lines up quite well with many indigenous philosophies of justice and seems to be fairly squarely opposed to the retributive models, whether they are other indigenous, Confucian, Roman-English, Sharia, or the dictatorship of the elite representatives of the proletariat as we have seen and continue to see in communist countries.

"The arc of the moral universe is long," said Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., "but it bends toward justice."

Looking at the universe through the lens of violence results in a very fuzzy image of justice. Looking at the universe through the lens of zero-sum (to the extent you win, I lose, and vice-versa) also results in a poor image of justice. But bending those lenses toward nonviolence and reconciliation slowly brings it all into proper Conflict Resolution, a clean vision of where we need to go. Thank you, Dr. King. May we all gain a more clear image of the path of nonviolence as it leads us toward a better future.

Lederach, John Paul (2003). The little book of conflict transformation. Intercourse, PA: Good Books..

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