Archive for February 2017
1. CONFUSION about what ‘Justice’ means is a major source of psychological and social problems today. It’s vital to understand that Justice itself is something much greater than mere retributive justice (punishment, revenge, etc.) or equity (treating all people equally).
2. While Justice itself — like Truth and Beauty, to which it is related — can be experienced and intuited, it is not easily defined. We should therefore try to look at it from various angles, hoping to reveal its meaning.
3. First we consider the etymology and cognates of ‘Justice’. Doing so we notice a variety of words and phrases in which the root, just, has a meaning that refers not to laws, but to exactness and perfect measure. For example, we routinely use phrases like ‘just in time,’ ‘just right,’ ‘just as I hoped,’ and so on. Here is our first clue: that what we call justice might be more accurately called rightness, justrightness, or the like.
4. We should also seek out ancestral wisdom on a matter of such enduring and central importance to human welfare as Justice. Accordingly let us consult various sources.
5. In Greek mythology we find that Justice and retribution are distinct: the former is represented by the goddess Dike; and the latter by the goddess Nemesis. These are two separate entities, and separate principles.
6. Justice/Dike is often represented as holding golden scales. Justice is associated with scales not because ‘the punishment must fit the crime’, as some suppose; rather, a much broader and beautiful meaning is alluded to: that, for everything in life, indeed for everything in the Universe, there is a perfect mean or measure — neither too much, nor too little — in which amount, it contributes harmoniously to the cosmic symphony. In Egyptian religion, this cosmic meaning of Justice is even more apparent, where the counterpart of Dike is Ma’at, goddess of Measure and Balance.
7. Justice, as a personal virtue, is a main concern of the New Testament, where it is termed in Greek, dikaiosyne, and commonly translated into English as righteousness. An indication of the central importance of righteousness in the New Testament is that it figures prominently in not one, but two of the nine Beatitudes:
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. (Matt 5:6)
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:10)
8. A few lines later are these words:
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. (Matt 6:33)
Most Christians are familiar with the phrase, seek ye first the kingdom of God, but perhaps few realize that they are instructed as well to seek his righteousness — which we may understand as meaning to seek to understand and know what divine righteousness is, and to possess this virtue in our own life. This fits exactly with previous comments on the kingdom of God
9. But in equating Justice with righteousness, have we solved anything? What does righteous mean? There is some confusion here also, as indicated by the phrase, righteous indignation. This phrase is internally contradictory: righteousness and indignation have little affinity for each other, and, in fact, are almost diametrically opposed. A truly righteous person is more characteristically patient, long-suffering, charitable and meek — not indignant.
10. Thayer’s Greek Definitions, a definitive biblical reference, relates the primary meaning of dikaiosyne with “integrity, virtue, purity of life, and rightness and correctness of thinking, feeling and acting.” It thus means a person who is right (in the sense of ‘just right’, well measured, or harmonized) with God, with him/herself, and with the Universe.
11. We find that dikaiosyne is a principle concern of St. Paul’s epistles as well. He frequently emphasizes a distinction between legalism (slavish adherence to fixed laws) and righteousness — an ethical orientation in which ones choices are spontaneously guided by Conscience, our innate spiritual sense of rightness. Seeing this helps us understand one of St. Paul’s most famous doctrines: that one is justified (i.e., made righteous) by faith in Jesus Christ. This could be understood psychologically to mean that the act of turning ones heart to Jesus re-aligns ones moral apparatus, reconnecting one to ones spiritual Conscience — thereby permitting one to act and think in accord with God’s will, and putting one again in harmony with all creation; one becomes, that is, justright again, regaining a state of natural bliss and attunement.
12. Plato devoted his greatest dialogue, the Republic, to the question, what is righteousness?; the ancient subtitle of the Republic, in fact, is ‘On the Righteous Man.’ That Plato wrote a lengthy dialogue on this topic indicates that he considered this question an important one, and that (as today), ordinary notions of what Justice means were confused or mistaken and needed clarification. In the Republic, Plato explicitly rejects a definition of righteousness as mere equity (‘giving to each man his due’), in favor of a meaning of right measure that contributes to Harmony, Balance, Order and Beauty.
13. Plato also considered Justice (righteousness; dikaiosyne) to be one of the four cardinal virtues, along with Courage, Temperance and Prudence. Of these, Justice is the greatest, as it is necessary for the others. Each of the other cardinal virtues is a rightly measured mean between extremes. Courage, for example, is the right mean between cowardice and rashness. We need dikaiosune to judge what the right amount of some specific virtue is that a given situation demands.
14. Plato concludes the Republic with Socrates confidently announcing that the righteous person is the most happy — where happiness means a certain divine state of mind. This agrees with the Beatitudes, where we are told that the righteous person will attain the condition of bliss or blessedness (makarios).
15. Considering all the preceding — what may we infer? We know that righteousness brings happiness, and that this righteousness is far removed from anything like revenge or retribution. Likewise is does not consist in mere performance of social duties, including important ones like helping the needy — though these, of course, would usually be part of the life of a truly righteous person. Specific actions are important — but not as important as the very means by which we may discern what actions would be most truly beneficial, productive, beautiful, harmonious and justright.
16. Therefore while it’s clearly important to relieve the oppression, mistreatment, poverty, hunger and sickness of others, we should not, in the process of pursuing these things, whether through anger, indignation, agitation or disturbed thinking, disconnect ourselves from our own righteousness, nor act in ways that oppose Divine Harmony.
17. This true meaning of righteousness is conveyed in the following lines of Orphic Hymn 62, To Dikaiosyne (in Greek mythology, the goddess or spirit Dikaiosyne was righteousness personified, a daughter of Dike):
O Blessed Dikaiosyne, mankind’s delight,
Th’ eternal friend of conduct just and right:
Abundant, venerable, honor’d maid,
To judgments pure, dispensing constant aid,
A stable conscience, and an upright mind;
For men unjust, by thee are undermin’d,
Whose souls perverse thy bondage ne’er desire,
But more untam’d decline thy scourges dire:
Harmonious, friendly power, averse to strife,
In peace rejoicing, and a stable life;
Lovely, loquacious, of a gentle mind,
Hating excess, to equal deeds inclin’d:
Wisdom, and virtue of whate’er degree,
Receive their proper bound alone in thee. (Thomas Taylor, translator)
18. Occupying the deepest level of our moral consciousness, Dikaiosyne is potentially related to the symbols of the angel guarding the gates of Paradise, the Pythogorean Y at the entrance to the Isles of the Blessed, and the ancient mystical allegory called the Choice of Hercules.
19. Let us not emulate the unvirtue of those who hold up angry signs at public demonstrations that say, “No Justice, No Peace!” or the like — making, in effect, a threat, and expressing a sentiment as far removed from the true meaning of Justice as it is from Peace. We should, rather, remind ourselves, “No Peace, No Justice!” Peace removes the mental agitations that distort our thinking and impede our ability to see the right course, and the way of Truth and Beauty. Conversely, whatever opposes Peace, opposes righteousness, by producing discord, enmity, and disturbed and erroneous thinking.
20. To summarize, what emerges is that Justice/righteousness is a state of mind, a cosmic principle, and an attribute of Deity — one with much in common with Truth and Beauty. Justice is the joyous and glorious Divine Harmony of an all-good God. It is something which, the more we understand, the more we love. Indeed one could easily argue that divine Justice and divine Love are virtually the same thing.
21. Well may we reflect on the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, where, in speaking of authentic charity (agape), he may just as well be describing the sublime virtue of righteousness:
 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
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Written by John Uebersax
February 15, 2017 at 9:11 pm