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How do I become Baha’i?

The Law: are You a Conformer, Reformer or Rationalizer?

Rodney Richards | Apr 25, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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Rodney Richards | Apr 25, 2016

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

When it comes to obeying the law, do you think of yourself as a conformer, a reformer or a rationalizer?

Not that any person is only one or the other, just like not many people are solely introverted or extroverted. Human beings are complex enough to contain parts of most labels.

To answer the question, I have components of all three behaviors, depending on what the situation is at any given moment. But as a student of religion, I believe Baha’u’llah when he said:

Religion is the greatest of all means for the establishment of order in the world and for the peaceful contentment of all that dwell therein. – World Order of Baha’u’llah, p. 186.

Referring to the eclipse or corruption of religion, he wrote:

Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness, of justice, of tranquility and peace cease to shine. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 125.

Believing that religion establishes order in the world means acting on my beliefs. I consciously try to reform myself, in other words. It goes with saying that reform means changing myself first and foremost, and I accept that it’s a process, like losing weight or quitting smoking.

All the prophets, saints and sages were reformers, from Confucius to Moses to Baha’u’llah, to Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. in modern times. They established and exemplified moral codes for humanity, showing us how to behave toward each other. They reformed existing laws and gave us new ones. The ultimate laws—those codes of moral behavior brought to humanity by the prophets of God—gave us the basis for our sense of right and wrong, our morality, and ultimately our jurisprudence.

But I can’t reform laws all by myself. Democratic societies try to enforce the rule of law, and conformity is necessary to just laws. I am writing a book, in fact, on driving laws. They exist, are clear as day, yet most drivers—and I think most is 95% on some roads in many countries—do not strictly obey speed limit laws. How much more difficult to obey God’s laws, those moral rules of personal conduct!

And of course, in that example, rationalization takes over. Many people feel that breaking speed limit laws is acceptable, mainly “Because everybody else does it.” Yet, famously, we are each aware of the rhetorical exposé of such falsities when we ask our teenage children, “If Johnny jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge, does that mean you have to?”


In the rule of law, fear of consequences, or conscience, is the greatest motivator. That’s why we are exhorted to fear God, and to use that fear as a moral ruler. But let me ask you, if not enough people actually fear the consequences of breaking the law, or one feels entitled, what’s to stop illegal and hurtful behaviors?

That’s why Baha’u’llah taught us another important attribute of humans when he said:

The fear of God hath ever been a sure defense and a safe stronghold for all the peoples of the world. It is the chief cause of the protection of mankind, and the supreme instrument for its preservation. Indeed, there existeth in man a faculty which deterreth him from, and guardeth him against, whatever is unworthy and unseemly, and which is known as his sense of shame. This, however, is confined to but a few; all have not possessed, and do not possess, it. It is incumbent upon the kings and the spiritual leaders of the world to lay fast hold on religion, inasmuch as through it the fear of God is instilled… – Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, p. 27.

I freely admit, when speeding past traffic while in the fast lane, I haven’t felt a large sense of fear, or shame, for breaking the law. But there are consequences, especially when I’ve been pulled over by a trooper. When that happens, embarrassment takes over, and a sense of stupidity prevails. I think we’ve all experienced those emotions.

So fear of consequences is a powerful motivator in humankind, probably as powerful as love itself. These two pillars of civilization—Love and Fear, or Reward and Punishment—mean there’s something to be said for conforming to just laws.

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  • Apr 26, 2016
    This does bring up the issue of what is a just law or an unjust law. There is also the issue of malum in se or mala in se (evil in itself) and malum prohibitum or mala prohibita (evil because it\'s prohibited). Just laws are laws that ban the former, evil in itself stuff. It\'s a whole complicated philsophy thing that requires familiarity with the concepts I mentioned as well as self-ownership and the non-aggression principle. I would also like to thank reading Claire Wolfe books for introducing me to such concepts. Also, I won\'t go into too much political ...philosophy as it is filled with jargon as well as being agree or disagree based on where a person is on the political spectrum. I think mala prohibita laws are unjust nanny state legislation for example. The term vitctimless crime is the things prohibited by such laws.
    Malum in se (plural mala in se) is a Latin phrase meaning wrong or evil in itself. The phrase is used to refer to conduct assessed as sinful or inherently wrong by nature, independent of regulations governing the conduct. It is distinguished from malum prohibitum, which is wrong only because it is prohibited.
    For example, most human beings believe that murder, rape, and theft are wrong, regardless of whether a law governs such conduct or where the conduct occurs, and is thus recognizably malum in se. In contrast, malum prohibitum crimes are criminal not because they are inherently bad, but because the act is prohibited by the law of the state. For example, law in the United States require drivers to drive on the right side of the road. This is not because driving on the left side of a road is considered immoral, but because consistent rules promote safety and order on the roads.
    This concept was used to develop the various common law offences.
    Another way to describe the underlying conceptual difference between "malum in se" and "malum prohibitum" is "iussum quia iustum" and "iustum quia iussum," namely something that is commanded (iussum) because it is just (iustum) and something that is just (iustum) because it is commanded (iussum).
    Malum prohibitum (plural mala prohibita, literal translation: "wrong [as or because] prohibited") is a Latin phrase used in law to refer to conduct that constitutes an unlawful act only by virtue of statute, as opposed to conduct that is evil in and of itself, or malum in se.
    Conduct that is so clearly violative of society\'s standards for allowable conduct that it is illegal under English common law is usually regarded as malum in se. An offense that is malum prohibitum may not appear on the face to directly violate moral standards. The distinction between these two cases is discussed in State of Washington v. Thaddius X. Anderson:
    Criminal offenses can be broken down into two general categories malum in se and malum prohibitum. The distinction between malum in se and malum prohibitum offenses is best characterized as follows: a malum in se offense is "naturally evil as adjudged by the sense of a civilized community," whereas a malum prohibitum offense is wrong only because a statute makes it so. State v. Horton, 139 N.C. 588, 51 S.E. 945, 946 (1905).
    "Public welfare offenses" are a subset of malum prohibitum offenses as they are typically regulatory in nature and often "\'result in no direct or immediate injury to person or property but merely create the danger or probability of it which the law seeks to minimize.\'" Bash, 130 Wn.2d at 607 (quoting Morissette v. United States, 342 U.S. 246, 255-56, 72 S. Ct. 240, 96 L. Ed. 288 (1952)); see also State v. Carty, 27 Wn. App. 715, 717, 620 P.2d 137 (1980).
    Examples of crimes and torts that might be considered as malum prohibitum—but not malum in se—include:
    building or modifying a house without a license
    copyright infringement
    illegal drug use
    illegal hunting
    operating a business without a license
    prohibition of alcohol
    surrogacy for profit
    weapon possession
    illegal immigration
    You could add speed limit laws to the above list of examples of mala prohibita laws.
    Mr. Richards, my post has been long, but I hope my info is useful for your book. I forgot to add anything about religion in the post, but I will address it in another one as this one is long enough. Mala in se laws protect people from harm justly while mala prohibita victimless crime laws try to eliminate danger, risk, and the probability of harm from society unjustly is basically the summary of my post.
    I personally don\'t drive, but my answer to why speed limit laws aren\'t followed strictly is not that no one follows them all the time fallacy you mentioned, but rather following speed limits strictly doesn\'t really keep people that safe. Driving fast doesn\'t intrinsically harm people, but only has the danger, risk, and probability of harming someone. Lots of people speeding obviously shows how low that danger, risk, and probability is.
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