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Everyone lives in a world of laws: criminal, civil, local, national, international, even moral and religious laws.
Lawful civilizations keep people civil, for the most part. If you live in one, chances are you pay attention to your society’s laws, and do your best to abide by them. That’s not always easy, though. In every country, governments pass new bills, laws and amendments. Legislatures throughout every jurisdiction at all levels, even local municipal governments, implement fresh resolutions and ordinances regularly.
There is no chance, absolutely no way, that we can know them all—or even those that apply directly to us in our personal lives. How do we deal with that?
For example, take the laws of Moses. As a Roman Catholic school boy I learned a few Bible stories, but not the words themselves in the Old or New Testaments. Yes, we had catechism classes to learn Catholic dogma, but they were not all the words of Christ, they were the understanding of the Church during that period, delineating what we should believe and do. Of course, understandings change, as they should. All I learned about Moses’ laws was the Ten Commandments handed to him by God, and I had to memorize those and others to be confirmed a believer in the Church.
The Laws of Moses and Christ stood me in good stead as a child and a young man, because, although hard to obey at times, I at least know what they are. Those laws gave me my basic sense of justice.
So it’s up to all of us to pay attention to what the laws are, and to recognize the principles of justice underlying them.
We generally know those principles, almost by instinct. We can usually tell the difference between right and wrong.
But most of these laws do have one thing they share: they’re based on common sense, equity and fairness. They have a central root system—the core ideal of justice. The Baha’i teachings say that every good law branches from that root, which came initially from the Creator:
The reading of history brings us to the conclusion that all truly great men, the benefactors of the human race, those who have moved men to love the right and hate the wrong and who have caused real progress, all these have been inspired by the force of the Holy Spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 163-164.
This basic principle works for all of God’s laws—those moral and spiritual laws that we mostly learned as young ones, all based on equity, fairness and justice.
Essentially, all of those spiritual laws come from the Golden Rule, which has always been one and the same throughout all of religious history. In every prophetic cycle that rule is renewed and re-emphasized.
Twenty-five hundred years ago, 600 years before Christ, Lao-Tze wrote in China: “Requite injury with kindness. To the not good I would be good in order to make them good.”
Confucius advised: “What you would not wish done to yourself, do not unto others.”
Jewish law stipulated: “Whatsoever you do not wish your neighbor to do to you, do not that to him.” Moses said: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
At the first Buddhist Council in 477 BC, the scribes wrote: “One should seek for others the happiness one desires for oneself.”
Christ gave the same essential law in Mathew 7:12: “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye unto them, for this is the law and the prophets.”
The Qur’an says: “Let none of you treat his brother in a way he himself would dislike to be treated.”
This essential law—the fundamental basis of all just laws—also resonates throughout the teachings of Baha’u’llah:
O Son of Man! If thine eyes be turned towards mercy, forsake the things that profit thee, and cleave unto that which will profit mankind. And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbor that which thou choosest for thyself. – Epistle to the Son of the Wolf.
So yes, we all live in a societies and cultures framed by laws. We can never know them all, but we can navigate them by keeping one unifying principle of justice in mind—the Golden Rule.