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Culture

Where do Laws Come From, Anyway?

David Langness | Sep 1, 2016

PART 2 IN SERIES Crime Criminals and Prison

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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David Langness | Sep 1, 2016

PART 2 IN SERIES Crime Criminals and Prison

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

All human laws are fed by the one Divine law. – Heraclitus

No enactment of man can be considered law unless it conforms to the law of God. – Sir William Blackstone

The Prophets of God have founded the laws of divine civilization. They have been the root and fundamental source of all knowledge. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 143.

Our secular civil and criminal laws, legal scholars from all cultures will tell you, have their historical origins in the moral and spiritual teachings of religion.

When the prophets and founders of the world’s great faiths appeared, they each brought a code of human conduct and taught it to their followers. Many of those laws and the spiritual foundations they came from then found their way into the rule of law and the legal systems of governments.

However, religious systems suffered from the corruption of the original laws their founders brought, and from the changes, dogmas and modifications introduced subsequently by their clergy. But those powerful original religious laws—the Ten Commandments, Christ’s law of love, the Edicts of Ashoka in Buddhist law—all generated civil legal systems that still follow the prescriptions for living first set down by the founders of the great Faiths.

Baha’is believe that God renews religion regularly. That renewal also abrogates, replaces and changes the religious and civil laws of former ages:

In brief, our meaning is that the change and transformation in the conditions and exigencies of the times is the cause of the abrogation of religious laws, for the time comes when those earlier commandments no longer suite the prevailing conditions. Consider how greatly the exigencies of the modern age differ from those of medieval times! Is it possible that the commandments of former centuries could be enforced in these latter times? It is clear and evident that this would be entirely impossible. Likewise, after the lapse of many centuries, that which is called for at the present time will no longer be suited to the needs of that future age, and change and transformation will be inevitable.

In Europe the laws are continually being changed and modified. Howe numerous the laws that once existed in European systems and canons and that have since been annulled! These changes are due to the transformation of thoughts, customs, and conditions, and without them the well-being of the human world would be disrupted.

For example, the Torah prescribes the sentence of death for whoever breaks the Sabbath. There are indeed ten such death sentences in the Torah. Could these commandments be carried out in our time? It is evident that it would be utterly impossible. Thus they have been changed and transformed, and this change and transformation in the laws constitutes in itself a sufficient proof of the consummate wisdom of God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, p. 108.

The new laws that revitalized, renewed religion brings, the Baha’i teachings say, provide the greatest possible defense against crime:

…religion is a mighty bulwark. If the edifice of religion shakes and totters, commotion and chaos will ensue and the order of things will be utterly upset, for in the world of mankind there are two safeguards that protect man from wrongdoing. One is the law which punishes the criminal; but the law prevents only the manifest crime and not the concealed sin; whereas the ideal safeguard, namely, the religion of God, prevents both the manifest and the concealed crime, trains man, educates morals, compels the adoption of virtues and is the all-inclusive power which guarantees the felicity of the world of mankind. But by religion is meant that which is ascertained by investigation and not that which is based on mere imitation, the foundation of divine religions and not human imitations. – Abdu’l-Baha, Foundations of World Unity, p. 30.

So Baha’is believe that two things safeguard us all from crime and violence: law and faith. Laws punish criminals and act as deterrents to others who might consider committing crimes—but true religion goes much deeper than civilization’s laws possibly can, with its moral guidance and its emphasis on the acquisition of human virtues like love, kindness, peace, selflessness and concern and respect for others. True religion speaks to the inner reality and the conscience and the soul of every person, and true religion can have an enormous influence on people’s behavior:

See then how wide is the difference between material civilization and divine. With force and punishments, material civilization seeketh to restrain the people from mischief, from inflicting harm on society and committing crimes. But in a divine civilization, the individual is so conditioned that with no fear of punishment, he shunneth the perpetration of crimes, seeth the crime itself as the severest of torments, and with alacrity and joy, setteth himself to acquiring the virtues of humankind, to furthering human progress, and to spreading light across the world. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 132.

Next: Justice, Revenge, Reward and Retribution

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Comments

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  • Steve Eaton
    Sep 6, 2016
    -
    Hi, Stephen, Religiously-inspired civil
    laws apply to most or all members
    of a society, but the "commandments" given to the members of a particular religion
    are "binding" on only them, unless
    these dictates happen to be congruent with civil law. The legit-
    imacy of the civil laws may be openly
    questioned (in a free society, that
    is), as long as they are obeyed. As
    far as deciding on the legitimacy of
    a specific religion's rules goes, this
    is what I believe: when somebody
    looks into a religion for the first
    time, it's ...certain he'll/she'll soon
    be exposed to its scriptures, which
    represent it better than what kind of
    people are in the group or any other
    factor I can think of. If the person
    reads these writings at length and
    agrees with most of what he/she
    sees, credibility will grow for him.
    The person may have questions on
    issues and will test the scriptures on
    their response. If the person is sat-
    isfied, more trust will grow. Eventually, he may be forced to
    admit he can't find a single thing
    wrong with this supposed "word of
    God", and finally may come to believe it is infallibly that. Then, if
    he later runs into a few things in
    the scriptures that are confusing
    or seem counter-intuitive, he can
    say to himself "Because of everything else I have read here, I
    really trust this more than my own
    intuition!". Obviously, then, the
    laws would also be trusted. The
    Baha'i Faith has its laws or advice on sexual conduct, marriage, violence, honesty, love, justice, humility, tolerance, etc., and for the most part
    those stances are the same in all
    the other normally-recognized religions, too. I think that unanimity
    adds another layer of credibility
    itsself!
    Read more...
  • Sep 2, 2016
    -
    As a current Buddhist of a few years (as longs as a Unitarian Universalist) who likes to study the history or various East, South, and Southeast Asian countries, I like the mention of the Edicts of Ashoka. I'm especially interested in studying the countries of Japan and Taiwan (technically the Republic of China) as well as India, Nepal, Singapire, and Thailand too. I also like the cuisines of said countries too. That may have started my interest in studying those countries in depth. Justice means acts are judged by the karmic merit or demerit they bring. Good karmic acts bring ...rewards and bad karmic acts bring punishments. Humans should administer law on the basis how karma works in the universe. Intention and effects both count. Suffering is karmically bad and things that causes it are to be punished while things that ease it are to be rewarded. Karma is proprotional to culpability. Killing is a grave kind of bad karma and saving life is a great kind of good karma. Future effects of present acts are to be calculated as well.
    Read more...
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