Saturday, July 28, 2012

Justice: cultural or universal

While we ponder this justice question, some questions bubble to the surface: 
Where do our ideas of justice come from? 
Is it human to simply find excuses to rationalize our behavior by redefining justice?
I'm on my fourth biography of Nelson Mandela, and am reading Steve Biko and Desmond Tutu. It's a sobering experience to see what humans do to one another in the name of their perception of justice. Apartheid is a screaming example of skewed "social justice."

Here are some thoughts I wrote several years ago while we still lived in Quelimane. the complications of culture seethed through the weird gruesomeness of this story. Here, Marcia, is an example of African justice from 2009.

We can’t say that we’re having a drought here in eastern Zambezia, after all, we have had some rain. But it hasn’t been enough to keep the seedlings alive. When it comes, it spatters and leaves.

In the developed world there are many theories about such freakish weather, not the least of which might be global warming, that scapegoat catch-all. But Africa is different. When things go wrong in Nature, people start looking around for who is responsible.

Yesterday as the rain clouds threatened, and thunder rolled, I waited in the heat for the release of cloud buckets and the smell of wet earth. Instead, the weather toyed with our expectations, promised, and withdrew. Disappointment. At least I hadn’t gone out and transplanted seedling flowers like Jacky had.

You know, I was nearly tempted to complain to the Lord; He is in charge of the weather, after all. But I think I found out why it didn’t rain later in the afternoon. An outlying village, also hard hit by the dryness, went on a witch hunt and decided that a widow with an elderly mother was responsible for the drought. So they caught her and beat her “to a pulp” were the words used to me. Two timid police on a motorcycle came and reluctantly took her away for her own safety. The crowd turned on her mother. Their house was destroyed and belongings smashed.

I don’t know how either woman is doing. My heart goes out to them. How sad to live where you can pay the price for something all reason would tell you was out of your small control. Why did they pick on her, I wanted to know. Apparently, as a widow she is supposed to accommodate whatever man in leadership wants accommodating. But since she would not hand out sexual favors to the leaders, she was the scapegoat for the community.

I just talked with a well-educated Mozambican friend who has confirmed this story and added that there have been a variety of incidents like this: some scapegoats have not had police assistance and have died at the mob’s hands. Makes me wonder: what type of mind would think that a person who could control the weather would still be weak enough to be victim of a hostile rabble?

There are well-meaning non-government organizations who disparage mission work because it interferes with the local belief system and challenges the culture. “The people are perfectly happy in their own milieu,” they insist. Ask the scapegoats, I say.

Anyway, now I know why it didn’t rain yesterday. And today clouds promised and wimped out, too. And hot as I am, I’m glad.


Abuses like that don't generally happen in the States. It's not because we are better people, more moral. We are equally depraved. But in our western culture, there is an ethical code of justice and equality.

So we Americans exercise our evil natures secretly. Many saintly Christian men abuse their families behind closed doors. School children are bullied under the cover of the herd, sometimes to the point of suicide. The anonymity of the Internet has revealed the depraved and vindictive nature of the public.

So, is there a difference in the rampant evil of the two cultures? Probably. We have a code of ethics, written and understood, that reins in an evil that runs unchecked in other cultures. We may not be better morally, but our identity is bound up in our standard, and the opinions of others regarding our behavior are important to most of us.

Will the western world continue to prevail in justice? Probably not. Human nature is not to act justly. Our view of the world is a snapshot of the brief time in which we live.

Oddly, I think that, the bolder depravity is expressed, the better the chance true Goodness can be seen in contrast. And God is a God of justice.


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