from The Worldview Literacy Book   copyright 2009            back to worldview theme(s) #17


#17A: Imagine—you were victimized!  After the shock and pain subsided you were full of anger.  What was done to you was so wrong, mean and unjustified!  Indeed, the aftermath of that horrible, traumatic insult and injury has filled you with bitterness and thoughts of revenge.  How did those arise?  Simple—after reviewing all aspects of what happened and why, you soon focused your anger on the person(s) responsible: making a judgment and placing blame.  In doing that you served notice that you are holding another (others) accountable and will be seeking justice!  (See Figure #17a.)

     Now you don't quite know how to proceed.  You've gone over many possibilities.  Seems you're having trouble sitting still and letting society's wheels of justice turn as they normally would be expected to in matters like this.  Seems it's getting harder to ignore that voice inside your head that's screaming at you to strike back!  To—out of the blue—hurt the person(s) who hurt you.  To more than get even, to hit them with everything you've got!  You've started enjoying imagining their pain and suffering.  Could be that it's time you started planning exactly how you'll wreak the vengeance you've imagined.

     Francis Bacon described revenge as a kind of 'wild justice'—a phrase Susan Jacoby borrowed for the title of her 1983 book about the history of revenge.  That history can be summarized as follows.  Long ago, many subscribed to a type of retributive justice summarized as "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!"  During ages of faith, vengeance was out of fashion.  Many believed justice would ultimately prevail with God Himself (or, in Eastern religions, karmic forces) administering punishment.  Some pointed out that the punishment could be considered evil, and that "two wrongs don't make a right." Many agonized over the problem of evil. (See Figure #17b.)  As civilizations grew more complex, the gap between "the aggrieved individual and the administration of justice" (as Jacoby put it) widened.  Revenge and vigilantism, the mob justice that results when people—perceiving a large gap between crime and punishment —take the law into their own hands, made a comeback.

     Eventually most societies claimed the exclusive, legal right to punish criminals, taking it out of the hands of aggrieved individuals.  A distinction was made between punishment— retributive treatment (paying one back) involving suffering, pain or loss meant to penalize offenders for wrongdoing, and discipline—treatment bringing someone under control or imposing order in an effort to correct, reform, or rehabilitate. Alongside more traditional retributive justice arose newer conceptions and theories of justice: restorative and transformative. 

     By the 21st century you'd think such progressive developments would be universally benefiting humanity?  Think again! Many parts of the world are troubled by blood feud vendettas, where the relatives of someone who has been killed retaliate by killing those deemed responsible for the initial wrong.  Such acts, sometimes rooted in ancient hatred,


Figure #17b: The Problem of  Evil:

Why does an all powerful, all knowing God allow evil to exist in the world? 

are part of a retaliatory cycle of violence. 

#17B: There is a simple way to stop ongoing cycles of violence that plague humanity where it is still organized along ancient tribal or ethnic divisions, and elsewhere to keep others from getting started.  The same remedy can stop the "blaming games" that threaten to drag down and destroy much smaller tribes in the otherwise more civilized world: families.  And it can rescue individuals from negative mindsets created by the childish pursuit of "when something goes wrong, find someone else to blame!"  The remedy is not something new: its importance is recognized in the ancient sacred texts of all the world's major religions.  It involves deciding to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge—something called forgiveness.

     Forgiveness can be thought of as making a sacrifice and an idealistic statement: you refuse to retaliate, and your example tells people that nothing good could have come out of an evil, vengeful act you might have committed.  In the real world however, many forgive out of self interest.  You unload resentment and suddenly no longer feel powerlessly caught up in negative feelings toward others.

     Those feelings include frustration—which you let go when you quit thinking so much about those  people whose behavior you really have no control over.  When you stop blaming others, you realize the mental energy expended in bringing negative thoughts into your head can now be put toward positive ones—starting with being grateful for what you have!  This fosters peace of mind. Reduced anxieties have health benefits: reduced blood pressure, lower heart rate, and less chronic pain.  You are not forgetting or condoning what happened—you allow efforts  society has instigated to bring justice to proceed.  Instead you value the lesson this trauma has taught you: small people blame others; big people accept personal responsibility, solve problems as best they can, and try to make the world a better place.

Figure #17a: Types of Justice



"wild justice" =revenge, vengeance; often not legally administered (lawsuits are an exception)
"mob justice" =vigilantism

typically not legally administered

divine justice administered by God or karmic forces
retributive   justice focuses on punishment of offender
restorative justice focuses on offender making things right with victims (individuals,  community)
transformative justice focuses on disciplining, transforming offender as part of  healing, peacemaking
distributive justice focuses on fairly allocating goods, benefits, burdens of economic activity


how it handles the problem of evil


from the Bible's book of Job onward,

it recognizes there is a problem!


Evil, pain, and suffering is not a problem: it is a fact of Allah's creation.  And Allah does not owe man any explanations...As the holy Qu'ran (4: 78) puts it: "Whatever good befalleth thee, O man, it is from GOD; and whatever evil befalleth thee, it is from thyself."            



"For Hindu thought, there is no Problem of Evil.  The conventional, relative world is necessarily a world of opposites.  Light is inconceivable apart from darkness; order is meaningless without disorder; and likewise...pleasure without pain."

(Alan Watts in The Spirit of Zen)


Buddhists use the existence of evil as a reason not to believe in God as a benevolent, loving Creator.  As the Bodhisattva sings, "If the creator of the world entire they call God, of every being be the Lord, why prevail deceit, lies and ignorance and he such inequity and injustice create?  If the creator of the world entire they call God, of every being be the Lord, then an evil master is he, (O Aritta) knowing what's right did let wrong prevail! (from Bhûridatta Jataka)



                            Figure #17c

    Native American Prayer of Thanks             

We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us. We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with waters.  We return thanks to all herbs, which furnish medicine for the cure of our diseases.  We return thanks to the corn, and to her sisters, the beans and the squashes, which give us life. We return thanks to the bushes and trees, which provide us with fruit.  We return thanks to the wind, which moving the air has banished diseases. We return thanks to the moon and the stars, which have given us their light when the sun was gone.  We return thanks to the sun, that he has looked upon the earth with a beneficent eye.  Lastly, we return thanks to the Great Spirit, in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of his children.                

 (from Iroquois tradition)




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