By Sheena Jonker
“On that day, you will know that you are in me and I am in you”
That sounds a lot like union with the divine, with the creator and it sounds like a good place to start thinking about restorative justice: a justice that restores or makes things right again.
Richard Rohr, in ‘Immortal Diamond’ says that “That day” seems to be the enduring message of all the great religions. It is the perennial tradition. Yet union with god is still considered esoteric, mystical, a largely moral matter possible only for a few.
I earnestly believe that prison systems around the world in their varying, but basically deeply damaging and destructive forms, are an extension of the belief that the creator would condemn parts of creation to hell in eternal torture and torment. The prison system, in turn, is an extension of how we think and have thought about things and as such, the laws we have made.
In my undergraduate degree I majored in Legal Studies and Religious Studies. The three years spanned ages 17-19 years old for me. The combination was lost on me. But over the years I have had an abiding sense that it may be foundational for something I was to learn, a journey I was to take in the future. I think it may be here. Or maybe the journey started then. Or maybe way before that. I don’t know. All I know is, I may find out yet. And I’m open.
As I understand it, human union with the divine is the whole point of religion. Sadly, religion through the ages has often been about who is in and who is out and the devastating effects are all around us. I’ve spent most of my life in evangelical churches and for all the claims of how damaging “religion” can be and how it is all about relationship with god, I have seen and experienced as much divisiveness and dis-union emerged and emerging from the notion that “we” are right and “you” are wrong and therefore “we” are in and “you” are out, as I would expect to find anywhere else in our world.
If we accept god as all-present and all-powerful then god is all and is in all. As Rohr says, god is place, god is life, god is the beauty in all beauty.
He says that those who allow divine friendship, experience divine friendship. Faith can be understood as allowing the love and life of god to flow through us. It’s that simple. It is our daring to trust that the divine has an eternal compassion towards us.
Religion has been largely responsible for the great divorce between the divine and humanity. The blameworthiness of religion is at the level of the increasing distance between god and humanity instead of announcing that the problem is already solved (Rohr, Immortal Diamond)
“Before the world was made (the creator) chose us”
Jesus is the union between god and the human and that this is what we are invited to share in. The Jesus story is the universe story-his union with god is handed to us.
In the Vedas (the oldest source of Hinduism) there is a grand pronouncement: Tat Tvam Asi-you are that! Or you are what you seek!
It resonates with the concept of god as ground of being.
We can understand that longing for the divine or our seeking for the divine as a longing for or seeking for our true self.
Rohr says that understood as indwelling, the Holy Spirit does the longing in us.
The limited (creation) are created for union with the limitless (creator). So Religion has one goal: union.
Yet more often than not, it has been responsible for the opposite at every level. As I understand it, our beliefs shape our notions of justice and, by extension, the laws we make and how we implement them.
The divine surely seeks re-union with all of creation. Does Christian scripture not talk about reconciling all things? I believe true law reform that would support the bringing about of a just society and world must start with how we think about all of this.
Our belief in original sin must produce very different outcomes to those had we believed in and embraced original blessing or a positive theology and anthropology.
Moralism has replaced mysticism (union with god) resulting in separation from god and fellow humans and creatures. This separation has collaterally come at the great cost of the wide berth we have given ourselves to be cruel in so many ways.
Richard Holloway talks about a godless morality. A morality based on being good for the sake of all of creation rather than because we are terrified of an angry god given to torture and condemn to hell all how fall short of his arbitrary moral code.
Moralism is not the same as a healthy morality which is probably achieved through the golden rule of most religions: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”
Moralism is largely based on purity codes and requirements rather than enlightenment and “salvation” as Rohr puts it.
We look for something externally “to do” rather than undergo a radical transformation of heart and mind.
Paul says “it doesn’t matter if you are circumsized or not, what matters is that you become a whole new creation” (Gal 6:16). It’s about transformation, not simply belonging to an exclusive group.
Personal perfection is not the same as divine union. Personal perfection sought through moralism can be arbitrary making the goal of union entirely impossible. You can be independently “good” without the love and mercy of god.
Big moral issues change throughout the ages. From eating with pagans to abortion or gay marriage, who knows what the next big moral issue and “otherer” might be?
Religion as “sin management” keeps the churches in business. Quite literally.
But it means there are always outsiders and insiders. The insiders are often responsible for a false moral purity masking salvery, sexism, greed, oppression and even paedophilia.
Rohr says we have not encountered widespread Jesus Spirituality. We have encountered “churchianity” and the effects have been largely damaging.
Incarnational religion or spirit-based morality-not motivated by reward or punishment might just help us create something better. When we search for mystery within, the true self, neither carrots or sticks are needed. We are motivated by what is true, what is good and what is pure-not reward or punishment
We move from being driven from without to being drawn from within. What is inside us is generative. But we need to shift from believing we are created sinful to understanding that we are created as an extension of all that is true, good and pure-original blessing.
The way we think about this could shift everything. Justice could become what it is-making things right again.
For those interested in learning more about Restorative Justice and Unitive Justice and how these concepts could help us bring about a healing jurisprudence, please email me. The Centre for Action and Contemplation is running a free three part Web Based series on Restorative Justice. For those interested, I’ll send the link along with various other resources.
Some inspiration for those who feel the way things are is not the way things should be or could be:
The Integrative Law Movement lead by J Kim Wright
The Centre for Action and Contemplation lead by Richard Rohr
Email me for a reading list
Featured Image from the art series “Shrink World: a Friend of a Friend” created and owned by Che’ St Clair. Used with permission