Saturday, October 29, 2011

We All Have Our Choice

Article first published as We All Have Our Choice on Blogcritics.

Image courtesy of

The participation of religious folk in the various "occupations" springing up throughout the U.S. is receiving increasing attention. Jonathan Oskins, writing for State of Formation provides a remarkably comprehensive roundup of religious involvement in this movement. People of faith have lent their support in variety of ways ranging from providing sacred spaces for worship, meditation or reflection to providing practical, material support and services.

As a Baha'i, I've been pondering the role of religion in the Occupy movement since its inception. One contribution I think could become more prominent is to broaden and deepen the discourse regarding justice among the activists, their supporters and ultimately the country as a whole. Most of the discourse to date has focused on the perceived injustice of the increasing wealth gap in America and the economic and political system that appears to perpetuate it. All of my writing on the subject, including long before Occupy Wall Street began has been along these lines.

However, my faith challenges me do more than admonish the 1% and their political enablers. I have to engage in self-criticism with the same passion. I have to ask myself on a daily basis how committed I am to behaving justly toward my neighbor and how consistent my actions are with that commitment. When and where am I perpetuating the very injustices I condemn in others and in society? 'Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921), Head of the Baha'i Faith from 1892-1921 commented that:

"Justice is not limited, it is a universal quality. Its operation must be carried out in all classes, from the highest to the lowest. Justice must be sacred, and the rights of all the people must be considered. Desire for others only that which you desire for yourselves...A humble workman who commits an injustice is as much to blame as a renowned tyrant. Thus we all have our choice between justice and injustice."

While the social conditions under which we make these choices differ, we all have moral agency and thus moral accountability. When it comes to justice, personal responsibility is as significant as social responsibility. Baha'i teaching says that all human beings have been created in the image of God and thus we all "embody divine possibilities." One of the these possibilities is the practice of justice as a way of life.

While not always explicitly spiritual, talk about justice within the Occupy movement is shifting. Activists are turning a critical gaze on themselves and discussing issues of gender and race. Occupy the Hood is one development animated by this spirit.

I pray these conversations will continue. The quality of these conversations and whatever actions emerge from them will be enhanced by striking a balance between indignation and introspection. As many of the great change agents in every age, nation and religion have taught us, some of the hardest struggles toward the world we want are within ourselves as much as in society. Mohandas K. Ghandi put it this way:

"As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world - that is the myth of the atomic age - as in being able to remake ourselves."