|Rowan Williams: Britains New Archbishop A Voice for Social Justice
Rev. David Haslam
The appointment of Rowan Williams to be Archbishop of Canterbury has been received with almost universal acclaim. Many agree with Archbishop Desmond Tutus analysis that he was head and shoulders above anyone else. He is 52, the youngest Archbishop of Canterbury for nearly 200 years, and has two school age children of 14 and 6 years old. He has been the Archbishop of Wales - a non-established church - for the last few years, a post which to his pleasure he was elected.
He was born in Swansea, into a Welsh-speaking family of middle-class background. His father was a mining engineer and the family initially worshipped at the local Presbyterian Chapel (probably in Welsh) before moving across town where they attended an Anglican Church. He went to the local Grammar School, and then to Christs College Cambridge to study Theology. It is said that on his second night he met a vagrant and first took an interest in helping the homeless.
After Cambridge he went to Oxford to take his doctorate on a Russian Orthodox theologian, became Tutor at Westcott House, Cambridge, then University Lecturer in Divinity. Ordained at 28 he became a Professor of Divinity at 36, and was elected to become Bishop of Monmouth in 1992.
Rowan Williams is a gifted speaker and writer and speaks five languages. He has great approachability and pastoral warmth. He is said to watch the Simpsons, a cult American TV programme which raises subtle moral issues. One of the other Welsh Bishops says, Rowan is the intellectual equal of anyone who has ever been Archbishop of Canterbury
He makes the Christian faith credible for ordinary people. I have never heard him speak in clichés. He can give an erudite intellectual lecture or a sermon in a country church with equal facility.
On his appointment he said The recent months have been a strange time; it is a curious experience to have your future discussed, your personality, childhood influences and facial hair seriously examined in the media, and opinions you didnt know you held expanded on your behalf.
Williams continues to be outspoken. On his appointment he was asked about his arrest in 1986 for trespassing at a US Air Base in protest against nuclear weapons. He said he did not regret it. He also said he would only support war against Iraq if it was sanctioned by the United Nations, and has signed a Christian Declaration to that effect, which was handed into 10 Downing Street on Hiroshima Day, August 6th. He has also criticised the media world, in particular Disney Corporation, for commercial exploitation of children and a marketing culture that openly feeds and colludes with obsession.
He has written a range of books. Among the more recent are On Christian Theology, Writings in the Dust and Lost Icons. On Christian Theology, published in 2000, is a collection of papers and lectures. In the Prologue Williams describes a theologian as being in the middle of things and trying to interpret God from there. He says we need three categories in our theology, celebratory, communicative and critical. He is often described as orthodox in his theology but he writes in a thoughtful and challenging way, allowing no-one to get away with easy answers.
Early this year he published a pocket-sized book, Writings in the Dust, (cf John 8,6), in which he reflects on the attack on the World Trade Centre. He was within 200 metres of the Centre when the first plane struck, giving theological talks. His writings argue for a very considered response to that terrible event, the most difficult thing is to know what is the thing to do which will minimise such violence in the future. In July this year Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement was published. In it Williams argues we have lost a number of crucial imaginative patterns icons for thinking about ourselves. Among them are images of childhood, the meaning of community and our unwillingness to consider remorse.
His election has been welcomed by many of the people, including the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, the President of the Methodist Conference, the Head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Director of the Evangelical Alliance and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. Some of the problems he faces in his new job include the financial position of the Church of England, the decline in church attendance, the argument over women Bishops and over the ordination of gay or lesbian Priests and the issue of disestablishment. Williams was technically appointed by the Queen on the advice of the Prime Minister. Tony Blair would have received two names from the Commission which was appointed to nominate the Archbishop, of which Rowan Williams was the first.
His appointment is the best news for British Christians for the last 50 years and excellent news for Christian Socialists around the world. Williams will be a moral, intellectual and political force on the world faith scene for the next 20 years. In recognition CSM is reprinting a series of profound reflections on the Beatitudes given at a CSM retreat in 1995 and is proud and privileged that Rowan Williams has been a member for many years.
|Two People and One Piece of Land: Evert Svensson Speaks on the Middle East
The following speech was delivered by ILRS President Evert Svensson at the Summer Meeting of the Nordic Religious Socialist Groups
Sometime during the 70s, at a summer meeting in Norway, I gave a speech about the Middle East. The Christian Socialists in Sweden had just begun to study the question. We had made a couple of study trips to the area and published a couple of books about the Middle East conflict. When I now, almost 30 years later, return to the question, we can see that the conflict is still unresolved. It is a drawn-out conflict. In 36 years Israel has occupied the West Bank and the Gaza strip. The Golan Heights have been taken over by Israel, as well as Eastern Jerusalem, which is a part of the West Bank.
But the conflict goes much further back in the history. It began when Theodor Herzl 1896 published the book "Der Judestaat", and at the conference in Basel the following year, where around 200 Jews met and decided to build a Jewish state in Palestine. A people without land were supposed to go to a land without a people. The latter statement was not true, but it was widely accepted.
Today we are in the middle of the conflict. It has both a religious and political background, but also a racial background. It was earlier pogroms, the Nazis in Germany and the Holocaust that at last forced the creation of the state of Israel. The problem is that the Arabs, the Arab-Palestinians, those who we today simply call the Palestinians, had to pay the price. The persecution of the Jews had taken place in Europe, not in the Middle East. One can find this contradiction already in the Balfour Declaration from 1917. Powerful Jewish forces in the UK managed to get support from the Secretary of State, Balfour, who made a declaration on behalf of his government; His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or in any other country.
As we know this was only a dream. The war in 1948 created 730.000 refugees, and the Six Day War in 1967 another 2-300.000 refugees. Today, 105 years after the book of Herzl, the conflict is worse than ever.
Many resolutions have been adopted by the UN, EU, and other international actors. In front of me I have one resolution adopted by the Socialist International on the 31st of May this year, which includes all relevant components:
Withdrawal of Israel from the occupied territories
Implementation of the UN Security Council resolution 242 from 1967
The creation of a Palestinian state
That peace talks have to start as soon as possible
The tax-debt Israel has towards the Palestinians
A fair solution to the refugee problem and the creation of an international fund for this purpose
At the same time the Socialist International condemned the use of violence on both sides, underlined the need for an international conference and referred both to the quartet (USA, Russia, UN and EU) and the Arab Federation for proposals for a solution. The two leftist parties in Israel Labour and Meretz as well as the Palestine organisation Fatah took part in drafting the decision of the Socialist International.
When the Executive Committee of the International League of Religious Socialists (ILRS) held its meeting in Vilnius at the beginning of April this year, it issued a statement that the international community has to take their resolutions seriously and implement them. This means that Israel has to withdraw from the occupied territories and that there must be the formation of a Palestinian state. In short, the statement was: "If you implement what you have decided, we ask for nothing more, nothing less". The statement was sent to the Socialist International, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, EU, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Foreign minister Shimon Peres and others.
This is the key issue in the conflict. While the highest political forces are gathered in the UN and the newly created quartet, and have their goals clear, Israel continues the occupation and increases the settlements like nothing has happened. How is this possible? Is it a double play? Does the USA want to implement what they have contributed to decide, or can Israel continue to obstruct the decisions without any kind of punishment? The USA gives a couple of billion US-dollars to the military forces of Israel, and another billion in economic support.
Every day it seems clearer that Israel intends to inherit the remaining 23 percent of the former Palestine, i.e. the West Bank and the Gaza strip. This can be a long-term goal. Israel is carrying out low-intensity warfare. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) dismantles, which give space for more extreme forces for example Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the Palestinian side to grow stronger. These groups are also responsible for the suicide bombings. The result is that Israel gets a clearer enemy, which has Greater Palestine as a goal and lacks international support. But the PNA has wide international support. Maybe it is important to note that a people who live under occupation, according to international law, have the right to resist.
The Israeli strategy is clear from the very beginning. The Jewish population buys land or simply confiscate it, builds a society, a village, a city, and builds up its agriculture and industry, gets weapons and defends what they have conquered. After some time the area is confiscated. The natives are being harassed and at some moment they are driven away. A state is being created (1948) on the half of the land, but the state extends its borders according to the same pattern as before.
The partition plan of the UN intended for 55 percent to go to a future Jewish state and 45 percent to the indigenous population. After the war in1948 Israel extended its borders to 77 percent. The remaining 23 percent is left for the Palestinians. The battle today is over this 23 percent, and it is that the Palestinians ask for in order to build a state. This is also the area the international community is standing behind.
If the policy of confiscating the whole area is the wrong conclusion and God help us that is the fact the question is why Israel does not opt for peace negotiations with the goal to return the occupied territories, and beyond that to facilitate for the Palestinians to form a state? The "generous offer" of Ehud Barak a couple of years ago was unacceptable to the Palestinians. Maybe it could have served as a base for future negotiations.
International law is very clear. The West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Gaza strip and the Golan Heights are occupied territories and fall under the 4th Geneva Convention. Israel breaks international law on every single point. The Palestinians have international law on their side, but they dont have the power to implement their lawful rights.
Finally some comments about the religious situation. All three of our three religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam have their roots in this area on earth. There are the sacred places. Everybody including Israel and the Palestinians agree that they need special protection.
No one denies that Jews once lived here, but does that give them the right to the land? If that were a commonly accepted criterion worldwide, then maps would have to be re-drawn in several places around the world. Of course, there is no such historic right. According to the UN charter, all confiscation of land by violence after World War II is illegal. Through international law we also recognise Israel with the borders that existed before the Six Day War in1967. The same counts for the Palestinian National Authority. There are many declarations from prominent Jews that express the wish to have a Palestinian state and that oppose the current policy. Christian churches, for example, the World Council of Churches, and the Holy See of the Vatican State express the same. On the Islamic side the position is the same. The Palestinian National Authority is in favour of a secular state with equal rights and obligations, regardless of race or religion.
The first goal is a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in this drawn-out conflict. After that we have the larger question of reconciliation between the siblings of the half-brothers Isaac and Ishmael. It is a long way to go. The hatred has grown strong on both sides. Most affected are children and youth, which often times cannot see any meaningful future. That is the fact mainly on the Palestinian side, where the powerlessness is deep. Against the stones (and nowadays a limited amount of weapons) of the Palestinians, stands one of the strongest armies in the world, which in addition has the support of the American superpower. Anyway, we can be pleased by the many attempts and experiments to prepare for such reconciliation.
Peace. When Jimmy Carter had reached an agreement in Camp David 1978 on peace between Israel and Egypt and formed an outline for the future for the Palestinians, he was going to speak to Congress. He had not been able to prepare the speech. In the car he was thinking about the words about peace in the Bible (Matt. 5:9). Was it that they should inherit the Kingdom of God or that they should be called the children of God? He was not sure, but he chose the children of God. That was lucky. There were headlines about that the day after. Carter was Southern Baptist. Imagine if he had chosen the wrong alternative.
But he is right. Blessed are those who keep the peace, or create peace. In this context that is above everything else we can refer to from the Old Testament. But in the first book of Moses (part of the Torah of the Jews), chapter 13, there is a wonderful story about Abraham and his nephew Lot. They had become very rich, and their shepherds fought about the cultivation of the land. But, says the older Abraham, we should not fight, we are relatives. If you go to the left, Ill go to the right, and if you go to the right, Ill go to the left. And each of them got half of Palestine.
That is what it is all about. Two people have to live on one single piece of land in this part of the world. Because they cannot live together they have to go separate ways; divide the land between them. In the long run this conflict can reach a solution. The Jews deserve to have their part, and the Palestinians theirs. Both are people of same kind of race and heritage.
|Healing The World: A Jewish Socialist Vision
ILRS Secretary General Andrew Hammer provides a brief analysis of the intimate connections between the Jewish faith and the origins of socialistic ideas.
Trying to write a brief article about the common threads between one particular faith and the politics of socialism is a bit like trying to write a pamphlet version of the Bible. Such links go back long and deep, and particularly in the case of Judaism, it can be argued that this is where one finds the seeds of socialism. Some of the oldest and most common phrases we use related to social justice stem from the the Tanakh, the book Christians know as the Old Testament. Beating our swords into plowshares, studying war no more, loving ones neighbor as oneself, and even the very notion that through our choices and actions we are able to change a difficult and oppressive world are all concepts which arose from Judaism, as it calls for the just society that God would have us create.
In Hebrew the phrase used to describe what is an obligation to God to create that society is tikkun olam, or healing the world. It evokes the understanding that each of us have a role to play in taking care not only of ourselves and our families, but also our fellow humans and indeed, the whole of creation. To seek to manifest such a vision is to move towards a society which insures the well-being of all of its people, a society which asks the question, How does God want us to live?
Beyond these rather universal exhortations to be kind to one another, the Tanakh itself provides numerous examples of a socio-economic philosophy that many of us would recognise as overtly socialistic, and it is through the teachings and traditions of the Jewish faith that one is inspired to see socialism as the only political choice to realize the goals of that philosophy. Matters of wealth and its distribution figure substantively, as economic concepts more radical than would be considered by most world leaders today are carried out simply as Gods law. (e.g., the periodic cancellation of debts every seven years, as well as the idea that any interest asked for on a loan is considered usury.) Even something that we take for granted today, the weekend, can be arguably traced to Judaism and the concept of the Sabbath, a day of rest. 150 years ago, this was such a unique idea that even the problematic anarchist Proudhon took note of it in a time when most people worked horribly long hours seven days a week.
The obligation of providing for those in need is exemplified in the concept of tzedakah, a word which has in modern times become associated with charity, but which literally translated means justice. In otherwords, the idea that those who have should give happily to help those who have not is not a matter of pity, but simply the natural and just thing to do in order to achieve balance and harmony in society. It is the recognition that we are all equal before God, and therefore we are all interdependent upon one another for our welfare.
Proverbs 19:17 makes this even more clear, in what could pass as a great argument for a progressive tax system: One who gives to the poor lends to God, and is repayed with ample reward. The argument is strengthened when one realises that the highest form of this giving or tzedakah is giving anonymously, and that no one is exempt from the obligation to give because even if you are yourself poor, there is always someone else who is in need of something you can share with them. Further, when looking at the nature of what is to be given, it is taught that it is better to give seeds than to only give actual goods, so that the recipient may be empowered to raise their own crops. This is the precursor to the axiom about teaching people to fish rather than only giving them fish.
Again, the obligation to provide for those in need, or those unable to provide for themselves is spelled out in the Law, as specific instructions are given regarding the distribution of wealth in the community. In addition to the remission of debts every seven years (Deut. 15), a full tithe of all crops harvested is to be collected every three years and given to those who have little or nothing of their own (Deut. 14:28-29). A year of jubilee is commanded every fifty years, in which land that had been bought and sold over time was reclaimed by its original owners, with the instruction of God that the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me. (Lev. 25:23) The idea that at the end of the day, we are all no more than tenants on Gods Earth may be a bit bothersome to socialists who seek full ownership of the means of production, but at the same time, the larger and more significant message here is that none of us has the right to claim ultimate ownership of what belongs to us all equally through God.
Of course it is inevitable that when looking at the positive aspects of scripture that support an inspiration toward socialist politics, one also has to deal with the negative aspects as well. For example, slavery and the different treatment of non-believers come into play not only in the Tanakh, but in almost every major religion, and they are a disturbing part of sacred writings that reflect the characteristics of ancient life. There is clearly nothing socialist about allowing such things as slavery to be a part of a social system. But the focus of this article is to point out those elements of the Jewish faith which do inspire Jews to embrace socialism, and perhaps one way to deal with the dilemma of these unsocialist aspects is to look at the attitude of God towards the rich as opposed to the slave or the poor.
It is significant to note that the heroes in Judaism are not the kings of Israel, nor the rich, but her prophets, who railed against the actions of the former. Elijah, Jeremiah, and Isaiah are those whose names we remember, whose books we read, not Ahab or Jehoiakim. And the continuing social theme of these prophets, even in the face of the negative aspects of Israel, is one of defending the poor and asserting their rights against oppression by the rich. This notion of the poor having rights is unparalleled in other ancient societies.
Consider the words of Jeremiah to King Jehoiakim, who used forced labour to build his palaces: Disaster for the man who builds his house without uprightness, his upstairs rooms without fair judgment, who makes his fellow-man work for nothing, without paying him his wages (Jer. 22:13).The prompt and fair payment of wages is commanded in Leviticus (19:13), and reinforced in Deuteronomy (24:14-15). Jeremiah continues to say that such a person will be given the burial of an ass, and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem. In the same way, Ahab is condemned by Elijah when the king has a man killed in order to obtain his property. Clearly the rich do not fare well in Jewish scripture, unless they have understood their obligation to give of themselves and of their wealth back to the community.
The book of Isaiah speaks further of the rights of the poor, in language that could just as easily be applied to the political representatives of capitalism today: Woe to those who enact unjust decrees, who compose oppressive legislation to deny justice to the weak, and to cheat the humblest of My people of fair judgment. (Isa. 10:1-2).
So even with the areas of scripture that modern Jews would find to be somewhat alien (e.g., the use of animal sacrifice, the allowance of slavery, and death penalties for homosexual behavior), one has to able to put this into context with the more enduring messages about social justice and the actions which arose from those messages.
If we look into the past history of prominent socialists, we will find that Karl Marx was blatantly homophobic, Jack London was a white supremacist, and many others were considered to have been less than committed to equality of the sexes. Yet that does not eliminate the fact that they were socialists in the context of their time and environment.
Fortunately, politics and religion are dynamic and evolutionary, adapting to our own enlightenment and the conditions of our societies. The standards are quite different today, as well they should be, and in the same way that one can look at the words of those individuals and see their socialism despite their flaws, Jews can look at the Tanakh and see the socialistic messages of the prophets and much of the Law. Indeed, one can argue that it is impossible to read the Tanakh and not have ones eyes opened to injustices, to not notice the inequities around us, and not feel compelled by Gods commandments to act to achieve a balance in our society. Understanding that doing the will of God is not to glorify the rich and powerful, but rather to care for the needy as if they were members of our own family (and truly, in the eyes of God, they are), is a powerful motivator to then go and seek out political and economic solutions to heal the problems of our modern world.
|The Sikh Concept of Social Justice
The Sikh concept of justice is part and parcel of the broader Sikh religion. Sikhs believe that the universe exists in accordance with divine order, and that justice is an aspect of that order.
That order stresses the primacy of God. All rights are God-given rights, which means that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.
For Sikhs justice is an attribute of God. God's justice is perfect. It is always and forever true. Indeed, it cannot be false.
But the same thing cannot be said about justice administered by human beings. Human beings are imperfect and their justice is imperfect. Often it is not impartial, but weighted in favor of those in higher economic or social position. The favored few often escape punishment, as they have the resources or education to take advantage of loopholes or technicalities, while the virtuous person, more often than not, does not receive his just reward.
Sikhism originated from Northern India in the 15th Century and its founder, Guru Nanak emphasized the personal devotion to Divine Spirit and the commitment to social justice and true egalitarianism as a necessary balance to attain enlightenment. Three basic tenets of Guru Nanak's teachings are (1) Naam Japo Constant meditating upon God's Name, (2) Kirt Karo Engage in an honest non-exploitive labor, and (3) Wand Chakko Share your earnings, out of love and compassion for others. His writings and those of his successors Gurus became part of the Sikh scripture called Guru Granth Sahib (GGS).
The perfection of God's justice is attested to in the writings of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. He says that " hereafter in God's court high caste and power are of no account."
. "There (in the Lord's Court) the adjudication is based upon Truth: and the Master and the Servant are deemed equal (before the Lord)" (Guru Granth Sahib, page 621). And he further observes that God is true and so is his justice." It is he who "sits on the throne to judge with justice." The fourth Guru of the Sikhs asserts that God's Justice is true, and than those who realize it within themselves become more like Him. In Sikhism only those who become more like Him, who are capable of showing justice to all should sit on the throne of justice
..for they are in tune with God, and reflect God's qualities.
In addition, virtually all other principles of the Sikh religion affect the Sikh's concept of Justice. In Sikhism God is not vengeful. Rather, He is merciful, full of grace, bliss and forgiveness. God is without enmity and without fear. Anybody who sincerely repents over their misdeeds and commits themselves not to repeat the same action, is pardoned by Him. Here the only pre-condition is that the person seeking mercy must be genuine. For this reason, the death penalty was abolished during the Sikh rule in the 18th century. The ruler is the representative of God on this earth to deliver justice to the people. "God has created this image of government in the world only for the sake of delivering justice" (GGS, page 580). Those who aspire to be like Him should judge people of other nationalities and religions without preconditions, preconceptions or hostility. For the Sikh Gurus, to deprive others of their rights amounts to injustice. Even to covet something belonging to someone else or another's rights is a sin.
The Sikhs also hold that injustice in any shape or form is against God's will. God stands for social equality, a belief grounded in the Sikh doctrine that all people are, in effect, children of God. " God is one and we all are His children. The poor and the rich are brothers." (Guru Granth Sahib, Page 611) Sikh teaching has always emphasized the equality of all people in relation to God. God may be understood differently by different religious tradition, but we are all equal in the sight of the Lord. God is one and the human race is one. Guru Nanak said, "God created this universe and revealed himself.... To us and in us, "As fragrance dwells in a flower, and reflection in a mirror, so does God dwell in every soul." According to Guru Nanak, the material universe is God's creation. Its origin was in God and its end is in God: it operates within God's Hukam or God's Order or Will. As all creation has the same origin and end, humans must endeavor to live in harmony with God's creation, and nature by conducting themselves through life with love, compassion, simplicity, and justice. Here again we find echoes of the Jeffersonian creed that all men are created equal.
At the time of Guru Nanak there were marked economic disparities and religious differences in society, and those outside the mainstream found it difficult to obtain justice. The Gurus were cognizant of the injustices arising from these differences, and therefore called for a system of justice that would feature equal treatment for all. In this manner mutual respect and equality became absolutely central to the Sikh religion and its view of justice. Nor was this toleration mere grudging acceptance of other religions. Rather, it is a full and open- hearted recognition of the validity of other religious beliefs. Sikhs do not claim a monopoly on spiritual truth; indeed they acknowledged that other religions contain spiritual insights. Hence they must be respected.
Throughout their existence Sikhs have often constituted minorities in regions dominated by different religious or ethnic elements. This has given Sikhs an acute awareness of what it means to be the target of discrimination and oppression. Therefore they have always strongly supported what we today term human rights. From the Sikh standpoint the most important of these rights in freedom of religion, for without it they would have no chance of realizing their religion's goal which is the attainment of oneness with God. How seriously Sikhs take the concept of religious freedom was illustrated by the action of the ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, who laid down his life in Delhi in 1675 on behalf of such freedom, not for Sikhs but for Hindu Brahmins from Kashmir who sought his help to avoid forcible conversion to Islam.
The gurus also felt that man should be able to choose his own language and culture...Such a view is in full accord with the concept of human rights. Indeed, that concept ranges from equal treatment on the job to upholding the religious rights of minorities. As we shall see, the Sikh interpretation is broad enough to cover the entire spectrum of such rights.
Recognized in the contemporary world as a most important component of human rights is the principle of equal rights for women. Here the Sikhs have traditionally been leaders, awarding equal rights and high status to women. . Guru Nanak denounced the idea that spirituality was only for men, and not for women. He perceived that there no democratic culture can endure unless grounded in unreserved recognition of full equality of woman with man. Sikh women have full religious rights. They may fully participate in the religious services and ceremonies that take place in Sikh gurdwaras, or places of worship. Furthermore, Sikhism adjures men to treat their wives in a righteous and respectful manner.. A famous quotation from Guru Nanak "It is through woman that the survival of our race depends on
.. the one from whom even kings and leaders are born?" (GGS: 473). Thus in the Sikh view women are entitled to the full pursuit of their social, political, and economic rights as part of the broad scheme of justice.
Human rights today are generally viewed as having a material component, which accords closely with longstanding Sikh views. In Sikhism man is entitled to satisfy his basic needs. Not only is this a basic right, but for Sikhs it is a duty to satisfy this right for their fellow humans who may be unable to work or cannot find employment.
Such a concept has spiritual roots, for Sikhs believe that if one has a personal devotion and commitment to enlightenment, he cannot be indifferent to or just ignore human suffering. This carries over to the sphere of public policy. For Sikhs full and equal justice means that the government must seek to promote equality of opportunity and full employment and strive to improve education and provide a healthful environment. According to Sikh philosophy, every one should get the basic essentials.
Sikhism also puts a great deal of emphasis on helping the needy and the poor. "He alone knows the way, who earns with the sweat of the his brow and then shares it with the other" (Guru Nanak GGS, page 1245). It was this practice of giving part of one's earning for the welfare of others which later led to the system of Daswand. Every Sikh has to give one-tenth of his/her income as a donation to the Guru which is meant to help the needy and the poor. So service to community and mankind is one of the basic features of Sikhism. A Sikh is also supposed to protect the weak and the defenseless. Guru Nanak stood by the 'low' and 'poor' and challenged the rigid social stratification of caste system. He said, "There are the lowest people among the low castes. Nanak, I shall go with them. What have I got to do with the high (castes)? God's eye of mercy falls on those who take care of the lowly." (Guru Granth Sahib, page 15)
He invited people of all castes and creed to meditate together. That would be called Sangat. Either before or after the meditation, people were asked to sit and eat together irrespective of their social background to create a feeling of equality. That process would be called Pangat. He also started a tradition of free distribution of food to the rich and poor alike in places of worship. That would be called Langar. All these three institutions are still in existence in the Sikh society. The Sikh Gurus stood against piling up wealth and worldly riches.
For Sikhs, as ye sow so shall ye reap. Good will reap good, while bad action begets a bad reaction.
"The Lord's Justice is not upon mere talk: If one takes poison, one dies. See friends, the Justness of my Lord's Regime, That one is awarded justly for what one does." (GGS page 308).
Injustice in any shape or form is against God's will, and any society that doesn't attempt to maximize justice is a bad society. These ideas illustrate the Sikh view that there is no separation between justice at the personal and societal levels. True peace and harmony go hand in hand with justice, the broader the better.
The Sikh Gurus implemented most of these basic ethical values during their own lifetime. Their vision of an ideal society is one that does not crave for material indulgence nor suffers from the agony of deprivation.
Rajwant Singh is National Chair of the Sikh Council On Religion and Education (SCORE). Founded in 1998 and based in Washington, DC, USA, SCORE serves as a think tank and represents Sikhs in various forums and venues.