THE SPIRITS’ BOOK

Allan Kardec

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CHAPTER XI
X. LAW OF JUSTICE, LOVE AND CHARITY
Natural Rights and Justice - The Right of Property – Theft - Charity and Loving Your Neighbor - Maternal and Filial Love

Natural Rights and Justice

873. Is the sense of justice natural or is it the product of acquired ideas?
“It is so natural that you are immediately appalled by the idea of an injustice. Moral progress definitely inspires this feeling, but it does not create it. God has placed it in the heart of all human beings and this is why you often find more stringent notions of justice in simple, primitive nations than others that are more educated.”

874. If justice is a law of nature, why do people understand it so differently? How can the same thing be just to one person, yet unjust to another?
“It is because your passions often mingle with this sentiment and corrupt it, as they do with most natural sentiments, causing you to see things from a false point of view.”

875. How should we define justice?
“Justice is respect for the rights of each and every individual.”


a) What determines these rights?
“Two things: human law and natural law. As human beings have created laws in harmony with their values and character, those laws have established rights that have varied with the progress of enlightenment. Your laws, although still far from perfect, no longer include what were considered rights in the Middle Ages. Those rights, while horrific to you now, appeared fair and natural at that time. Therefore, the rights established by humans are not always compliant with justice. In addition, they only govern certain social relations, while there are an infinite number of actions that are only tried privately by our conscience.”

876. Apart from the rights established by human law, what is the basis of justice according to natural law?
“Christ told you, ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’ God has placed in each of you the desire to see your own rights respected as the rule of true justice. When uncertain as to what we should do in regard to others at any given moment, we should ask ourselves what we would want others to do to us under the same circumstances. God could not give us a safer guide than our own conscience.”

The true measure of justice is, in fact, wanting for others what you would want for yourself. Merely wanting for yourself what you would want for others is not exactly the same thing. As it is unnatural to wish harm upon yourself, if we use our personal desires as the guide for our behavior towards our neighbors, we would never wish anything but good upon them. Universally, human beings have always sought to enforce their personal rights, while the unique factor of Christianity is the application of personal rights as the basis of our neighbors’ rights.

877. Does our need to live in a society impose any special obligations?
“Yes and the first of these is to respect the rights of others, as those who respect those rights will always be fair. In your world, where so many neglect to practice the law of justice, people turn to retaliation, and this causes trouble and confusion in your society. Social life gives rights and imposes corresponding duties.”

878. It is possible for human beings to be deluded with respect to the boundaries of their rights? How do they know their true limits?
“They can know their own limits by matching them to the limits of the rights that they recognize for others undergoing similar circumstances, and vice versa.”

a) If individuals attribute the rights of others to themselves, what happens to subordination beneath superiors? Would this not result in complete anarchy of all power?
“Natural rights are the same for everyone, from the smallest to the greatest. God has not sculpted some human beings from a better quality clay than others, and all are equals in God’s eyes. These rights are eternal, while societal rights die with its institutions. Furthermore, people distinctly know their strength or weakness, and will always be conscious of feeling a sort of deference to those individuals whose wisdom or virtue deserve respect. This is important so that those who think that they are superior know what duties give them a right to be admired. There will be no defiance when authority is only granted to superior wisdom.”

879. What would be the character of those who practice justice in all its purity?
“That of true justice, following the example of Jesus, because they would love their neighbor and practice charity. Without these virtues, there can be no real justice.”

The Right of Property – Theft

880. What is the first natural right of human beings?
“The right to live, therefore no one has the right to take the life of another or do anything that may compromise that individual’s existence.”

881. Does the right to live give people the right to hoard wealth so that they can rest when no longer able to work?
“Yes, but they should do this in collaboration with their family by honest labor, as bees do, not by accumulating wealth in a selfish manner. Some animals serve as an example of this kind of foresight.”

882. Do humans have the right to defend what they have accumulated with their work?
“It was God who said, ‘Thou shalt not steal, and Jesus who said, ‘Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’”

What people have accumulated by honest labor is legitimate property that they are entitled to defend. The possession of property that is the fruit of work is a natural right, as sacred as the right to labor or the right to live.

883. Is the desire to own things natural? “Yes, but when it is simply for yourself and for personal satisfaction, it is selfishness.”

a) Is the desire to have possessions legitimate, since those who can support themselves are not a burden to others?
“Some people are greedy and accumulate wealth merely in order to satisfy their own passions, and without providing any benefit to anyone. Do you think that this makes God happy? On the contrary, those who accumulate wealth by honest labor to help their fellow human beings, practice the law of love and charity, and receive God’s blessing.”

884. What constitutes legitimate property?
“No property is legitimate unless acquired without harming others.” (See no. 808) The law of love and justice, forbids us to treat others in a manner that we do not want others to treat us, condemns every means of obtaining property or wealth that would contradict that law.

885. Is the right to property unlimited?
“Everything that has been legitimately acquired is property. However, as we have said, since human laws are flawed, they frequently establish conventional rights that contradict natural justice. For this reason, society reforms its laws as progress is accomplished, and as it obtains a better notion of justice. What appears right in one century is barbarous in another.” (See no. 795)

Charity and Loving Your Neighbor

886. What is the true meaning of the word charity as used by Jesus?
“Benevolence for everyone, indulgence towards the imperfections of others, and forgiveness of offenses.”

Love and charity complement the law of justice since loving your neighbor is to do to them all the good in our power, all that we would wish to have done to ourselves. This is the meaning behind Jesus’ words, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

According to Jesus, charity is not restricted to giving alms, but covers all our relations with our fellow human beings whether inferior, equal or superior. It preaches indulgence on our part because we need the same ourselves, and it forbids us from humiliating the unfortunate, as is too often done. How many of us lavish respect and attention on the rich, yet think that being civil to the poor is not worth the time or effort? Yet, the more deplorable the situation of the poor, the more painstakingly we should refrain from adding humiliation to their misfortune. Those who are truly kind, try to elevate others to their level by reducing the distance between them.

887. Jesus also said, “Love your enemies.” Does this contradict our natural tendency, and isn’t unfriendliness due to a lack of sympathy between spirits?
“It would certainly be impossible for someone to feel tender and passionate love for an enemy, and this is not what Jesus intended. ‘Love your enemies’ means to forgive them, and to do good despite their malicious actions. By doing this, you become their superior; by retribution, you sink beneath them.”

888. What should we think of alms giving?
“To be reduced to begging degrades people, both morally and physically; it wears them down. In a society based on Divine law and justice, a provision would be made for assisting the weak without humiliating them. This way, everyone who is unable to work would be guaranteed the means necessary to live so as not to leave their life at the mercy of chance and individual goodwill.”

a) Are you criticizing the practice of giving alms?
“No, giving money to the poor is not what is reprehensible; the problem is the way in which it is too often done. Those who understand charity as preached by Jesus seek out the needy themselves, without waiting for them to hold out their hand.”

“True charity is always gentle and compassionate, because the manner of practicing kindness is as important as the deed itself. A service, when gracefully rendered, has twice as much merit. If this same act is rendered in a patronizing manner, despite being accepted, the recipient’s heart is not touched by it.”

“Remember that ostentation and pretension destroy the merit of generosity in God’s eyes. Jesus said, ‘Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. This teaches that charity should not be tarnished by pride.”

“A distinction must be made between alms giving and benevolence. The neediest individuals are not always those found begging on the side of the road. Many who are truly poor are kept back from begging by dread of humiliation, and preferring to suffer silently and in secret. Those who are truly humane seeks out this hidden misery, and relieves it without any form of pretension.”

“‘Love one another’ is the Divine law by which God governs all the worlds of the universe. Love is the law of attraction for living and organized beings and attraction is the law of love for inorganic matter.”

“Never forget that all spirits, regardless of the degree of advancement, whether reincarnated or errant, are always placed between a more evolved spirit who guides and perfects them, and a less evolved one towards which they have the same duties to fulfill. Be charitable, and not just by coldly tossing a coin to a beggar who dares to ask for it from you, but by seeking out the poverty that hides itself from plain view. Be indulgent to the faults and weaknesses of those around you. Instead of despising the ignorant and vicious, educate them and make them better. Be gentle and compassionate to those lagging behind you and act the same with respect to the humblest beings of creation and you will have obeyed God’s law.” Saint Vincent of Paul

889. Aren’t there people reduced to begging due to their own fault?
“Of course, but if a complete moral education had taught them to practice God’s law, they would not have fallen victim to the excesses that caused their demise. The improvement of your world ultimately relies on spreading this education.” (See no. 707)

Maternal and Filial Love

890. Is maternal love an instinctive virtue or feeling shared by both humans and animals?
“It is both. Nature has endowed a mother with the love of her children to guarantee their survival. In animals, maternal love is limited to providing the material needs of the mother’s offspring. This affection ceases when this care is no longer needed. In the human race it lasts for a lifetime and assumes a character of selfless devotion, raising it to a virtue. It even survives death, and follows the child in the afterlife. Therefore, there is more to this love in humans than that which exists in animals.” (See nos. 205-385)

891. Since maternal love is natural, why mothers hate their children, and often from birth?
“The absence of maternal love is sometimes a trial chosen by the spirit of the child, or a form of atonement if the child has been a bad father, mother, or child, in a prior life (see no.392). In any case, a bad mother can only embody a bad spirit, who tries to make the child fail in the chosen trial. This violation of natural law does not go unpunished, and the spirit of the child is rewarded for the obstacles it overcomes.”

892. When parents have children who cause them grief, are they excused for not feeling the same tenderness they would have felt if their children’s behavior had been different?
“No, because parents are responsible for training their children; and their mission is to put forth every possible effort to lead them to the right road (see nos. 582, 583). Besides, the grief of the parents is often the consequence of the bad habits they have allowed their children to adopt from birth; they are forced to reap what they sow.”

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