Monday, October 5, 2009

Ballou's Justice

In an anecdote relayed by Universalist historian Ernest Cassara, a skeptical hostess confronts Hosea Ballou in the kitchen. Asking the woman whether she is planning to mop up the floor just as it is, Ballou continues: “True. You do not require it to be made clean before you will consent to mop it up. God saves men to purify them; that’s what salvation is designed for. God does not require men to be pure in order that he may save them.” In contrast with Unitarian gestures towards ‘Salvation by Character,’ Ballou’s brand of Universalism places the agency for salvation not in humanity’s hands, but in God’s.

Ballou, thus, necessarily expands and explodes the idea of justice as well to accommodate a new divine judge. Deviating from the connotations of harsh retribution, wherein justice equates to fairness and mercy to deficient softness, Ballou enjoins the two. In so doing, he infuses justice with the virtues of forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion: “My opponent will say, the blessed are happified in consequence of the misery of the wretched. But what reason can be given for such an idea?” (Treatise, 141).

Thus, Ballou stands in a unique strand of thinkers ranging from the ancient Greeks (e.g. Aristotle’s ‘equity’) and later Seneca to Martha Nussbaum’s ‘equity tradition.’ Ballou, too, challenges us to redirect justice towards ‘moral outcomes’ and to understand human behavior as implicated in a complex narrative of effort in a world of obstacles.

Prophetically, he asks: “how would a judge appear who should manifest joy and gladness on pronouncing the sentence of death upon one of his fellow-men? Who would not turn from such a court with disgust and deep abhorrence?” (Treatise, 193)

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