In the last post I posited several questions that hopefully help guide the Christian to a deeper contemplation of issues concerning justice.
Perhaps one of the more important questions is the one that asks, “Which rationality and whose justice are we operating under?”
Justice is intimately tied to ethical systems. Thus, when we operate under systems of violence it is quite easy to rationalize violence as the primary mean through which wrongs can be righted. After all, when a country or ideology tries to harm or threaten the foundation of modern western democracy it is deemed necessary and justified to either persuade those forces to align themselves with the our ideology, even if that persuasion goes beyond dialogue and enters violent force, which is itself a type of persuasion.
In regards to more secularized conceptions of justice a multitude of theories abound. There is the Rawlsian type which focuses more on an equation of “justice” and “fairness”. Rawls truly does care about equality, and noticing the debilitation caused by inherent caste systems posits a justice system whereby citizens intentionally utilize a “veil of ignorance”. They repress all individual realities and make judgments as purely autonomous and objective entities. Unfortunately (or rather, fortunately), we are historically conditioned beings. We cannot just forget the realities that make up our lives, because those realities and experiences are a part of ourselves, they make up who we are.
Other systems of justice exist too, such as those built on the foundation of utilitarianism. Under the roof of this construction it is believed that we can confidently sacrifice the one for the many. If the greater good can be served by a lesser evil, than the lesser evil is an obligation. But, can we make confident calculations such as this? Does this really produce justice? Just as with Rawlsian account of justice problems arise because us moderns believe we have much more knowledge and ability than we actually do. When American policy makers create “justice” they do so with America in mind, primarily. The “infinite justice” proclaimed by Bush, for instance, shortly after 9/11 was met equally by a desire for “infinite justice” proclaimed by Bin Laden. Both desired acts of revenge, both felt obligated to protect their homelands. This is not to make any sort of justification for the unspeakable acts carried ouy over 10 years ago, but it also is not meant to justify the propagation of violence that has gone on for decades before and after that event.
A Social Ethic
But what about the Christian reality? Do we take seriously the communal standards set forth by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount? Here the followers of Jesus are called to renounce violence, forgo lust, extinguish hatred, stay true to promises, and to love those who seek our destruction; these are both ethical and theological, and thus concerned with justice. We represent a different communal order, a different metaphysic, than the state powers. The Christian way isn’t reduced to forced persuasion in order to propagate, but to spread truth through Community, Cross, and New Creation. The Christian ethic makes no is-ought distinction, but makes a particular claim about what reality is and who people are within that reality. To section off the metaphysical claim to the avenue of “spiritual” is to make a divide where one does not exist. Jesus was no Platonist, and certainly not a Cartesian.
The difficulty is that this is difficult! It is both difficult to live out, but also fundamentally difficult because of lived experience. What do we do about injustice? Is it to be ignored or hugged away? Is it to be stood up to, and if so how? Perhaps we can look to those who came before us and realize the beauty of their resistant nonviolence, even in their sometimes failures. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought about great change. That rumors persist about infidelity (whether true or not) does not negate the impact of one trying to follow Christ, though failing at times. The truth is that violence breeds violence, and justice that is based on violence will not bring about the seemingly evanescent horizon of justice.
While this post does not put an end to the struggle of both understanding the scriptures or how the world works, I hope it is a challenge to take seriously Christian faith as a reality, not merely another choice in the marketplace of ideas.