Christianity & Social Justice genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

United Press International has an interesting piece on the debate about social justice within religion. The article reviews many of the same issues previously discussed here at Thought Theater as well as at Pharyngula, a science blog. In those particular postings, the topic was whether science needs religion to have a conscience. I've argued it does not.

CHICAGO, June 9 (UPI) — One of the biggest rifts in Christianity today is between those who lean liberal and those who lean conservative. And in few areas is this rift as deep as in the area of "social justice."

To some ears, social justice is a code word for a secular ideal that focuses on structural oppression rather than God, Jesus or spirituality. To other ears, it has nothing at all to do with God, religion or spirituality.

The next paragraph is where the disagreement is actually focused. Note that the author asserts that the concept of justice wouldn't be possible without the reality of God. I find the notion absurd.

Without the reality of God in the world there would be little concept of justice and little possibility of attaining it. God is the foundation of being and thus is the ultimate foundation of justice.

In my opinion, one of the prevailing problems with religion is that it attempts to position God as the only vehicle through which one human can treat another human with respect, dignity, and fairness. That presumption simply cannot be substantiated. I can point to numerous atheists who have treated those they encountered as well as all of humanity with a sanctity equal to or greater than that exhibited by those who did so based upon religious beliefs.

Note in the next paragraph how the author seeks to make social justice subject to and reliant upon religion.

For this reason, it is problematic to remove social justice from its divine origin and mandate. Like many things, the pursuit of social justice can become a god around which we orient ourselves. And when life is oriented in terms of social justice rather than in terms of the reality of God, social justice can become whatever we want. That's why evil is sometimes done in the name of justice. Without its divine origin and nature, social justice becomes human justice which can become little more than politics, ego and prejudice.

Firstly, what is the reality of God? Is it the words within the Bible, the Koran, the Talmud, the Book of Mormon, or any number of authoritative documents honored by various religious groups? Unfortunately, each religion feels they possess the true words of God and they each seek to impose those words upon humanity. This simply leads various religious groups to attempt to dictate their version of social justice upon humanity. The fact that each of these groups asserts that their beliefs are from God is the same as the notion of "human justice" that the author is discussing. Besides, it is impossible for the origin of each religion to be divine or to determine which is entitled to that designation. That means social justice guided by religion can be every bit as wrong as “human justice". Therefore, in my opinion, social justice should be guided by and based upon an understanding and appreciation of the entire human condition.

The problem with religion is that the social justice it seeks to apply is delivered as absolute ideology meant to make judgments about what elements of the human condition are acceptable. The notion that religion cannot be influenced by politics, ego, and prejudice is ludicrous. History is littered with substantial evidence to the contrary. The author argues that if social justice is not guided by the reality of God, it can commit evil in the name of social justice. Excuse me, but more evil has been committed in the name of religious justice than social justice. Social justice that isn’t based upon the human condition is not justice…it’s the imposition of religious beliefs veiled as social justice.

For example, when one tries to remedy the structural evils of society using only human means one is very prone to burnout, sickness or even corruption. Not that this can't happen if one has a relationship with God, but through pursuing social justice as part of a relationship with God one participates with a greater power and reality for good than what humans themselves can muster.

Despite making the above assertion, I haven't a clue what evidence this is based upon. There is simply no empirical evidence to support such a claim. If it were true, religious groups would have eclipsed secular organizations in providing for social justice such that all funding would be directed through religious groups as a simple function of practicality and efficiency. This hasn't happened because there is no compelling evidence of any such thing. Subordinating motivation to religion is to deny and discount the capacity of humanity to honor and value humanity as a worthwhile choice in and of itself.

My point is merely this: social justice is not identical with God. Instead, social justice is the logical and necessary extension of a true relationship with God as revealed through Jesus Christ. Through discipleship with Jesus, we receive the divine mandate to oppose structural sin and oppression and are given the sustenance of the Holy Spirit to do so.

And this placement of God at the foundation of social justice matters. That's because this ordering has profound implications in terms of who's in charge and under what power we are acting and being sustained. It's similar to the two commandments in which Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets: We first must love the Lord our God with our entire being. Then, we are equipped to humbly and tenaciously pursue loving our neighbor as ourselves through the pursuit of social justice.

As I've long argued, the author clearly points out that power is the core principle of religion when he states, "This ordering has profound implications in terms of who's in charge and under what power we are acting and being sustained." Religion is about power...the power to dictate behavior and the power to administer "justice" if one fails to succumb to that power. Despite the frequent attempts, the notion of God is not a byproduct of religion. All too often religion is an effort to co-opt the notion of God in order to assert authority over humanity. The truth is that humanity's understanding of God is subject to the fallacies, foibles, and frailties of the human condition. In acknowledging as much, religion, in its attempt to define God, has to be necessarily flawed.

For me, I take it a step further and assert that God is simply another construct of is an element of the human condition...but it does not provide the template for the human condition. It simply attempts to explain it. God is an offshoot of humanity. Social justice, if it is to be truly about humanity in the broadest sense of the human condition, must not allow religion to limit the purview nor dictate the priorities or the punishment. What is unequivocally real is humanity. Therefore, we must lead with our humanity. All other constructs are secondary creations that simply seek to explain our humanity.

I previously wrote the following two block quote paragraphs in order to address the issue of Jesus and the example he set. However, in no way do I come to the same conclusion as the author that emulating Jesus must be a religious decision. One can have a construct of social justice similar to Jesus and still be an atheist if one's primary allegiance is to the sanctity of the human condition. It seems to me that honoring humanity simply because it makes sense to honor that which we all are is far better than honoring humanity because someone has provided a set of religious beliefs that use fear and the promise of eternity to convince us to do so. The former is an affirmation of humanity and the latter is a subjugation of one’s humanity. One empowers each individual and the other empowers a select few.

I’m not a religious person and I don’t believe in an afterlife. Ironically, while I also won’t stake a claim to being a Christian in the defined and institutional sense of the word, I am content to support the notion that the examples offered by a man (fictional or factual are irrelevant to me) named Jesus can guide us to change. His is the story of a social critic who dissected the fallacies and hypocrisies that permeate the human experience. He did so at great personal risk because I believe “he" saw it as I choose to see it…if one man can elect to pursue and follow “truth", then he is entitled to believe and expect that all men can do the same.

In doing so, when each individual makes this necessary choice, we will cease pursuing and negotiating for a better, future destiny…and we will finally live heaven on earth. Our destiny is of our own making. I refuse to allow religion, or those who believe it is theirs to define, to remove that destiny from my earthly grasp. In the end, we can choose to be good people that honor humanity without submitting to any religious institutions or doctrines. Attempts to argue that science needs religion to keep it humane are therefore absurd.

Religion is one of the numerous elements of the human condition and it can serve a purpose for long as it doesn't seek to disrupt the natural order of the human condition. However, when religion seeks to make humanity its servant, it no longer serves humanity. If we serve humanity, we at the same time serve its origin…whatever one may believe that to be. Belief doesn’t necessarily portend goodness and doubt need not predict evil. Whether we created God or God created us is irrelevant. Beliefs are simply that…but our humanity and our actions here on earth are tangible and measurable. Empathy for humanity is the origin of goodness and it’s a choice we each make. Whatever we believe, whatever we are, goodness is measured the same. God is not required to understand and honor this principle. Treating humanity with dignity and respect is necessary regardless of belief. When we choose it, we pass it on.

Daniel DiRito | June 9, 2006 | 9:14 AM
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1 On December 1, 2006 at 9:41 AM, Nathan wrote —

I wanted to quickly address two points that were discussed in the article. As a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ and believer in his sovereignty; I feel the need to defend my faith and belief. I googled social justice after a conversation I had with a friend and came across this article. First your statement about power received from GOD I believe is misconstrued "Religion is about power...the power to dictate behavior and the power to administer "justice" if one fails to succumb to that power." The power one receives when accepting Jesus Christ that comes from the Holy Spirit should not be used to dictate behaviors or judge but to understand the true calling of humans on earth. The true calling of humans is to 1)love the Lord with all your heart 2). love your neighbor as yourself (ie social justice) The power and gifts I have received as a believer are used as compassion and caring tools for all humans. Jesus walked this earth as a perfect man but also as the son of GOD and fought against against "social justice" and had never ending compassion for his fellow man. His goal was for people to have a right relationship with GOD, through him, and then in turn begin to love their neighbor as themselves. Jesus is the answer to "social justice" He is the answer to every humanitarian problem; without His strength and "power" the battle will become futile.

Thought Theater at Blogged

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