In contemporary calls for justice, a Christian can be forgiven for feeling conflicted. On the one hand, we know that God wants us to work for justice, that He established His Church and explicitly commands His people to seek justice in the world we live in. And this is meant to be a real and tangible force in the world, not just encouragement for the suffering or pious sounding well-wishing. We are meant to change things that are unjust.
Of what use is it, my brethren, if a man claims to have faith, and has no deeds to shew for it? Can faith save him then? Here is a brother, here is a sister, going naked, left without the means to secure their daily food; if one of you says to them, Go in peace, warm yourselves and take your fill, without providing for their bodily needs, of what use is it? Thus faith, if it has no deeds to shew for itself, has lost its own principle of life (James 2:14-17).
On the other hand, some of the loudest calls for justice come from forces that, in a seemingly ironic way, seem to have contempt Christian tradition and civilization, and even God (especially the “Christian God”). Some understanding of how different groups might be using that word can help clear up confusion, but nothing is more important for us than to be reminded that justice is a virtue. As a virtue it can only be understood in the philosophical framework that flows from the truth that the world was created by God and it has a moral order. To live well is to work within and for this order.
In some cases, when we have disagreements of “social justice” issues, we might actually be disagreeing over a prudent course of action when in reality we agree on the justice of the issue. In other instances, however, the opposing sides are actually divided in a fundamental and even unreconcilable way, with one side understanding justice as a truth flowing from and back toward God and the other aligning itself with forces explicitly against God. In order to remain united to those that we are in actual communion with, or even broad philosophical agreement with, and in order to make sure we are separate from those from whom separation is necessary, we should make sure to recognize the difference.
Agreement on Justice Proven by the Disagreement
Let’s consider a prudential disagreement first. We often argue about the “justice” issue of social safety nets (welfare, etc.), when in reality it is probably an issue of prudence, how best to achieve the goal of justice. The goals of those opposed to welfare claim that the lazy are taking from the hard-working and are, therefore, causing harm to the broader body of citizens. They might quote St. Paul: “…the man who refuses to work must be left to starve” (2 Thess. 3:10). Or, as my Grandmother put it, “No worky, no eaty.”
On the other side, someone in favor of some particular welfare system might point out rightly that it is the obligation – in justice – of those well-provided for to help care for those with less. This is an explicit and consistent teaching of the Church from the New Testament to Aquinas to now. They might quote Matthew 5, the Sermon on the Mount, with its clear call often translates into the works of mercy – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc.
Both “sides” are actually trying to protect the same thing, to ensure the same justice, which is that the body we belong to is cared for. They fear the few are causing harm to the many unjustly. Those who bemoan the bums that live off the doll in laziness are right in showing how that harms the body and abuses the goods of others. Those that bemoan the miserly hoarding rich in light of real suffering and injustice are also showing the harm that the body is suffering. The former might have a greater skepticism of government programs, or even people in general, based on their experience. The latter might think the explosive wealth of our nation is embarrassing in comparison to injustices they have actually witnessed. The former might be more generous in giving directly to those in need without the help of bureaucracy; the latter might hold it necessary to have consistent programs to avoid too many falling into despairing circumstances. Both are probably right. Both are probably wrong. Maintaining peace in discernment, therefore, is good and necessary. Because, after all, this is a matter of prudence, not justice, and claiming otherwise about the other is useless and perhaps harmful.
The “Justice” We Cannot Accept
But, returning to the issue of disagreement between those of a traditional mindset and those who espouse modern social justice theories, the disagreement is more war-like, because it is more like a war.
Justice, to the Christian, simply means whatever is “right” is what we do. We accept what is right, no matter how it makes us feel. We accept what is right based on a moral order that is embedded in all of life, in creation itself, because life was given to us by a Creator. We believe in a rational soul with an intellect that can discern right and wrong based on observation, reasoning, custom, and revelation. We receive all things as a gift, and the goal of the just man is to live in a way that responds to the needs of others and our duties toward God and man.
Justice, to the modern “social justice warrior,” might sound very similar, but it comes from an entirely different place. Unlike the attempt to discern what is true and important, they take the plight and desires of the individual and make that the matter of “justice.” In other words, it comes from the inside and is imposed outward and not from the outside and integrated inward, into the person. It does not discern if a harm was actually done to the individual, but if the individual is “harmed” by not being able to enact their desires. Because it is so intermingled with Marxism, secularism, and relativism, it has little objective reasoning to measure itself against – it believes in a better world that can be created by the efforts of man alone, even reaching the point of dismissing God and faith altogether. And, because it arises as a descendant of modernism, it ultimately boils down to the unabridged exaltation of the individual’s self-fulfillment.
Because it resembles the pursuit of justice in many ways, Christians can often be very sympathetic. It is the Christian, after all, that brings to this culture the love for the victim and the desire to set things right. Jesus is the one that identifies Himself with the sufferer, and to serve the lowly is to serve Christ. But, when the sympathy for victimhood is moved from a concern for traditional justice to whatever the individual feels is “discriminated” against, this creates a problem. That problem is the advent of new realities that are not born from a moral order, but from the ideas and ideals of a few that are then imposed outward. When this happens, we are stuck having the sympathy that justice creates (meaning God inspires it) in conflict with the new reality being imposed by man (that may oppose God’s created designs).
For example, someone with a Christina sensibility is moved by the stories of someone discriminated against based on their race. They sign on in sympathy to a movement to answer that injustice. That movement then applies the logic to marriage, claiming that there is an inequality between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples because the heterosexuals can marry but the homosexuals cannot. Just as one was denied their due based on race, creating an imbalance of equal application of law, so too there is now discernable inequality on the issue of marriage. Therefore, to be consistently “for” justice, one must allow homosexuals to marry and change the laws of marriage
But what has actually occurred is not the application of justice, but the redefining of reality. No longer are we accepting what is right and applying it even if it hurts, but we are creating what is right and tweaking society toward it. All mankind has the exact same option for marriage: all men can marry a woman and all women can marry a man. Marriage is defined as that very possibility. In order to create the “option” of a man “marrying” a man, and to fit it into the category of “injustice,” one has to redefine marriage itself, which also requires the redefinition of marital relations, since what can occur between a man and a woman is not the same as for a man and a man. In short, we moved quickly from a shared desire for justice to a new definition of reality that comes from man’s desires and not observation of discernable truths. Therefore, what has actually happened is the movement away from justice at all, and just as marriage required a new definition to be retrofitted to the new idea, so too “justice” is being redefined.
Obviously, this example fits within commonly understood paradigms if you’re reading this from one politically conservative viewpoint in modern America. One should be careful, however, because the political right in our country is not the arbiter or justice either, and their exaltation of individuality over truth has many examples as well.
A Common Rotten Core
If we go down the list, we notice something in common when we look at which issues of “justice” get aligned with groups that become actually opposed to God and Christianity more broadly, all in the name of justice. Those are: contraception, divorce, abortion, and LGBT issues. These divisive issues have something in common: human sexuality. These seem to be the issues that get lumped in with issues like income, oppression, racism, etc., but they are in fact very different in nature. The issues are divisive because one side thinks human sexuality has limits, ends, acceptable means, and the “end” of the family. The other side thinks human sexuality is defined by the individual’s desires and does not have children and family as an end, but solely the pleasure of the persons involved.
But, if you’re wondering why groups that espouse complete acceptance of all ideas of human sexuality also seem to reject God, recall that Aquinas defines “hatred of God” as a “daughter of lust.” By daughter he means that one is born from the other. Lust is the most insatiable of the disordered passions, and it leads us to do whatever we can in order to fulfill the desire. Very often, we grow in deep frustration at God because He frustrates our desired paths with His laws and natural order. We have Him for the simple reason that He stands in the way of us getting to what we really love: self and pleasure.
We can see how once again our view of the world, and even justice itself, hinges on a proper understanding of the family. It shapes our view of God, our own ends, and the way to live truly as a human. There really is a war going on out there, and it is cut right through the heart of the family and every member of it.