Here it goes - the big project - 'Christian Social Justice'
As I indicated in my introductory posting, one of my most intense interests is in articulating an orthodox Christian position on what is called 'social justice'. I have been noting for a while now the Left's self congratulatory use of this term and have become more angry with each passing encounter. The anger stems from two reasons.
1. The Left has no coherent idea of what is meant by this term and they have appropriated it as a useful political slogan, and as such it need have not specific meaning other than we don't like the fact that society has some less well off and it is someone else's fault, and the justice exists in finding those that have what the others lack, assigning blame for the lack to those that have (justice as a zero sum game) and then, given the policy and the power, to arrange for a redistribution. But since I believe that there is relatively little utility in attempting to engage the Left (and it, like the devil in my beloved Middle Ages), hates to be mocked, it should be dismissed and treated with contempt - it is not entitled to any respect on its intellectual merits or its results,
2. Much more importantly, however, is that orthodox Christians need to reclaim this term and give it the kind of rigorous analysis and careful articulation of what social justice should mean and what sorts of policies would bring it about. That is my objective.
Now, I am aware that there is a long and distinquished tradition of Catholic thought on the question of social justice - a mere google of 'social justice' reveals that. Moreover, the late 19th century/early 20th century doctrines of the 'social gospel' is something in which Christians should take some pride (with some theological reservations particularly about the evolution of the social gospel theology). [Purely political note: I believe that conservative Christians have overlooked or minimized the appeal and pedigree of social gospelChristianity - and in fact, most churches I know - orthodox conservative churches - are fully committed to the social gospel but as part of a larger vision of the Christian call in which good works are a means to an end; not the end itself. What makes this political is that I argue that those who think that Hillary will be revealed as some sort of liberal religious charlatan - a glib triangulizer like her husband(?) who had the rap (1960s term for speaking) of southern religion as a second language - are in for a surprise - I suspect that Hillary's bona fides as a social gospel Christian may be much stronger than her husband's were as a Baptist - she has both the rap and actual religion even if the orthodox may disagree with her). Plus it is tricky to argue against a real social gospel Christian when supporting 'faith based initiatives'. I think that the orthodox response should be that a social Gospel which does not put at its center the redeeming power of Christ may be good social policy but not Christianity. This distinction may well be lost on many Americans when a life long commitment to 'feeding the poor' is portrayed. End of political aside]. Having acknowledged that elements of modern Christianity have given the term 'social justice' much careful thought, I will be arrogant enough to suggest that they have deviated from orthodoxy in their zeal to aid the afflicted and, by that deviation, have separated themselves from both the one means of real redress - salvation - and also from the intellectual foundations that would have allowed them to arrive at solutions that might actually offer something more than short term palliatives that, like most liberal social policy (of which I will argue both Catholic social justice theory and contemporary 'social gospel' theology are merely sub-sets) actually make the problem worse. Because they have separated from the axioms of Biblical understanding, they necessarily will reach incorrect conclusions no matter how well intentioned.
So, in what will be a long internal meditation, I hope to define social justice - at least to my own satisfaction, if no one else's. However, as this is a blog my hope is that as I grope towards my definition, I will have a lot of help. Not because I am intellectually lazy (although there is an element of truth to this, at least with respect to research into secular thought on social justice and even in depth study of alternative Christian concepts) but because a vigorous dialog and critique by the many exceptionally informed fellow believers can be of immense help. As anyone who has read the forward to any academic writing knows, very few works are the product of one person alone, but reflect the thought and thoughtful criticism of well meaning people whose opinion the author has reason to trust. The difference with the Internet is that I have not yet met them, but I know they are there.
I recognize that one could argue that I have appropriated 'orthodox' as arrogantly and without clarification as I accuse the Left of (mis)appropriating 'social justice'. So, I will make a first attempt to address this fair comment. By orthodox I mean in full agreement with the Nicean Creed and Chalcedonian Christology as writen and literally read. It also requires that one accept fully the inerrant fundamental truths of Scripture. By fundamental truths, I mean that whether one is an absolute literalist (and I am not one), the first step in Biblical understanding is to accept the text as literally true; and when there are problems with a strict literal interpretation, one move to the closest metaphorical or analogous interpretation possible to the literal text. A perfect (to me) and timely example is Genesis 1: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'. Whether one is a six day literalist or a big bang supporter, an orthodox Christian accepts that in some way that is not crystalline clear or devoid of ambiguity and may in fact be a form of cosmological analogy as written in Scripture, of this one is certain - that the God defined in the Bible created the Heavens and the Earth. Timing, physics etc may remain a mystery, but the author of the universe is not. For those who say 'not good enough - theo-wannabee' , probably not, but it is an adequate start and I do not intend to get dragged into the fever swamps of credal beliefs and dogma - those are debates that have raged for millenia in some cases, and it is secondary to my purpose. Those who accept Nicaea as a clear and adequate articulation of Christian orthodoxy will perhaps allow this to pass. Those who want to argue about my definition of orthodoxy will be considered only insofar as those questions influence the purpose of defining Christian 'social justice'. If some reads this and starts laughting hysterically over such incredible naivete and pride - that I can gloss over what is orthodoxy in a brief paragraph - I would ask your forgiveness and more importantly your wisdom and insight. But I will not be diverted from my purpose, which is not defining orthodoxy but 'social justice'
So why so hung up on social justice? Because it is a command from God that we care deeply about social justice and not be put off by the fact that others are trying to do it also. I knew a pastor who was so opposed to the politics of the environmental movement (I share some of those feelings) that he decided that it was his duty to oppose them - not to offer a better (more
Biblical) solution. Likewise, that I see nothing but increased misery and human degradation in the policy prescriptions of secular and non-orthodox Christian social policy which aspires to achieve social justice, does not mean that I should merely oppose it, but rather I need to find a better and truer way. Why - Micah 1:8
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
That is a command - the Lord requires it of me - that I do justice and love mercy.
The question is how do I do this and what would actual policies look like that reflect ths command. That is what I seek.
As my blog states - I am a political Conservative. But I am a Christian first. I believe that there is a high degree of congruence between a properly defined Christian 'social justice' and posiitons that are within the mainstream of current conservative political thought (but not complete congruence). However, a number of conservative blogs (and contributors to blogs) have shown, Christian conservatism is not universally loved and accepted by all other Conservatives (I have seen some RINO sites which are pretty explicit about wanting to have nothing to do with Christian conservatives). So, am I just a Christian values conservative/zealot fundamentalist anti-Christ to all libertarians hold dear and is anything I say irrelevant to those who are not Christian. Well some parts are, but one point in at least Calvinist theology is the idea of Common Grace - the Lord's provision for all mankind - the classic example is that the Lord permits rain on the just and the unjust alike. I might add that one of the central themes in my search - an axiom - is that all people are created in God's image (whether they believe in
God or not) and therefore, are of infinite worth and intended for dignity. Their degradation is not an acceptable status for what God intened to reflect his glory. So, Christian social justice aims at the elevation of people to as close an approximation of the glory as the human condition allows. But the human condition is another chapter.
So, if I succeed in at least gaining a little short term visibility of this project, I will be and welcome being a self hanging pinata. Whack away - severely but politely please, as I aspire to do as well.
Thanks for your help and insight. Please forgive my spelling (I cannot make my spell check work) and occasionally imprecise grammar. That which I do not want to do, that is what I do.