Editor’s note: Along with Mr. McDoof and Beedeekay, there is now Arrupe joining us to write his first post below. Other guest submissions are thoroughly welcome. (Enjoy!)
In his book, The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen uses the following example to illustrate how it is possible for there to be “plural and competing reasons for justice, all of which have claims to impartiality and which nevertheless differ from, and rival, each other.” The examples serve as a good thought exercise in helping people identify the grounds upon which they base their notions of “justice”.
Example: You have to decide which of the three children – Anne, Bob and Carla – should get a flute about which they are quarrelling. Anne claims the flute on the ground that she is the only one of the three who knows how to play it. Bob contends that he should be given the flute because he is the only one among the three who is so poor that he has no toys of his own. Lastly, Carla interjects and points that the she has been working diligently for many months to make the flute with her own labor.
Who should get the flute and why?
So Glenn Beck tells Christians to leave churches if they mention any sort of social justice.
While I am not a big fan of liberal churches that merely substitutes the gospel with messages of social justice, Glenn Beck is proving he is no master of nuance or careful argument. I can’t blame him for doing it probably sells books. Perhaps he is like me concerned about Christian relying too much on government as the means to dispense this justice or maybe a Reformed Christ-centered hermeneutic? Nope,his statements are far too categorical here. I won’t pretend Glenn Beck actually cares about that stuff. But he’s definitely wrong here, churches should be preaching social justice, but very carefully in that. He can’t pretend the Bible doesn’t speak anything of social justice, especially with the Minor Prophets admonishing people for being insensitive to the needs of the “widows, the poor and the sick”.
Take a look at Psalm 82:
82:1 God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!
Now gods (lowercase) are the judges of this earth, those who are failing to fully reflect the justice that is God’s character. This is the position that we all seem to share in our own imperfections. These people are ultimately called out for failing to address these injustices on Earth. The final verse calls for God to ultimately bring justice; justice that Christians believe came in the form of Jesus Christ. We know we are supposed to attack injustices because Christ demonstrated this to us by the work of the cross. Ultimately, we are supposed to be not only aware of the physical poverty of others but our own spiritual brokenness; the very brokenness that is the cause of injustice.
As much as Beck is afraid of the Christian faith becoming meaningless if it becomes too liberalized, I can say the same about a Christian faith about one that doesn’t embrace social justice. We are called to do justice, not because of our own just natures, but because justice was (or wasn’t) given to all of us: the punishment we rightly deserved taken by someone innocent of blame.
This was the move that is slowly unwinding the cycle of injustice. Christians are called to unravel injustice, by taking up our own crosses each and every day. Sorry Mr. Beck but you are woefully incorrect. You keep talking like this there will be more news stories like this……
OK folks, so its tax season. I smile a little because my high school/college friends who suddenly were so gleeful about Politician X’s new proposal to expand coverage to Y program, need to now put their money where their mouth is and actually pay taxes. Except that well, they’ve found ways not to pay them…..
You see, I definitely have my share of left-leaning friends who have discussed the latest tricks/gimmicks in finding the biggest refunds on their tax returns. I find it a little bit inconsistent that somebody who generally supports increased government programs also are trying to find ways to prevent (at the individual level) such funds from reaching these programs. Look, I have no problems with finding tax refunds in themselves regardless of political belief. In no way should Uncle Sam ride off these as my friend Peter calls em, “interest-free loans”, especially if you weren’t supposed to pay taxes on it. I do have a slight issue when one extols the benefits of expanding education funding, works for a bulge bracket finance firm (as NKS once said, “they are working for the Machine they once raged against”) and then chooses to write off the 5 Brooks Bros. suits as a “uniform expense”.
Simplify the tax code…
But here’s the thing. For one, just practically speaking, if all of these taxes are being written off, why not just simplify the tax code to more flat taxes or consumption-based taxes. (The merits of the argument can be found here and here, so I won’t go into it too much).
Have the rich pay taxes means you should too
As for the solution of making the rich pay taxes. If you are making 70k a year (not unreasonable for a guy working a couple years out of a top-tier school including bonuses etc.) you are already at the top 30% of annual income meaning, comparatively speaking, you are rich. But another thing I think progressives need to consider the regressive nature of a befuddling tax code. A Gordon Gekko type with his accountants is probably gonna have an easier time maximizing his deductions over a working single-mother type and her recent-grad accountant at H&R Block. Friends, at least realize this, if you are finding a bunch of things you can write off, know that “the rich” are probably doing just the same. The mechanics can often be legal but quite sketchy, but regardless this is perhaps not the best way to raise revenue……
Also, ever play Sim City 2000? People don’t stick around if you raise taxes on them, your city begins to make Detroit seem like paradise and you lose tons of revenue. Soon you take out a bond from the dude who probably either worked for the Mob or Goldman (take advantage of low rates, float a bond!), you fall into major debt and then you realize realize the only solution is to press all the disaster buttons to turn your city into Sim Gomorrah 2000 and start all over. (But I digress…)
Annoying libertarians aren’t hypocritical (but they still are annoying)
At least libertarians don’t pretend they have some noble motives. Their candidness in their political beliefs wanting their own money, because its their own money, is certainly refreshing. So I wonder if you are looking for all these deductions why not just jump to the libertarian ship and try to reduce the unnecessary taxes. If you are that concerned about social welfare, use those funds for charitable purposes. Efficiency-wise I’d pat you on the back and you could find the optimal rate to make sure roads and such are still paved.
“Trickeration” like uniform expenses and the like (which should be considered tax evasion) are most infuriating and inexcusable. Even if you are the staunchest libertarian completely paranoid of the IRS, I would still find your justification shallow. When you have a big Obama bumper sticker telling me how important health care is, I find it even more distasteful. Its really a simple game, where the taxpayer knows his chances of getting audited are slim to none.
My challenge to Libs
I could go on and on about how left-leaning politicians hypocritically store their income away in tax shelters (here’s one of many) But I don’t want to straw man a political philosophy, because the worst people in the world, politicians, act like well, politicians. I know there are plenty of liberals who aren’t like that as well. Thus I offer a small challenge for my friends of the more-government-programs persuasion. Obviously, your tax code is between you and God, I mean, Government (sorry two different faith-based systems). If you are trying to search for all these refunds, I am not calling you a bad guy if its legal, but why not vote for those who simplify the taxes to flat/consumption taxes. If you are gaming the system, I would implore you to consider your how this is totally antithetical to your political beliefs. If you feel you can use that money for better charitable purposes, see solution above. As for the libertarians, I just think you guys want a government that lets you smoke pot.
The gist is simple: Christians need to spend less time focusing on “moral” issues of abortion and gay marriage and more on “social justice” issues of aiding the “poor” and “needy”. Christians and liberals can unite on these social issues where liberals seemed to have had the upper-hand.
It definitely is an argument that needs to be made and I praise him for at least pointing out how many Christians have already done incredible work in trying to roll back the growing wave of injustice in this world. A bunch of friends (Christians mostly) have been touting this article and while I found its contentions promising I found a couple points a bit trying too hard to be equivocal in its approach.
For instance he writes,
For most of the last century, save-the-worlders were primarily Democrats and liberals. In contrast, many Republicans and religious conservatives denounced government aid programs, with Senator Jesse Helms calling them “money down a rat hole.”
While he could argue that certain believers conflate conservative and Christian positions, that doesn’t seem to be the argument he makes. Instead its a convenient way for him to straw-man Christians in multiple ways by lumping them with conservatives like Jesse Helms. While this makes for excellent rhetorical effect, its also fallacy. While Hitler was a vegetarian this does not translate then that all vegetarians are suddenly fans of eradicating the Jewish race. Likewise, Christians can’t all be clumped as apathetic to social needs in foreign countries just because the party that they commonly are associated with or one its most polarizing leaders does.
He also does a nice little slight of hand here shifting the framework of being opposed to “government aid” as a meaning Christians intentions were not to be save-the-worlders. I think its important to note, because he lauds the organization World Vision later in the piece (which kind of refutes his notion that only secular liberals cared about the world before). Perhaps Christians like myself (although I do not speak for Christians as a whole) think that the proper place of aid is not through the bureaucratic mess we know as the federal government, but more efficiently disbursed through more intimate programs. Certainly this view is not unique to Christians, for example, Nigerian economist James Shikwati.
He writes later interestingly,
A root problem is a liberal snobbishness toward faith-based organizations. Those doing the sneering typically give away far less money than evangelicals. They’re also less likely to spend vacations volunteering at, say, a school or a clinic in Rwanda. If secular liberals can give up some of their snootiness, and if evangelicals can retire some of their sanctimony, then we all might succeed together in making greater progress against common enemies of humanity, like illiteracy, human trafficking and maternal mortality.
So I am curious if he writes this, what his problem with Christians is in comparison to liberals. The read I am getting is liberals sneer and Christians give more money and sacrifice more of their time as well as resources. Yet Christians need to learn to hold off on the “sanctimony” and liberals need to sneer a little less? My point is not that Christians have the upper hand on social giving, but why does he even need to make these distinctions in the first place? (and shouldn’t liberals find this somewhat offensive?) Its certainly a convenient way for him to show how he disagrees vehemently with Christian social positions. I am sorry but this “sanctimony” with issues regarding sex, abortion etc. is also the very “sanctimony” that compels Christians to do missions work in foreign country even without proselytizing. You can pick and choose what you like, Mr. Kristof thats your prerogative, but Christians are then “sanctimonious” in espousing certain doctrinal positions on BOTH social justice issues and sanctity of life issues.
Overall, this piece is a bit condescending but I can’t totally blame the author. I do think if anything it should compel Christian to make more clear why we serve others in social justice. While feeling good about ourselves and helping others in some sort of Kumbahyah, “We are the World, way is nice and convenient, I find it utterly incomplete. Kristof criticizes the idea of pro-life meaning more than just opposing abortion, I would take it step further and say nobody lives like they are pro-life. Some might tout their record on abortion others might tout their record on helping the sick and poor, but even in the best of us, our hearts steer us to be pro-“my own life”.
How about this for equivocation: we are all in need of a Savior. This troubled world is a “macrocosm” of our own brokenness and imperfection, but also a reminder of how the Lord’s work on the cross is not only to change the unjust social structures of this world, but the twisted nature of our own hearts. Our conviction ultimately stems from the idea that God paid for sin and injustice on the cross. Our aid to the poor is a direct analogy to the spiritual poverty we have in comparison to the God that is perfect; how fallen we have become in our own selfishness, insecurities and envy. This is not to soften the fact that these people need help; they do. Christians know that “faith without works is dead” and should work to undo these grave injustices. But Christians “do justice” not because we are better than others, but are actively acknowledging that Christ did even more than we could ever do.
For my bleeding-heart liberal friends…I am grateful for your edification. Let me explain my views on social justice, even if you find me unbearably cynical. Forgive me, I do indeed have a heart.
I tutor a few kids. When parents ask me to teach their kids how to read and write, I go to my favorite piece of fiction: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (Please excuse me if this 7th-grade interpretation is much too simplistic)
In HF, there is an ancillary but dramatic scene where a character, Sherburn is threatened by an angry mob. The mob is large and an ostensibly angry, threatening to lynch Sherburn for killing the town drunkard in broad daylight. The crime was undoubtedly severe and Sherburn surely should have received some sort of reprimand for his brutality towards another innocent, albeit flawed man. Unfortunately for the mob, Sherburn calls their bluff and demonstrates assurance that he will remain unscathed by the mob. His confidence is justified, as he chastises the mob for displaying little conviction behind their threats. He knows very well that none of the members are confident enough on their own to attack by themselves. When they approached his house, he was resolute, sitting in a chair with his rifle ready for their arrival. He boldly gave a speech lambasting their cowardice knowing full well though as a collective they were ready to attack him, no individual man had the conviction to actually make the first move. Nobody dares to take a stand against this man with his rifle and risk death for the sake of fighting injustice. Eventually they scatter, leaving Sherburn alone without even any sort of punishment.
In that sense, Twain is also criticizing the lack of conviction society had against the injustice of slavery. Throughout the novel of Huckleberry Finn, Twain paints a picture of many of Huck’s peers as seemingly resolute in their own convictions, yet brutally unaware of their inclination to conform to the screwed up standards of society. Many people were aware of the stark disparity in their own lives and those of their slaves. But they were able to move on partially due to an indifference buoyed by society’s own indifference to the treatment of slaves. Although Sherburn’s crime was malicious and detestable, the speech was extremely profound. Our own tendencies that are similar to the mob, holding meaningless convictions that appear heartfelt but are essentially vacuous. Perhaps lynching him was not the solution, but the bigger failure was how easily this crime was soon forgotten. Injustice, like Sherburn, mocks from a distance, knowing full well of our reluctance to pay the price and fight it.
Just yesterday, I was able to see a presentation about Love 146 an organization that fights for the abolition of child sex slavery. I thought the presentation was great; the speaker Rob spoke extensively about the need to be “audacious” in our approach to social justice. He pointed out when we hear about AIDS, cancer, poverty etc. its easy for them to now just become another “issue” to us and our connection to them becomes superficial. We need to connect our issues back to faces, that child over there is not just some random statistic, but a daughter and a future mother. Distilling his message to its essence, Rob told us the story about the boy and the starfish; how it matters to that SINGLE starfish. I’m not gonna lie, I am that man who tells the boy “Why are you wasting your time?” Hence, Conspicuous Cynic.
Regardless, you wonder as much as Rob is passionate about his work and goals, there is so much injustice out there we don’t even know where to start. I don’t think its unfair to say, when most of us see injustice its hard for us to believe it will every disappear completely. No matter how much we do, it seems injustice will lurk and remain prevalent in this world. I believe this is ultimately rooted in our own selfish dispositions. Child sex trafficking might be the most visceral and disturbing perversion of the idol of sex and greed. But I can argue our own behavior during this financial crisis was just as bothersome, in that the idols of status and comfort were widespread and significant across all social classes, races and faiths (Yes, even Christians).
Again this is why I find comfort in the Christian response to social justice. Wait what? Every serious post seems to be reductio ad Jesu. Bear with me for a moment. Remember the mob before, ready to lynch Sherburn? Their ultimate failing was that no one was ready to take the first step, to “audaciously” stand up to the injustice of this murderer. The cross is that first step: Christians believe JC died to take on the sin and injustice of the world. Ultimately, I am aware of my unwillingness to take that first step, but I believe JC did, knowing full well death would be the result.
You say, “well BDK” this story is a nice one but “who cares?” Well, I do. Maybe people wonder how Christians can see a Savior amidst all this injustice. I wonder how we can accept this world devoid of a Savior. For one, it helps Christians respond to injustice. Christians should acknowledge we are inherently timid souls and help others not out of our own goodness or courage but because we follow the lead of one who “audaciously” took the first step. Love 146, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, Compassion International etc. are all playing “follow the leader” and slowly unraveling injustice. Secondly, I think when we see these things something ticks in our hearts: “This is not the way things should be” and we yearn for redemption. Although our collective attempts to restore order to this world might fall short, we hold steadfast knowing that God took the ultimate injustice upon himself to pay for all of the injustice of the world. This is the final hope.
I know, I can be a cynical punk because its easy to blog from a distance, scoffing like the lonely curmudgeon I am. But I am fully aware of my own imperfections: I am deeply insecure, incredibly selfish and commit injustices everyday. I am reminded that the healing of brokenness starts at the micro-level; in my own heart. I know this is the generator of injustice that I can change, not because of anything I could ever accomplish, but because of JC’s own “audacious first step”.
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