For a variety of reasons, I am frequently reminded of questions of social justice. Of course, my biggest question is one that does not tend to get asked a lot, and that is whether the social in social justice means anything or not. Does calling something social justice add something to justice that justice did not already have? I do not think so, and this is not merely my own particular opinion or personal prejudice, but rather a considered judgement based on where I obtain my own standards of justice, namely the Bible. The Bible speaks a lot about justice, both explicitly and implicitly, and while there are certainly places the Bible speaks of what we would consider social justice in our own contemporary culture , the Bible nowhere speaks of justice in any of its components but rather as a large overarching concept. And looking at the problems that social justices causes in our own culture, we may better understand why this is the case.
But first, let us get some context. Why is it that my attention at this particular time is turned to questions of the paradoxical nature of social justice? As it happens, there are two particular prompts to this. One is the fact that since yesterday I have been receiving a few views to one of my posts  because it was linked on a website called Social Justice Lectionary. This puzzled me as I do not consider myself a writer who would be prominent in, well, social justice writing. The other prompt was receiving an e-mail from one of the sources of free books to review that examined how one Dr. Jeff Brodsky, the author of one of the children’s books I recently reviewed, is taking a barefoot bicycle ride from Disneyland in southern California to Walt Disney World in central Florida to raise awareness of the problem of child trafficking and to hopefully bring it to an end . I am all for raising awareness of problems of injustice so as to bring light into areas of darkness, and fill those who commit deeds of darkness with a certain degree of shame and humiliation. But that said, I view such things as justice, not as a separate thing called social justice.
And it is that which is the critical element. When the Bible speaks of justice, it does so as an all encompassing standard. Proverbs 21:15 tells us: “It is a joy for the just to do justice, But destruction will come to the workers of iniquity.” Deuteronomy 16:19 tells us: “You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show partiality, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous.” Zephaniah 2:3 reminds us: “Seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth, Who have upheld His justice. Seek righteousness, seek humility. It may be that you will be hidden In the day of the Lord’s anger.” And there are many further examples, which remind us that the Bible speaks of justice as one thing which has many facets that all involve standards of equity as well as behaving righteously by God and other people. By the standards of the Bible, justice is not something that can be compartmentalized. If we are just in one area of life and not just in others, or if we are crusaders for justice when it comes to some people but behave unjustly towards others, we are unjust people and not just people. And this is a problem when it comes to pondering matters of social justice.
Indeed, this particular problem strikes to the heart of what is wrong with social justice as we tend to define it. For we view those who seek justice for various subaltern groups who are supposedly oppressed as condoning, and frequently requiring, abusive and unjust behaviors against those who are viewed as oppressive and privileged social groups within humanity–not coincidentally groups I am often a part of personally, it should be noted. Viewed by the standards of the Bible, social justice is not justice precisely because it is partial in nature and precisely because it involves behaving unjustly and iniquitously. To put it bluntly, if we are unjust to blacks and just to whites, we are unjust, but if we are just to blacks and unjust to whites, we are also unjust. If we are just to men and unjust to women, we are unjust, but if we are just to women and unjust to men, we are also unjust. And if we are just to the wealthy and powerful but unjust to the poor and powerless, we are unjust, and the same is true if we are just to the poor and oppressed and powerless masses but unjust to the wealthy and powerful among us. For us to be just, we must be just to everyone, and that is a really hard thing to be, not least because we tend to view those whose interests and worldviews are hostile to our own as being unworthy of any sort of consideration or respect whatsoever, and this partiality blinds us to the justice that is due even to our enemies. For to the extent that we are just to our enemies, we cannot get on a moral high horse and look down on them with contempt, but we must see them as flawed human beings like ourselves, worthy of the benefit of the doubt and fairness in how we view their own interests and well-being.
This does not mean, of course, that we take their justifications about their own evil deeds at face value. Being just to child traffickers does not mean that we neglect the horror their deeds cause or view them as just doing their job. But it does mean that we recognize that our own justifications for our own inconsistencies or our own excesses in the pursuit of our own interests and objectives will not hold water with God or other people in general. To the extent that we see ourselves as being in need of mercy, we will be more inclined to extend mercy to others because we will recognize ourselves as being in the same boat. A great deal of the problems of social justice come about precisely because we do not view ourselves in being in the same boat. It is, quite paradoxically, precisely this same blindness as to our being in the same boat as others that leads to the injustices that social justice warriors are so heated about. After all, we can only be unjust to others to the extent that we view ourselves as being part of a privileged class relative to that class which we are treating unjustly. It is a joy for the just to do justly, but it is a rare joy in our day and age, for we talk much about justice, but fail to see how universally such standards are to be applied. To the extent that we crusade for justice, and we should, let us do so as just people in our own dealings with everyone.
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