We closed the first part of our examination of social truth with the question of what can be done to rectify the situation we have found ourselves in where we demand much of others when it comes to respecting our feelings and our views of ourselves but where we are not so inclined to return the favor. What must be done must begin with a very simple realization: we are entitled to the same things that everyone else is. We find this out when we look at two questions which appear at first to be very different but which, when put together, amount to the same exact thing. What is the debt that we owe to others? What obligations do we have to others as a part of being in a society or community? Alternatively, we may ask, what are we entitled to from everyone else as a result of our humanity? As is the case with a balance sheet, what we are entitled to as a result of being a human being is precisely what we are obligated for to everyone else.
In examining social truth and the obligations that are present for us by other people, we are examining those obligations that we and other human beings incur simply for being human and dealing with other human beings. I am not here demanding any special treatment as a result of any aspect of my identity apart from the common humanity I share with all dear readers of this work. Similarly, I am not willing to owe to others that which others are not equally obligated to pay me. We are not speaking here of obligations that are due to people who consider themselves above reciprocity. Those obligations are here rejected. Whatever special treatment is given to people above and beyond reciprocal justice as a matter of prudential wisdom is itself an aspect of social truth, in that it represents a reality that must be accounted for, and we will discuss this, God willing, at a later time. But we will not begin here. Where we will begin is with the claims of common justice that belong to everyone on account of their being human.
Let us phrase this another way. The obligations that we owe to others universally and that we are owed by all other people are not a matter of privilege but a matter of right. Whatever we justly owe to others we owe on account of their being created in the image and likeness of our Creator, in whose likeness we are also created. Likewise, whatever we demand from others, we must be willing to give to others, or else we are making a claim that we are privileged beyond ordinary humanity. That respect or honor that we are not willing to give to the person we regard the least and abhor the most does not belong to us by right. The treatment we mete out to others is precisely the same treatment we deserve. Justice requires reciprocity, and those who are unwilling to behave in a reciprocal fashion by giving to others what they demand for themselves show themselves to be unjust by that refusal to treat others as themselves. Privilege amounts to demanding from others good treatment that one refuses to give to them and others in return, and in treating others badly in a way that we would not accept from them or others.
Let us note that we are not talking here about any special standards of righteousness that apply to saints, or the higher standards of positive treatment that mark one out as a pious and godly sort of person. We are speaking here of merely those duties and obligations we owe to other people as a result of common humanity. We are prepared to go further than this, and to state that these obligations are due in general to all living things and not merely to people alone. Again, these obligations are universal; they may be demanded of everything in the universe and they must be given in turn to everything in the universe. What treatment we mete out, we are stating our right to demand, and what demands we make on others, we are obligating ourselves to give in turn. To do anything else is to assert that we are privileged beings on some illegitimate ground, and to engage in hypocrisy and double standards. These are universal struggles that we must deal with as social beings with an imperfect sense of justice, but similarly the justice that we owe and that is owed to us is likewise universal in nature and likewise universally recognized by others.
As an aside, it should be noted that the universal way of justice and right living that is recognized if imperfectly practiced by humanity has been explored in detail by such writers as C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man and one of his ablest commentators, Michael Ward, in After Humanity, a commentary on that work. It is not my intention to copy their copious examination of codes of conduct ranging from the Bible to Hindu, Chinese, Aboriginal Australian, Muslim, and Native American wisdom traditions. What we do wish to assert here, is that we are speaking here of general revelation and not specific revelation. Even if we appeal to the Bible in much of what is to come, what is being appealed to is not a standard that applies specifically to Christians and amounts to something that will lead to salvation, but something that applies to all humanity and is required simply to be viewed as a just and decent person in general. That is to say, we are aiming for what Paul described when speaking of the Gentiles in Romans 2:11-16: “For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” As there is no partiality with God, neither should there be for us.
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