It has been a while since I broached the topic of Social Justice in my article Adventism and Social Justice. In that article I pointed out that the term social justice is most frequently used as a code word for political socialist ideas. I pointed out that it is, when used mostly undefined, which of course makes it perfect for political manipulation. After all words that sound good have often been used by totalitarian regimes attempting to persuade people that their methods were simply ways the government can do good. The most obvious example being: “From each, according to his ability; to each, according to his need” by Karl Marx. The Wikipedia gives us the whole paragraph of Marx’s famous slogan:
The complete paragraph containing Marx's statement of the creed in the 'Critique of the Gotha Program' is as follows:
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly—only then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!
The slogan which sounds so magnanimous and compassionate produced communist tyrannies that killed multiple millions of people and enslaved their populations. A slogan no matter how good sounding often carries with it implications that a good hearted person would never think of.
Recently certain Progressive Adventists have taken to attacking those who have pointed out the ulterior motives behind the term social justice. Not by using a reasoned argument to show that social justice has no connection to socialism, communism, or Nazi sympathizers, after all those are all actual historical connections, no they attack the person who brings the historical connections to the public light.
Recently Spectrum magazine online has posted two articles related to social justice and Glenn Beck. Two interesting things about those articles are that they are both factually wrong about Glenn Beck and neither article defines social justice. The first article Kill the. . .Huh?: Health Care Reform, Jesus, and the Sabbath by Alexander Carpenter where he writes:
This is the point: Jesus, by saying He acted through God's power to heal the man, undermined the power of the religious leaders. It was their domain. Saying who could receive grace and healing was where they got their power (and money) in society. When anyone works for social justice, structural change to our society to make it more egalitarian, they continue to the work of Jesus. And it's dangerous. Note: Glenn Beck's new crusade against Jim Wallis and churches that advocate social justice.
Of course Glenn Beck had no crusade against Jim Wallis, Jim Wallis attacked Glenn Beck. As the New York Times reported:
Last week, the conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck called on Christians to leave their churches if they hear preaching about social or economic justice, saying they were code words for Communism and Nazism.
This week the remarks prompted outrage from several Christian bloggers. The Rev. Jim Wallis, who leads the liberal Christian antipoverty group Sojourners, in
, called on Christians to leave Glenn Beck. Washington
“What he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show,” Mr. Wallis wrote on his blog, God’s Politics. “His show should now be in the same category as Howard Stern.”
Interestingly Jim Wallis is a Marxist by his own admission. He is as DiscovertheNetworks.org summarizes:
- Activist preacher and editor of the leftwing Christian magazine Sojourners
- Democratic Party operative
- Apologist for communist atrocities in
and Cambodia Vietnam
- Dedicated foe of capitalism
- Contends that Biblical scripture calls for large central government to aid the poor
He is also an advisor to President Obama and advisor to the Democratic National Committee. One thing for certain is once he attacked Glenn Beck he and his blog got a lot more publicity. As Jim Wallis said in his open letter to Glenn Beck, Wallis believes the heart of the gospel is social justice:
“Instead, let's have a conversation about whether social justice "is a perversion of the Gospel," as you say, or at the heart of the Gospel, as I say.”
Most of the readers of this blog are Christians yet how many of you would ever define the gospel as social justice. Few if any I would guess, the heart of the gospel is Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God who came into the world to reconcile the world to God. The gospel is not the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do to you”, because there is no salvation there, no reconciliation to God there. The heart of the gospel is the love, forgiveness and acceptance of God that is seen through the life of Jesus Christ and the assurance through His resurrection that God has the power to give us eternal life. Social justice no matter how it is defined is not the gospel. And when social justice is defined by communists it is far a field from anything the Bible encourages.
Remember social justice was the slogan of the Jew hating pro Nazi Reverend Charles E. Coughlin (1891-1979), here is a portion of his biography from the Social Security website:
Father Coughlin first took to the airwaves in 1926, broadcasting weekly sermons over the radio. By the early 1930s the content of his broadcasts had shifted from theology to economics and politics. Just as the rest of the nation was obsessed by matters economic and political in the aftermath of the Depression, so too was Father Coughlin. Coughlin had a well-developed theory of what he termed "social justice," predicated on monetary "reforms." He began as an early
Rooseveltsupporter, coining a famous expression, that the nation's choice was between " Rooseveltor ruin." Later in the 1930s he turned against FDR and became one of the president's harshest critics. His program of "social justice" was a very radical challenge to capitalism and to many of the political institutions of his day…
Father Coughlin's influence on
was enormous. Millions of Americans listened to his weekly radio broadcast. At the height of his popularity, one-third of the nation was tuned into his weekly broadcasts. In the early 1930s, Coughlin was, arguably, one of the most influential men in Depression-era America . Although his core message was one of economic populism, his sermons also included attacks on prominent Jewish figures--attacks that many people considered evidence of anti-Semitism. His broadcasts became increasingly controversial for this reason, and in 1940 his superiors in the Catholic Church forced him to stop his broadcasts and return to his work as a parish priest. America
His published magazine by the name Social Justice. Here are a few excepts from PBS.org
In November of 1934, Coughlin set up his own organization, the National Union for Social Justice. Two years later he began publishing a nationally circulating paper called "Social Justice" and, as his public identification with
Roosevelt's New Deal politics waned, he began to seek closer grounds with some of the most right-wing and reactionary groups in the country.
…By 1938, the pages of "Social Justice" were frequently filled with accusations about Jewish control of
's financial institutions. In the summer of that year, Coughlin published a version of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." A virulently anti-Semitic piece of propaganda that had originated in America at the turn of the century, the "Protocols" accused Jews of planning to seize control of the world. Jewish leaders were shocked by Coughlin's actions. Russia
The owner of WMCA, the
station that carried Coughlin's show, refused to broadcast Coughlin's next radio message. The Nazi press reacted to the news with fury: " New York is Not Allowed to Hear the Truth" declared one headline. "Jewish organizations camouflaged as American...have conducted such a campaign...that the radio station company has proceeded to muzzle the well-loved Father Coughlin." A "New York Times" correspondent in America noted that Coughlin had become for the moment "the hero of Nazi Germany." Germany
Coughlin legacy lives on in the American Nazi Party whose website states:
Although National Socialism encompasses many various issues of concern to Aryan Americans, including a healthy environment, children's welfare, and freedom of belief without fear of System persecution...the two main tenants of National Socialism embodies the Struggle for Aryan Racial survival, and Social Justice for White Working Class people throughout our land.
Granted they modify social justice for white people but then when you don’t have a definition that is easy to do.
The Communist Party USA espouses social justice:
In the new millennium, the CPUSA maintains its commitment to the same political ideas that drove the Russian Revolution, but it embraces a more peaceful approach to creating change and social justice. Among the ideas it actively supports are socialized medicine, improved SOCIAL SECURITY benefits, stronger legislation to protect the environment, and full funding for education. The party also seeks greater cooperation with other political groups, believing that the best way to effect change is through the strength of broad-based coalitions.
Why we see that the Venezuelan Ambassador in his address points to the social justice of Hugo Chavez:
Inspired by the values of social justice, democracy and peace, in the name of the President of the
of Bolivarian Republic , Hugo Chavez Frias, I wish to reaffirm to you our support of the UN, from a position that is critical but unambiguous and totally consistent with its highest goals. Venezuela
I hope you get the idea because I could go on and on with these examples. Do any of the readers of this article really think that all these and other instances by nations and political organizations are referring to Christian beliefs, to the heart of the gospel? Are these racists and dictators really in harmony with the teachings of Christ just because they use the term social justice?
Of course they are not in harmony with Christ in whatever their definition of social justice is and that leads me to the second article where Ryan Bell sets out to make public service video’s with people saying they are social justice Christians. Again, without giving any definition of social justice. Just as with the with Alexander Carpenter article
Glenn Beck, of course, is opposed to any interpretation of Christianity that would imply that people have a responsibility to take care of each other in any corporate sense. Let me be specific.
You might think that when he gets specific he would quote Glenn Beck but he does not, he does go on to say more fictional things however:
Finally, when the church makes acts of charity the only way to be involved in the world, it leaves systemic injustice -- and I would say, evil -- unchallenged. I have come to the conclusion that focusing exclusively on charity actually allows injustice to flourish. Providers of charity become those who service the wreckage of an economic system that leaves millions of people destitute. By holding to this theology of charity alone, Christians actually facilitate injustice rather than challenging it.
First he assumes that Beck has said that churches are only to be involved in charity as if the members of the churches would do nothing else, they won’t vote they won’t pursue any changes etc. Then
Here are a couple of important links for further reading:
The second link I was going to use seems to be having trouble so I will just post the article here for now, from First Things Magazine December 2000 by Michael Novak
Last year marked the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Friedrich Hayek, among whose many contributions to the twentieth century was a sustained and animated put–down of most of the usages of the term “social justice.” I have never encountered a writer, religious or philosophical, who directly answers Hayek’s criticisms. In trying to understand social justice in our own time, there is no better place to start than with the man who, in his own intellectual life, exemplified the virtue whose common misuse he so deplored.
The trouble with “social justice” begins with the very meaning of the term. Hayek points out that whole books and treatises have been written about social justice without ever offering a definition of it. It is allowed to float in the air as if everyone will recognize an instance of it when it appears. This vagueness seems indispensable. The minute one begins to define social justice, one runs into embarrassing intellectual difficulties. It becomes, most often, a term of art whose operational meaning is, “We need a law against that.” In other words, it becomes an instrument of ideological intimidation, for the purpose of gaining the power of legal coercion.
Hayek points out another defect of twentieth–century theories of social justice. Most authors assert that they use it to designate a virtue (a moral virtue, by their account). But most of the descriptions they attach to it appertain to impersonal states of affairs—“high unemployment” or “inequality of incomes” or “lack of a living wage” are cited as instances of “social injustice.” Hayek goes to the heart of the matter: social justice is either a virtue or it is not. If it is, it can properly be ascribed only to the reflective and deliberate acts of individual persons. Most who use the term, however, ascribe it not to individuals but to social systems. They use “social justice” to denote a regulative principle of order; again, their focus is not virtue but power.
The term “social justice” was first used in 1840 by a Sicilian priest, Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio, and given prominence by Antonio Rosmini–Serbati in La Costitutione Civile Secondo la Giustizia Sociale in 1848. John Stuart Mill gave this anthropomorphic approach to social questions almost canonical status for modern thinkers thirteen years later in Utilitarianism:
Society should treat all equally well who have deserved equally well of it, that is, who have deserved equally well absolutely. This is the highest abstract standard of social and distributive justice; towards which all institutions, and the efforts of all virtuous citizens, should be made in the utmost degree to converge. [Emphasis added.]
Mill imagines that societies can be virtuous in the same way that individuals can be. Perhaps in highly personalized societies of the ancient type, such a usage might make sense—under kings, tyrants, or tribal chiefs, for example, where one person made all the crucial social decisions. Curiously, however, the demand for the term “social justice” did not arise until modern times, in which more complex societies operate by impersonal rules applied with equal force to all under “the rule of law.”
The birth of the concept of social justice coincided with two other shifts in human consciousness: the “death of God” and the rise of the ideal of the command economy. When God “died,” people began to trust a conceit of reason and its inflated ambition to do what even God had not deigned to do: construct a just social order. The divinization of reason found its extension in the command economy; reason (that is, science) would command and humankind would collectively follow. The death of God, the rise of science, and the command economy yielded “scientific socialism.” Where reason would rule, the intellectuals would rule. (Or so some thought. Actually, the lovers of power would rule.)
From this line of reasoning it follows that “social justice” would have its natural end in a command economy in which individuals are told what to do, so that it would always be possible to identify those in charge and to hold them responsible. This notion presupposes that people are guided by specific external directions rather than internalized, personal rules of just conduct. It further implies that no individual should be held responsible for his relative position. To assert that he is responsible would be “blaming the victim.” It is the function of “social justice” to blame somebody else, to blame the system, to blame those who (mythically) “control” it. As Leszek Kolakowski wrote in his magisterial history of communism, the fundamental paradigm of Communist ideology is guaranteed to have wide appeal: you suffer; your suffering is caused by powerful others; these oppressors must be destroyed. We need to hold someone accountable, Hayek notes, even when we recognize that such a protest is absurd.
We are not wrong, Hayek concedes, in perceiving that the effects of the individual choices and open processes of a free society are not distributed according to a recognizable principle of justice. The meritorious are sometimes tragically unlucky; the evil prosper; good ideas don’t pan out, and sometimes those who backed them, however noble their vision, lose their shirts. But a system that values both trial–and–error and free choice is in no position to guarantee outcomes in advance. Furthermore, no one individual (and certainly no politburo or congressional committee or political party) can design rules that would treat each person according to his merit or even his need. No one has sufficient knowledge of all relevant personal details, and as Kant writes, no general rule has a grip fine enough to grasp them.
Hayek made a sharp distinction, however, between those failures of justice that involve breaking agreed–upon rules of fairness and those that consist in results that no one designed, foresaw, or commanded. The first sort of failure earned his severe moral condemnation. No one should break the rules; freedom imposes high moral responsibilities. The second, insofar as it springs from no willful or deliberate act, seemed to him not a moral matter but an inescapable feature of all societies and of nature itself. When labeling unfortunate results as “social injustices” leads to an attack upon the free society, with the aim of moving it toward a command society, Hayek strenuously opposes the term. The historical records of the command economies of Nazism and communism justify his revulsion at that way of thinking.
Hayek recognized that at the end of the nineteenth century, when the term “social justice” came to prominence, it was first used as an appeal to the ruling classes to attend to the needs of the new masses of uprooted peasants who had become urban workers. To this he had no objection. What he did object to was careless thinking. Careless thinkers forget that justice is by definition social. Such carelessness becomes positively destructive when the term “social” no longer describes the product of the virtuous actions of many individuals, but rather the utopian goal toward which all institutions and all individuals are “made in the utmost degree to converge” by coercion. In that case, the “social” in “social justice” refers to something that emerges not organically and spontaneously from the rule–abiding behavior of free individuals, but rather from an abstract ideal imposed from above.
Given the strength of Hayek’s argument against the term, it may seem odd to assert that he himself was a practitioner of social justice—even if one adds, as one must, “social justice rightly understood.” Still, Hayek plainly saw in his vocation as a thinker a life of service to his fellow men. Helping others to understand the intellectual keys to a free and creative society is to render them a great benefit. Hayek’s intellectual work was not merely a matter of his own self–interest, narrowly understood, but was aimed at the good of the human city as a whole. It was a work of justice in a social dimension—in other words, a work of virtue. To explain what Hayek did, then, we need a conception of social justice that Hayek never considered.
Social justice rightly understood is a specific habit of justice that is “social” in two senses. First, the skills it requires are those of inspiring, working with, and organizing others to accomplish together a work of justice. These are the elementary skills of civil society, through which free citizens exercise self–government by doing for themselves (that is, without turning to government) what needs to be done. Citizens who take part commonly explain their efforts as attempts to “give back” for all that they have received from the free society, or to meet the obligations of free citizens to think and act for themselves. The fact that this activity is carried out with others is one reason for designating it as a specific type of justice; it requires a broader range of social skills than do acts of individual justice.
The second characteristic of “social justice rightly understood” is that it aims at the good of the city, not at the good of one agent only. Citizens may band together, as in pioneer days, to put up a school or build a bridge. They may get together in the modern city to hold a bake sale for some charitable cause, to repair a playground, to clean up the environment, or for a million other purposes that their social imaginations might lead them to. Hence the second sense in which this habit of justice is “social”: its object, as well as its form, primarily involves the good of others.
One happy characteristic of this definition of the virtue of social justice is that it is ideologically neutral. It is as open to people on the left as on the right or in the center. Its field of activity may be literary, scientific, religious, political, economic, cultural, athletic, and so on, across the whole spectrum of human social activities. The virtue of social justice allows for people of good will to reach different—even opposing—practical judgments about the material content of the common good (ends) and how to get there (means). Such differences are the stuff of politics.
We must rule out any use of “social justice” that does not attach to the habits (that is, virtues) of individuals. Social justice is a virtue, an attribute of individuals, or it is a fraud. And if Tocqueville is right that “the principle of association is the first law of democracy,” then social justice is the first virtue of democracy, for it is the habit of putting the principle of association into daily practice. Neglect of it, Hayek wrote, has moral consequences:
It is one of the greatest weaknesses of our time that we lack the patience and faith to build up voluntary organizations for purposes which we value highly, and immediately ask the government to bring about by coercion (or with means raised by coercion) anything that appears as desirable to large numbers. Yet nothing can have a more deadening effect on real participation by the citizens than if government, instead of merely providing the essential framework of spontaneous growth, becomes monolithic and takes charge of the provision for all needs, which can be provided for only by the common effort of many.
Michael Novak holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. This essay is adapted from a lecture delivered at the
’s Committee on Social Thought. Universityof Chicago