As a follow-up to last week’s look at social justice, yesterday we looked at social charity, that, just as individual charity is the “soul” of individual justice, is the “soul” of social justice. We discovered that (as Father Ferree put it) in social justice nothing is impossible . . . even if the institution in need of reform is social justice itself!
|Dr. Norman G. Kurland, CESJ President|
Still, the wrong idea of social justice has pervaded discussions of the subject. Demonstrating the grip that the wrong idea of social justice as a form of pseudo individual charity has on those in power in Church, State, and Academia, especially under the labels of socialism, modernism, and the New Age, nearly four decades after explaining Pius XI’s concept of social justice so clearly, Father Ferree joined with Dr. Norman G. Kurland, president of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice (CESJ). Back in 1984 they testified before the Lay Commission on the Economy that tried to address certain concerns about the document that became the 1986 U.S. Bishops’ pastoral on the economy, Economic Justice for All.
Unfortunately, the final document did not integrate any of Father Ferree’s and Dr. Kurland’s testimony. Instead of socially just solutions, the bishops focused on ameliorative measures that could only be justified as temporary expedients.
|E.F. Schumacher, Fabian socialist|
The program was closer to socialism than to social justice. In one case the text cited for support the work of Fabian socialist E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful (1973), originally marketed as “the New Age Guide to Economics.” The pastoral letter may have been what motivated Cardinal Pio Laghi, Apostolic Delegate and Pro Nuncio to the United States, to remark to a friend of CESJ that he sometimes thought some of the U.S. bishops would be happy to paint the Bethlehem Star red in the Christmas Manger.
It becomes clear that, to a significant degree, the idea of social justice — right or wrong — is widely accepted as something “religious.” Strictly speaking, of course, social justice as understood by Pius XI, Father Ferree, and CESJ is based on the Aristotelian-Thomist concept of the natural law, the universal code of human behavior.
Social justice is therefore not “religious” except insofar as any moral code is “religious,” and religions only accept moral codes as true, they do not invent them. The Catholic Church, for example, teaches that social justice is therefore “religious” because it is true, not that it is true because it is “religious.” Social justice — all the virtues, in fact, both individual and social, natural and supernatural — is true because it can be proved by reason applied to empirical evidence: what human beings have accepted as right and wrong in all times and places.
Consequently, neither social justice nor any other virtue is good because a religion says so. Rather, all religions and philosophies say that virtue is good because it is so. People may (and often do) disagree on the definition of particular terms and virtues, and — especially — the particular applications of virtues. No one disagrees, however, that good is good. Even Satanists, who worship what others regard as evil, try to make the case that what others call evil is really good.
|Pope Pius XI|
That being said, it cannot be denied that the modern theory of social justice (i.e., that of Pius XI) evolved within religious society, specifically, that particular religious society known as the Catholic Church. The terminology, development, and analyses of social justice, right or wrong, are saturated, some might say overwhelmed, even drenched, with religious language and concepts.
This religious orientation, even though not absolutely essential to an understanding of social justice, has had at least three extremely negative consequences. All of these have seriously impaired acceptance and implementation of the restructuring of the social order that becomes increasingly critical as time goes by.
One, when social justice has been interpreted as directed to individual good instead of the common good, i.e., ensuring that adequate provision is made for people’s material wants and needs, organized religion has been “demoted” to a less efficient and redundant social service organization. Losing its special character and role as a moral teacher and guide for society, people come to view organized religion as an outdated and unnecessary burden on people, wasting scarce resources in a futile effort to remain relevant in a world that left myth and superstition behind centuries ago.
Two, when social justice is seen as a “religious thing,” it becomes voluntary rather than a personal responsibility of every individual. Religious beliefs and practices must never be imposed by force, only by persuasion, and there are rules about that, as well. Construed as religious instead of truly social, social justice thereby becomes something anyone can take or leave, as he or she feels inclined.
|Archbishop John Ireland|
This confusion between morality and faith gives immense leverage to both capitalists and socialists, especially ethical capitalists, and religious or democratic socialists. The capitalist argues correctly that anything pertaining directly to religious faith must never be coerced. He or she then wrongly concludes that social justice, because it is moral, pertains directly to religious faith and is purely voluntary.
The socialist rightly claims that social justice is a moral obligation. He or she then erroneously concludes that religious faith can be imposed by force because it is moral. Moral? Yes. As Archbishop John Ireland noted, secularism is a de facto religious faith:
Secularists and unbelievers will demand their rights. I concede their rights. I will not impose upon them my religion, which is Christianity. But let them not impose upon me and my fellow-Christians their religion, which is secularism. Secularism is a religion of its kind, and usually a very loud-spoken and intolerant religion. Non-sectarianism is not secularism, and, when non-sectarianism is intended, the secularist sect must not claim for itself the field which it refuses to others. I am taking my stand upon our common American citizenship. The liberty that I claim, I grant. (Archbishop John Ireland, “State Schools and Parish Schools,” Address before the National Education Association of the United States, 1890.)
And the correct view of the obligation to engage in acts of social justice? Is it religious or civil . . . or a bit of both?
That is what we’ll look at tomorrow, right after we look at the third negative consequence.#30#