Far from being a “religious” problem, what has been happening with respect to social justice affects the whole of society. The fact remains, however, that — at the same time — the issue is “religious” in that what eventually became known as socialism first arose within Christianity as an alternative to the existing economic, political, and religious order, and based on a different idea of the dignity of the human person.
|Saint-Simon: invented a new, socialist religion.|
This complicates discussions of the issue, for many people quite properly believe that (at least as the socialists have been doing it), politics, economics, and religion cannot be mixed legitimately, especially when the result is an amalgam of all three. Thus, mixing politics and economics — manipulating economic theory, especially monetary and fiscal policy — to attain political ends is bad enough, even disastrous on occasion. Throw religion into either politics or economics or vice versa, however, and the result is fatal.
That does not mean, of course, that politics, economics, and religion do not share a common set of moral values. That would be ludicrous. Truth is true, and the precepts of the natural law apply across the board to all human activity.
Attempt, however, to apply political principles to economics or religion, purely religious doctrines to politics or economics, or any other combination, and confusion and injustice become the norm. Fundamental principles remain the same in all cases, but the applications of those same principles can and often must vary widely depending on surrounding circumstances.
|Marx: threw the baby out with the bath|
Misunderstanding that was one of Karl Marx’s most significant errors. Realizing that the early socialists were making a serious mistake mixing the precepts of their new religion — socialism was often referred to as “the democratic religion” prior to 1848 — in to politics and economics, Marx quite properly rejected any role for purely religious doctrine in either.
Marx, however, then made a mistake similar to that which he made with respect to private property. He had realized that concentrated ownership of capital is an evil, but instead of advocating widespread capital ownership as the obvious antidote to concentrated ownership, decided that private property should be abolished.
Similarly, seeing the problems associated with mixing religion into politics and economics, Marx decided that religion had no place at all in human society. Making the same mistake as the socialists, Marx replaced the absolute principles of the natural law (objective knowledge) with the dictatorship of the proletariat (subjective opinion). This did not, however, abolish religion. It only shifted its object from an immortal God in Heaven, to the collective as a god on Earth — the totalitarian State as Hobbes’s “Mortall God.”
|Éliphas Lévi: socialist New Age guru.|
Collective Man replaced God, and might made right, regardless of any individual’s natural rights to life, liberty, or private property. In the name of human dignity, Marx abolished — or continued the less effective, or more subtle, program of the socialists to abolish — the dignity of the human person, and replaced it with the collectivist dignity of humanity. Socialism and its offshoots, such as modernism and what became known loosely as “New Age” thought, thereby assumed that dignity and sovereignty are inherent in the abstraction of the collective, in humanity rather than human beings.
In this framework, individuals only have such rights as those in power believe essential or expedient to gain or promote the goals of the collective. Life, liberty, and — especially — private property change from inalienable rights, to bargaining chips in an endless power play between competing interest groups and individuals.
“Might makes right” becomes the guiding principle. The ungodly — meaning anyone who disagrees with or dissents from the opinion or will of those in power — have no legal rights. Moral relativism reigns supreme.
This was not merely a new religion and a new state, but a new concept of religion and the State. Instead of worshiping a God of absolute reality (however dimly perceived), people worship an abstract conception of themselves, an “inner light” that guides them not in becoming more virtuous and conforming to their true nature, but in becoming enlightened and better — and knowing they are better — than anyone else.
|Chesterton: the "Inner Light" the worst religion.|
With people transformed into ultimate egotists, the depersonalized self becomes the be-all and end-all of everything. As Chesterton described the adherents of this “Religion of Humanity” that he called “unselfish egotists” who think only of abstract humanity and not of actual human beings,
Of all conceivable forms of enlightenment the worst is what these people call the Inner Light. Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Any one who knows any body knows how it would work; any one who knows any one from the Higher Thought Centre knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. (G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, 1908.)
The problem is that, forgetting actual people means that everything has been forgotten; making the abstraction of the collective, “the People,” the end of everything means that nothing has been accomplished, or (at least) nothing positive. If respect for the dignity of each and every human being, every child, woman, and man — no exceptions — is not the whole point of a philosophy or program, individual or social, civil, religious, or domestic, then the essence of what it means to be human has been neglected or even completely lost.
The main point of all this? Whatever best supports and maintains essential human dignity and the sovereignty of the human person under God.
And that can only be within a society that is both individually and socially (institutionally) just — which means, in turn, that there must be an adequate understanding of social justice, where it came from, and why, and what, happened to it.