Evil & Suffering

Cruciform Justice 4: Business As Usual in the ‘Fight’ for Peace


cruciformjustice1Before exploring the world-altering event of the cross and a cruciformed concept of justice, we need to spend some time in what will be much more familiar territory for most of us. I speak of the marketplace of ideas where ‘the fight for freedom,’ the struggle for equal rights, the relationship between church and state, and so on, are all sold daily at discount price.

When we survey the wondrous crosscurrents of ‘justice talk’ in the media today, we find ourselves gripped and moved by the emotional pleas to ‘fight for our rights’, remembering that ‘Freedom is Never Free’ and ‘Peace has a Price.’ The focus of all of this bumper-sticker jargon is ultimately a shared longing for a just and peaceful world.

All political parties and religious faiths find common ground in the struggle for justice. Yet paths quickly diverge once considering the deeper questions of ‘Who’s justice?,’ ‘At whose expense?’, and ‘By what means?’ Scott Bader-Saye highlights this deeper complexity:

We suspect that calls for justice are, at least at times, simply arbitrary appeals to the self-interests of some over the self-interests of others…Does justice mean maximizing personal freedom? Or giving each person what they deserve? Or assuring equal distributions? Is it based on rights or results? Does justice require us to support impartial hiring and admissions practices or affirmative action? Is justice “equality of opportunity” or “equality of outcome”?

History has charted a path through these complex questions and has left tread marks deep in the soil of popular opinion. So deep are the tracks that anyone stepping outside of them is thought completely aloof or else just an idealistic dreamer. Let me attempt to trace this path and put into an intelligible framework the common vision for peace and justice.

Our Common Pursuit. First, all social systems are set up on the grounds of seeking certain goods that will secure for us “the good life.” Injustice prevails to the extent that one prevents another from securing the good they seek. LeRon Shults describes how this pursuit leads inevitably to a state of what he calls “ethical anxiety.”  According to Shults, “Ethical anxiety arises as we attempt to determine which objects we should pursue… Persons are formed through their historical, dynamic grasping for goodness, and are miserable because of their separation from it.”  

In American terms, the “good life” that we hold to be self-evident is the pursuit of and ability to secure for oneself life, liberty and happiness. Justice in this type of system is generally defined as “giving to each his due.” The critical idea driving this system is the independent spirit that believes individuals actually possess the capacity on their own to secure the good life for themselves, and once secured, that their perceived good will then bring them ultimate peace and happiness. As I will attempt to show, the streak of humanism and self-interest built into this popular system—which is to a great degree ‘the American way’—sows the seeds of its own destruction — or at least its own limitations and ultimate impotence to secure a just and peaceful future for humankind.

Stay tuned for more…

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