Saturday, November 01, 2008

Social Justice

I made a Red Star over black my IM Avatar a few days ago and one of my buddies asked me "what is with the commie star?" I hadn't thought of it in terms of Communism when I put it up, in fact I looked at it more as a symbol of Social Justice. On top of that I like it graphically. I've wanted a tattoo for quite a few years now and I'm thinking I may get a Greek Cross on one shoulder and a Red Star on the other. We'll see I guess.

The whole thing got me thinking though. With the election coming up and the "financial crisis" our country is experiencing, politics in general have been on my mind quite a bit. I decided to write this post not to try to convince anybody of anything but as a means of sharing what it is I believe politically and why I feel that way.

I came across something that I read online that I shared with Andrea and when I read it to her she instantly said "that's you."

The Christian Left holds that social justice, renunciation of power, humility, forgiveness, and private observation of prayer are mandated by the gospel. The Bible contains accounts of Jesus repeatedly advocating for the poor and outcast over the wealthy, powerful, and religious. The Christian Left maintains that such a stance is relevant and important. Adhering to the standard of "turning the other cheek", which they believe supersedes the Old Testament law of "an eye for an eye", the Christian Left often hearkens towards pacifism in opposition to policies advancing militarism.

While non-religious socialists sometimes find support for socialism in the Gospels (for example Mikhail Gorbachev citing Jesus as "the first socialist"), the Christian Left does not find that socialism alone as an adequate end or means. Christian faith is the core of their belief which in turn demands social justice.
I feel as though I have bared quite a bit with this post. So... yeah... there it is. Take from it what you will.


Jakris said...

Get the greek cross, but not the commy star :) . Just kidding. Both are cool!

Ryan said...

Those are things I've been thinking about quite a bit as well (the political stuff, not the tattoos -- I'd get a giant skull with a snake eating a rat underneath, on my chest, for the record).

I've run into quite a few Obama fans at our church and at Biola where I work. Social justice seems to be a big part of their position. The thing I've wrestled with about this position is discerning the proper role of the government in these issues.

One of the primary responsibilities of our government is to protect its people, and clearly that would extend to such social justice issues as human trafficking. The thing I'm not convinced of, though, is when Christians say that the charge of Jesus to take care of the poor means we should make that a governmental responsibility. He was talking to people, not governments. He didn't charge the Romans with the task, but his followers. (Now, you might argue that the American government is different because it is a democracy, and thus it is "the people." I think the difference between a church-run local program and national government-run program is pretty clear in terms of personal contact and care.) It is a Christian responsibility, absolutely, but I'm very wary of putting the government in charge of things like that. When charity is no longer a personal choice but forced upon the people through taxes going to government programs, isn't the heart of charity removed? Further, the government may hold ideals that are absolutely opposed to Christian beliefs (tax-funded abortions, for example), so again, I'd rather not grant those sorts of responsibilities and decisions to the federal government.

While we do live in a nation that socializes many things (police, fire, education, etc.), I think it is wise to consider carefully any further socialization. The notions of socialism (sharing for the common good, at its most basic) are noble ideals for the individual, not for the governing body. When you force someone to give to the poor, you remove any love from the action, and may even create a resentment. You take charity and make it uncharitable. What's my incentive to give to the poor if my taxes are already going to programs to help them? Where's the personal accountability of someone to rise above if the handouts come from a system rather than a person?

These are all things I'm wrestling with this year. I have good, reasonable, God-fearing friends on both sides, and it's given me a lot to chew on. Thanks for sharing a bit about where you're coming from, Shane.

_Shane said...

Thanks for the thoughtful response Ryan!

I can see where you are coming from on a lot of what you are saying here. And in some ways I agree. This is a common discussion I have had with family members that I don't see eye to eye with on these things.

I understand what you are saying about taking the role of charity and putting it in the hands of the government. In fact I agree with a considerable amount of what you said regarding Jesus' charge for charity. A few areas that I do see as the responsibility of the government to take part in social justice is within the workforce and our economic system. I once thought that the idea of a free market being able to correct itself was an accurate one, but as I have grown as an individual and experienced more from life I keep feeling more and more like this is not the case. The idea that as businesses get wealthy so shall their employees is fatally flawed. The flaw in that idea is that we are inherently sinful and selfish beings. There is the hope that when a company is successful that the wealth would be shared fairly with its constituents. Sadly there is a gulf between what we hope would happen in these situations and what really happens most of the time. For example, the disproportion between the executives and the people within companies making the work happen is disgusting. There is something criminal about the fact that some executives receive bonuses, in the millions sometimes, in a year when the company posts a loss and people are getting laid off. Another area where I do feel strongly that social justice should be fought for is health care. It's pathetic that we are the "wealthiest" nation on earth yet we have such a despicable health care system. I believe decisions regarding peoples health and lives should not be being made by individuals within insurance companies concerned about the companies bottom line. Those decisions should be made by doctors whose interest is the health and well being of patients. I don't care what any insurance company says about caring for those whom they cover... the fact they they are a for profit enterprise is an inherent conflict of interest. These are just a few areas in which I do believe that private enterprises fail us as citizens and the government should fight for social justice on behalf of the people. I don't believe however that the government alone should be the savior in these cases. I am merely stating that I believe social injustice is taking place and I am interested a change that could right some of these wrongs, regardless of the source of the change.

And please don't get me wrong here, I am not one of those people who think the government is infallible and that the true solution lies in having them run our lives. In fact I'm not a big fan of either of our major parties and I think our two party system is deeply flawed. I agree, very much, with your comments about the heart of charity and the Jesus' charge to to care for the poor and oppressed.

It's all very complicated and interrelated and I do not think that any one thing, further socialism or otherwise, is the answer. I'm just trying to to come out and say they not all christians have to be republicans and not all democrats are heathens. I believe there is a middle ground, it's just too bad there is not a major party to represent those of us who don't fall into either.

These are a few things I have been struggling with myself. Thanks again for your thoughtful response. It's good to know I can be myself and respectfully agree or disagree without fear of persecution from friends and family.

Ryan said...

Word, brotha'. Thanks for your response as well.

I'm still learning about capitalism and the supposed "self-correcting" system. In some ways I think it works and is the best system. I've seen numerous examples of companies that mistreat their employees and are then punished. So, it works, right? But then there are other examples we've heard of where they get away with it, or only some of the perpetrators are punished. I'm wary of granting further governmental intervention, but certainly it is important to have laws in place that protect employees (which we have, as I understand it). Tough stuff to mull (especially when I don't know all that much about how things like that actually work).