Posted by: Beverly Dale | January 10, 2010

Justice: It’s Good for What Ails Us

I knew it would happen one day. It was just a matter of time before science discovered that living a righteous life makes good economic, social, and political sense! But first, some background.

The focus and purpose of Christianity is and has been under dispute ever since the 2nd generation following Jesus, if not before! There have always been various dividing lines between those who have focused on the transcendent divine side of the “Son of God” and those who have focused as well, or instead of, on the authentic human “Son of Man” side.  While the former have struggled with “How do we get to heaven?” the latter have consistently asked “How do we live here on this earth? This, to some, may seem incredibly simplistic, but bear with me.

Liberation theologians –including feminists and womanists– have asked how to apply and live out gospel principles in political and social arenas (to the great dismay of the Vatican, which implemented negative sanctions on such applications). In an effort to link these principles to daily life, theologian and scholar John Dominic Crossan teaches that what made Jesus so unique and a “savior” was his “radical egalitarianism” that severed all humanly constructed barriers between pure and impure, greater and lesser. (1) Jesus did this by violating the “holiness codes” and by fraternizing with women, all of whom were considered impure at some time and some of whom were of ill-repute all the time.

This egalitarian sentiment is explicitly expressed in one of the earliest books written in the New Testament. (Galatians 3:28) Further, the early followers appeared to have attempted to live this out by giving positions of leadership to women (Acts 18, Romans 16:1, 7); by branching out to include the Gentiles who had previously been considered heathen (Acts 10); and by sharing things in common without regard to a person’s status. (Acts 2:44) We can assume then that, at least initially, egalitarianism was a significant characteristic of the early Christian movement.  (James 2:1-4)  But to stay alive and not get burned at the stake and to get some modicum of respect from the power brokers, this radical aspect of the church was gradually phased out so that the church leadership hierarchy and teachings began to reflect that of the Empire.

But for many Christians who believe Jesus’ command to love ourselves and our God, our neighbors and our enemies, egalitarianism is a logical manifestation of our faith. Caring for the poor is not just to provide daily sustenance and thus perhaps maintain the status with a differential between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.  Rather it is a call to treat all as brothers and sisters. This means we must work to transform unjust social systems to make them fairer and more just for all. To love our neighbor is to refuse to participate in racial and religious bigotry that says one person is inferior or more sinful than another, and instead to attempt to dismantle those laws and challenge those cultures that support it. The message of Jesus is that God loves all of us without favoritism or exception and so must we.

Richard Wilkinson has written a book — The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better— that documents that with regard to a wide range of health and social issues “from heart disease to violence, to teenage births, …countries with bigger income gaps between rich and poor, like the US, Portugal, and the U.K, are plagued by two to six times as many of each of these problems as more economically equal countries like Japan, Norway, Sweden and Finland.”  (2) He concludes:  “across the board, inequality seems to make societies dysfunctional. Citizens of more unequal societies have inferior physical and mental health; experience more violence, obesity, drugs and teen birth; don’t do as well in school; are more likely to be incarcerated; and show less trust and social cohesion.” And this includes those in middle classes who have more income. They tend to “live longer, be less troubled by violence and become more involved in the life of the community. Similarly their children are less likely to fail at school, be bullied, succumb to drugs and alcohol or become teenage parents.”

The science is in. Justice is good for us in very tangible ways, for all of us. It is injustice and inequality that makes us sick. Now I think Jesus, the Great Physician, taught us that a long time ago!

Copyright (c)2010 Beverly Dale

(1) See Jesus, a Revolutionary Biography

(2) “Equal is Better, Why Everyone Benefits from Greater Social Equality” in Ode Magazine, Jan/Feb 2010)

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Responses

  1. Hello

    I’ve just uploaded two rare interviews with the Catholic activist Dorothy Day. One was made for the Christophers [1971]–i.e., Christopher Closeup– and the other for WCVB-TV Boston [1974].

    Day had begun her service to the poor in New York City during the Depression with Peter Maurin, and it continued until her death in 1980. Their dedication to administering to the homeless, elderly, and disenfranchised continues with Catholic Worker homes in many parts of the world.

    Please post or announce the availability of these videos for those who may be interested in hearing this remarkable lay minister.

    They may be located here:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/4854derrida

    Thank you

    Dean Taylor


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