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J O U R N E Y T O T H E C O M M O N G O O D

! ! BOOK DISCUSSION & REFLECTION

Michael. J. Sandel, Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do? New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, 2009. 308-pp. ISBN-10: 0374532508; ISBN-13: 978-
0374532505 (pbk), $15.00 (U.S.)

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isa 55.2)1

HO W WE DECI DE ON W HAT I S THE RI G HT THI NG


In the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures the answer to this question: “What
is the right thing?” is modeled by the example of YHWH. Solomon, exempli-
fying the highest aspects of secular humankind exhibits values of wealth,
might, and wisdom. God, on the other hand, exhibits values of hesed (stead-
fast love), mispat (justice), and sedaqah (righteousness).2 The New Testa-
ment message of Jesus reiterates God’s values through parables and exam-
ple that “the ideology of scarcity has been broken, overwhelmed by the di-
vine gift of abundance.” 3

Thus, the means for how we decide on what is the right thing is provided by
God, and for Christians by Jesus as we ask: “What would God or Jesus do
in this circumstance?” As Walter Brueggemann frames the Scriptural re-
sponse:

Those who sign on and depart the system of of anxious scarcity become
historymakers in the neighborhood. These are the ones not exhausted by
Sabbath-less production who have enough energy to dream and hope.
From dreams and hopes come such neighborly miracles as good health

1 The question that Isaiah is asking of the Israelites, the people of faith who so re-
cently luxuriated in the free gift of abundance in the wilderness of the Exile, but who
have now “succumbed to the scarcity system of Babylon, who have joined the rat
race, and who have imagined they could get ahead if they hustled more” - have you
forgotten what is important? See Walter Brueggemann, Journey to the Common
Good (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010), 29.
2 Brueggemann 2010, 60, 62.
3 Brueggemann 2010, 34.

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care, good schools, good housing, good care for the hearth, and disar-
mament. The dream subverts Pharaoh’s nightmare. Jesus laid it out, hav-
ing read the exodus narrative:

Do not be anxious - do not trust Pharaoh


Your heavenly father knows what you need -
then provides abundantly;
Seek the kingdom - care for the neighborhood,
and all will be well. (Matt 6:25-33) 4

M O RA L PHI L OS OP HY I S I MP ORTA NT I N TOD AY ’ S W ORL D


Michael J. Sandel, a professor of moral philosophy at Harvard University
would argue that questions of moral philosophy are important in today’s
world. More important than ever. This is primarily because ethics, whether
they be of Christian, Islamic or Jewish origin, are not working so well to in-
form moral decision-making today. Despite mainline Churches decrying ab-
solutism, relativism, and Biblical inerrancy, all are alive and flourishing today
not only in some non-denominational churches, but in some individuals who
claim to be good Christians (or good Muslims or good Jews).5 Further worry-
ing those who are concerned about civil order are resurgences of Dominion-
ism, dispensationalism, and adiphorization,6 all forms of religiosity that either
prevent or pervert moral discourse in community.

Potentially the nail in the coffin for religiosity in some minds today is the
rampant resurgence of denialism on the part of some religious; a denialism
that takes the form of anti-scientism. Evolution is a myth; creationism tri-
umphs. The Bible tells us the Earth is only 4000 years old. God planted fos-
sils to make things only appear older. The scientific theory of global warming
is a conspiracy on the part of scientists. In response to these denials of solid
rational, scientifically-determined, proven and accepted theories for how the
earth was formed, how living things evolved from simpler forms, and how
man’s activities have resulted in the abrupt change of climate the earth is
presently experiencing, etc., scientists counter that atheism is the only ra-

4 Brueggemann 2010, 34-5.


5See Slavoj Zizek and John Milbank, edited by Creston Davis, The Monstrosity of
Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? by (Cambridge, MA. & London: The MIT Press, 2009).
For a fanciful review of this book see http://www.scribd.com/doc/15242017/.
6 See Endnote for a brief explanation of each of these religious heresies.

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tional course. “Philosophy [and theology] is dead" 7 All of reality can be re-
duced to physics. The answer to why there is something in the universe,
rather than nothing, is explained by a quantum fluctuation.8 Questions of
God, much less value and justice, are beside the point.

What is the path out of this miasma? A growing number of scientists offer a
path forward though complexity theory. All complex systems exhibit emer-
gence. The whole cannot be satisfactorily explained by an understanding of
its parts. Reductionism is a dead end. In this worldview both God and phi-
losophy are fully restored.9 Theology is not something fixed for all time.10
Questions of moral philosophy not only have meaning, but are of utmost im-
portance.

7 See Stephen Hawking, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam Books, 2010), 5.
Hawking claims that fundamental questions such as “Why is there something rather
than nothing?” Why do we exist?” Why this particular set of laws and not some
other? are all answerable within the realm of physics without recourse to any other
understanding (171-2).
8 See Sean Carroll, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time
(New York: Dutton, 2010). The claim is that the problem of the arrow of time requir-
ing a low entropy beginning to the universe can be solved by imagining our universe
as a ‘pocket universe’ in a bubbling sea of quantum fluctuations in the multiverse.
The universe is not only eternal, the Big Bang is not the beginning of anything other
than “regions of true vacuum, expanding and cooling after a dramatic [quantum fluc-
tuation] and the background inflating spacetime in which [these pocket universes]
are embedded” (331).
9 See Stuart A. Kauffman, Reinventing the Sacred: A New Vision of Science, Reason
and Religion (New York: Basic Books, 2008). Kauffman claims that a central implica-
tion of emergence in complex systems “is that [humans] are co-creators of a uni-
verse, biosphere, and culture of endlessly novel creativity” (3) that “cannot be de-
duced by physics” (4). The universe actually exhibits “ontological emergence, the
emergence of of new phenomena in the universe” (24) that produces the fine tuning
(23 cosmological constants added by hand) that physicists attempt to explain by the
weak anthropic principle of our universe representing just a ‘pocket universe’ in a
bubbling sea of quantum fluctuations in the multiverse (28-9).
10 See Catherine Keller, On the Mystery: Discerning Divinity in Process (Minneapolis:
Fortress Press, 2008) “the future is open, alarmingly or promisingly. The way is not
laid out in advance. Creation itself is process” (9); and John Polkinghorne, Theology
in the Context of Science (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2009) who
claims that “all theology is done in context (1), in this case in the context of general
relativity and quantum physics.

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THE Q UES TI ON FOR MORA L P HI L OS OP HY TO A NS W E R


The question that Michael Sandel,in his seminal Justice: What is the Right
Thing To Do?, asks is if we can arrive at a set of values for deciding what is
right without recourse to religiosity? From the perspective of moral philoso-
phy: “Does a just society seek to promote the virtue of its citizens? Or
should law be neutral toward competing conceptions of virtue, so that citi-
zens can be free to choose for themselves the best way to live?” (9).11 San-
del explicates various modern moral philosophies that are founded on theo-
ries of welfare and freedom and contrasts these with ancient notions of
“civic virtue of shared sacrifice for the commons good” (8) that rely on “atti-
tudes and dispositions, the qualities of character, on which a good society
depends” (8).

THREE M O RA L P HI L OS OP HI CA L A P P ROA CHE S TO J UST IC E


“To ask whether a society is just is to ask how it distributes the things we
prize - income and wealth, duties and rights, powers and opportunities, of-
fices and honors. A just society distributes these good in the right way; it
gives each person his or her due. The hard questions begin when we ask
what people are due, and why” (19). Sandel claims there are presently three
commonly accepted ways of answering these questions for how to distribute
what people are due and why: “welfare, freedom, and virtue” (19) where
“each of these ideals suggests a different way of thinking about justice” (19).

WELFA RE FOR THE G RE ATE S T NUMBE R - UTI L I TA RI A NISM


“Utilitarianism claims to offer a science of morality, based on measuring, ag-
gregating, and calculating happiness” (41). The working assumption of utili-
tarianism is that the decision that produces the greatest good, measured by
happiness, is the most moral. “It weighs preferences without judging them.
Everyone’s preferences count equally” (41). Economics assumes that utility,
often reduced to monetary value, offers a common currency for measuring
this greatest good. But, can all important values be captured by the notion of
utility?

For example, can a cost-benefit analysis that attempts to translate all costs
and benefits of complex business or social choices into monetary terms -
and then compare them even be useful if it is value-free? (41). The simple

Page numbers in parentheses in the main text refer to Michael J. Sandel: Justice:
11

What is the Right Thing To Do? (New York: Farr, Straus, and Giroux, 2009).

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and over whelming evidence is: No! There are so many examples, from the
design of the Ford Pinto car, to the 2008-2010 Wall Street financial collapse,
to the Gulf BP oil spill, to the devastation of New Orleans by Katrina where
cost benefit analyses that relied wholly on economic measures of utility
failed to produce moral decision-making. Something more than mere utility is
required to produce moral decisions that lead to a just result.

FREEDOM FO R I NDI V I D UA L S - L I BE RTA RI A NI S M


The most cogent argument for libertarianism is “the claim that individuals
have rights ‘so strong and far reaching’ that ‘they raise the question of what,
if anything, the state may do’” (62).12 Not only is there nothing wrong with
economic inequality as such (62), but remedies such as taxes, public health
care and social services are immoral and unconstitutional. Grist for tea par-
ties. Since “laws that interfere with the free market violate individual liberty”
(75) all regulations must be abolished. It is self-evident that free markets
themselves are to be promoted for their utility at providing the greatest good
for the greatest number (75).

True libertarians reject utilitarianism. “Persons should not be used merely as


means to the welfare of others, because doing so violates the fundamental
right of self-ownership. My life, labor and person belong to me and me
alone. They are not at the disposal of the society as a whole.” (103). “To be
free is to be subject only to obligations I voluntarily incur; whatever I owe
others, I owe by virtue of some act of consent - a choice or a promise or an
agreement I have made, be it tacit or explicit” (213). “An early version of the
choosing self comes to us from John Locke. He argued that legitimate gov-
ernment must be based on consent” (214). However, this libertarian notion of
‘self-ownership’ “rules out most measures to ease inequality and promote
the common good; and [celebrates a] consent so complete that it permits
self-inflicted affronts to human dignity such as consensual cannibalism or
selling oneself into slavery” (104). Below, we shall see that both Kant’s idea
of autonomous will and Rawl’s idea of a hypothetical agreement behind a
veil of ignorance “conceive the moral agent as independent of his or her par-
ticular aims and attachments” (214).

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) offers a way around this self defeating libertarian
notion of self-ownership or on a “claim that our lives and liberties are a gift

12 Quoting Robert Nozick in Anarchy, State and Utopia (1974).

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from God. Instead, it depends on the idea that we are rational beings, worthy
of dignity and respect” (104). Kant redefinition of individual freedom has be-
come the cornerstone of the modern notion of universal human rights. Kant
rejects the premise that free markets or consumer choice as true freedom
“because it simply involves satisfying desires we haven’t chosen in the first
place” (106).

Kant believes that utilitarianism is also a defunct concept for making moral
decisions because it “leaves rights vulnerable” (106). The majority can al-
ways trample on the freedoms of the minority. “The mere fact that the major-
ity, however big, favors a certain law, however intensely, does not make the
law just” (106). “Kant argues that morality can’t be based on merely empiri-
cal considerations, such as the interests, wants, desires, and preferences
people have at any given time. These factors are variable and contingent...
so they could hardly serve as the basis for universal moral principles - such
as universal human rights.... basing moral principles on preferences and de-
sires - even the desire for happiness - misunderstands what morality is
about” (106-7).

Kant argues that “we can arrive at the supreme principle of morality through
the exercise of what he calls ‘pure practical reason’.... every person is wor-
thy of respect, not because we own ourselves but because we are rational
beings, capable of reason; we are also autonomous beings, capable to act-
ing and choosing freely” (107). “To act freely is not to choose the best means
to a given end; it is to choose the end itself the end itself, for its own sake - a
choice that human beings can make and billiard balls (and most animals)
cannot” (109).

“According to Kant, the moral worth of an action consists not in the conse-
quences that flow from it, but the intention from which the act is done, What
matters is the motive.... What matters is doing the right thing because it’s
right, not for some ulterior motive.... the motive that confers moral worth on
an action is the motive of duty, by which Kant means doing the right thing for
the right reason” (111). “If we act out of some motive other than duty, such
as self-interest, for example, our action lacks moral worth.... not only for self-
interest but for any and all attempts to satisfy our wants, desires, prefer-
ences, and appetites.... only actions done out of the motive of duty have
moral worth” (112). To be free requires that humans “act not out of a hypo-
thetical imperative but out of a categorical imperative” (118). Such a cate-

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gorical imperative assumes that: (a) “we should act only on principles that
we could universalize without contradiction” (120; (b) we have a duty to re-
spect all humans not as a means to satisfy our particular wants, but as wor-
thy ends in themselves (122-4).

JUS TI CE & T HE COMMON G OOD - A CA S E FOR V I RTUE


John Rawls (1921-2002) provides a mechanism for arriving at first principles
for moral action, what Kant was referring to in his ‘categorical imperatives.’
He proposes that we choose such first principles behind a ‘veil of ignorance’
where we are prevented from knowing where in society we will end up as the
result of the principles we choose (141). “This is Rawl’s idea of a social con-
tract - a hypothetical agreement in an original position of equality. Rawls in-
vites us to ask what principles we - as rational, self-interested persons -
would choose if we found ourselves in that position” (141). He believes we
would not choose utilitarianism (we might be a member of an oppressed mi-
nority), nor would we choose “a purely laissez-faire, libertarian” world (what if
I am a homeless person!) [141-2]. Instead we would choose to construct a
world where justice: (a) provides for “equal basic liberties for all citizens,
such as freedom of speech and religion” (141); (b) permits only those social
and economic inequalities that work to the advantage of the least well off
members of society” (142).

“To appreciate the moral force of Rawls’s hypothetical contract, it helps to


notice the moral limits of actual contracts. We sometimes assume that, when
two people make a deal, the terms of their agreement must be fair. We as-
sume, in other words, that contracts justify the terms that they produce. But
they don’t - at least not on their own. Actual contracts are not self-sufficient
moral instruments. The mere fact that you and I make a deal is not enough
to make it fair” (142). Rawls rejects self-interested contracts as a basis for
distributive justice on two grounds: (a) relative advantage in negotiating an
agreement is entirely contingent; and (b) “the qualities that a society hap-
pens to value at any given time [are] also morally arbitrary” (162). Milton
Friedman in his Free to Choose (1980) “insisted that we should not try to
remedy this unfairness. Instead, we should learn to live with it, and enjoy the
benefits it brings” (164-5). Rawls counters that the “way things are does not
determine the way they ought to be” (165), especially if they are unjust!

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For Aristotle, the only means for determining the way things ought to be is
through political discourse. But, the “purpose of politics is not is not to set
up a framework of rights that is neutral among ends. It is to form good citi-
zens and to cultivate good character.... He rejects the notion that the pur-
pose of politics is to satisfy the preferences of the majority.... For Aristotle,
politics is about something higher. It’s about learning how to live a good life.
The purpose of politics is nothing less than to enable people to develop their
distinctive human capacities and virtues - to deliberate about the common
good, to acquire practical judgment, to share in self-government, to care for
the fate of the community as a whole” (193-4).

Politics for Aristotle is not a necessary evil but an essential feature for the
good life; “only by living in a polis and participating in politics do we fully re-
alize our nature as human beings” (195). While the goal of political discourse
is happiness, this is not the happiness of utilitarianism or the freedom of lib-
ertarianism as it is “not a state of mind but a way of being, ‘an activity of the
soul in accordance with virtue’” 13 (197). For Aristotle, this is the primary pur-
pose of law - to cultivate the habits that lead to good character” (197-8) and
“moral education is less about promulgating rules than forming habits and
shaping character” (198). We become good at deliberating only by entering
the arena, weighing the alternatives, arguing our case, ruling and being ruled
- in short, by being citizens” (199).

Alasdair MacIntyre in his After Virtue (1981) provides a refinement of Aris-


totle’s notion of the “way we, as moral agents, arrive at our purposes and
ends” (221). MacIntyre believes that “Moral deliberation is more about inter-
preting my life story than exerting my will. It involves choice, but the choice
issues from the interpretation; it is not a sovereign act of will” (222). Thus, for
“MacIntyre (as for Aristotle), the narrative, or teleological, aspect of moral
reflection is bound up with membership and belonging” (222). Unlike natural
duties under Kant, “obligations of solidarity are particular, not universal; they
involve moral responsibilities we owe, not to rational beings as such, but to
those with whom we share a certain history. But unlike voluntary obligations,
they do not depend on an act of consent. Their moral weight derives from
the situated aspect of moral reflection, from a recognition that my life story is

13Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, translated by David Ross (New York: Oxford Uni-
versity Press, 1925), Book II, chap. 3 [1104b].

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implicated in the stories of others” (225). But, with belonging comes respon-
sibilities. For example, “you really can’t take pride in your country and its
past if you are unwilling to acknowledge any responsibility for carrying its
story into the present, and discharging the moral burdens that may come
with it” (235). “To have character is to live in recognition of one’s (sometimes
conflicting) encumbrances.... obligations of solidarity or membership may
claim us for reasons unrelated to a choice - reasons bound up with the nar-
ratives by which we interpret our lives and the communities we inhabit” (237,
241).

With this moral philosophical background, Sandel argues that “A politics


emptied of substantive moral engagement makes for an impoverished civic
life. It is also an open invitation to narrow, intolerant moralisms. Fundamen-
talists rush in where liberals fear” (243). Furthermore, the “attempt to detach
arguments about justice and rights from arguments about the good life is
mistaken for two reasons. First, it is not always possible to decide questions
of justice and rights without resolving substantive moral questions; and sec-
ond, even where it is possible, it may not be desirable” (251). “A just society
can’t be achieved simply by maximizing utility or by securing freedom of
choice” (261).

“To achieve a just society we have to reason together about the meaning of
the good life, and to create a public culture hospitable to the disagreements
that will inevitably arise” (261). For example, Sandel believes that “Markets
are useful instruments for organizing productive activity. But unless we want
to let the market rewrite the norms that govern social institutions, we need a
public debate about the moral limits of markets” (265). Just “as “Too great a
gap between rich and poor undermines the solidarity that democratic citi-
zenship requires” (266), the “hollowing out of the public realm makes it diffi-
cult to cultivate the solidarity and sense of community on which democratic
citizenship depends” (267).

In summary, Sandel claims that “politics of moral engagement is not only


more inspiring idea than a politics of avoidance. It is also a more promising
for a just society” (269). A just society requires moral engagement (269). As
Amartya Sen expands on this requirement for justice: “It is hard to escape
the general conclusion that economic performance, social opportunity, po-

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litical voice and public reasoning are all deeply related.” 14 David Crocker ar-
gues that “the long-term goal of good and just development - whether na-
tional or global - must be to secure an adequate level of agency and morally
basic capabilities for everyone in the world - regardless of nationality, ethnic-
ity, religion, age, gender, or sexual preference.”15 Central to the advancement
of justice is both objective analysis and discourse concerning what is hap-
pening compared with what could have happened.16 The only means to ad-
dress the injustices “linked with divisions of class, gender, rank, location, re-
ligion, community and other established barriers” is discourse concerning
our “doubts, questions, arguments and scrutiny to move towards conclu-
sions about whether and how justice can be advanced.... Outrage can be
used to motivate, rather than to replace, reasoning.”17

For example, the “right of a person not to be tortured” regardless of utility


claimed by the torturer 18 should be a legitimate topic for moral discourse and
public policy when justice becomes a component of public discourse and
politics.19 However, for the common good, this insertion of question of jus-
tice requires that the “perfectly specified demand not to torture anyone is
supplemented by the more general - and less exactly specified - requirement
to consider the ways and means through which torture can be prevented
and then to decide what one should, in this particular case, reasonably
do.” 20 That is because, when human values and character enter the discus-
sion and the morality of a decision is on the table, human rights become
“ethical claims constitutively linked with the importance of human

14See Amartya Sen, The Idea of Justice (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Har-
vard University Press, 2009), 350.
15David Crocker, Ethics of Global Development: Agency, Capability, and Deliberative
Democracy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 381 in Sen, 381.
16 Sen, 389.
17 Sen, 389.
18 On torture, http://www.scribd.com/doc/16932282/Torture-and-Democracy-Notes.
19 Sen, 376.
20 Sen, 376.

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freedom.” 21 But, this is human freedom that is inextricably linked to the


common good, not to an individual’s present wants or needs or desires.

For Sandel, just as for the Hebrews in Exile, the message is for a cry of par-
resia, truthful speech, to ring out in the public forum. But, this truthful speech
is grounded in character and non-judgmental morality that seeks the com-
mon good, in solidarity with all others. This is the moral stance Sandel sug-
gests for justice to be done.

ENDNOTE: Is there an antidote to broken religiosity?

If justice is at issue, Sandel clearly comes out on the side of the requirement
to address questions of values and character explicitly. Thus, religiosity can-
not be excluded from one’s understanding of and search for justice. That is
because, at least in the world a majority of the humans presently on this
earth inhabit, religion is a primary source for many values and an under-
standing of what constitutes good character. Thus, the question is what is
the antidote to a broken religiosity; religiosity that leads to injustice and loss
of human freedom. If utilitarianism, libertarianism, and Rawlsian ethics are
not sufficient answers, how might religion help promote justice?

Absolutism, relativism, and Biblical inerrancy all stem from a literal interpreta-
tion of Scripture; a fundamental misunderstanding of text and hermeneutics.
Dominionism is a heresy that claims that since “everything on Earth was cre-
ated by God for the benefit of humanity, therefore anything done by human
beings is by definition is good.” 22 This is a particularly pernicious exegesis of
Genesis 1:26. This theology fueled the Christian Crusades between 1095
and 1291 as it teaches that it is our Christian duty to take over the world, in a
political sense, and if necessary, in a military sense, in order to impose Bibli-
cal rule. Essentially, this is the mission of the Taliban (Quran-rule) who seized
power in Afghanistan after the Soviets left in February 1989 and continues

21 Sen, 365-6.
22See Michael J. Benton, When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All
Time (London: Thames & Hudson, Ltd, 2003), 284.

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today in the U.S. war in Afghanistan that began on October 7, 2001. The
psychodynamic underpinnings of Dominionism is ressentiment.23

Dispensationalism is actually a from of religiously-derived fatalism. Since the


parousia (second coming of Christ) will not occur until all things come to
pass, why not help things along a bit? Thus, who cares about war, climate
change, environmental destruction, etc. or any man-made desecration of
God’s good creation. All such destruction will lead to a quicker parousia.

Adiphorization is a heretical claim on the part of some religious individuals


that God’s world and the real world are separate entities where n’er the twain
shall meet. Thus, everyday decisions can be made that are entirely devoid of
moral content and ethical considerations.24

Denialism has been alive and well in the church for centuries. It wasn’t until
1992 that Pope John Paul admit that the church’s house arrest of Galileo
had been a “mistake”.25 My own view is that denialism is best thought of as
the preaching of falsehoods out of a utility - whether that utility be avarice,
payment for services rendered, in-group acceptance, unchecked desire,
pure cantankerousness, an unwillingness to admit one is/was wrong, or a
character flaw that renders one mendacious and deceitful by nature. These
falsehoods are malicious or injurious in that they ultimately are false. Deniers
provide an untrue and oftentimes dissembling assessment of reality. How-
ever, what makes deniers ultimately accountable is that they preach these
falsehoods. Deniers engage in an active stance to convince others of their
wrongful beliefs. But why are deniers listened to and are their promulgating
of falsehoods, always also lies?

23 “Ressentiment is a sense of resentment and hostility directed at that which one


identifies as the cause of one’s frustration, an assignation of blame for one’s frustra-
tion. The sense of weakness or inferiority and perhaps jealousy in the face of the
‘cause’ generates a rejecting/justifying value system, or morality, which attacks or
denies the perceived source of one’s frustration. The ego creates an enemy in order
to insulate itself from culpability."

24 See http://www.scribd.com/doc/15260699/.
25Galileo confirmed that the Earth went around the sun – and not the other way
around as the church claimed at that time – and was charged with heresy in 1633.
He spent the rest of his life under house arrest in Tuscany.

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For religious persons, many of the above heresies, including denialism may
stem from a misunderstanding of God’s omnipotence. They confuse God’s
participation in the events and reality of the world with controlling everything
that happens. 26 If God controls everything, that lets me, as a moral agent, off
the hook. All I have to do is to abide by what I, using my self-defined interior-
ity, believe is what God wants and everything will be taken care of - as all will
unfold according to God’s will. Is one’s “Christian-ness” self-defined? De-
fined interiorly as how one perceives one’s self as possessing this attribute.
All that is required is for one to believe a certain set of texts. Essentially,
does one become Christian through one’s interior self-disclosure? Or, is
more required?27

But, maybe even theology is a smoke screen for what is really going on un-
der the surface for those religious who engage absolutism, relativism, and
Biblical inerrancy or Dominionism, dispensationalism, and adiphorization and
denialism in service to their political agenda. Maybe the early sixteenth cen-
tury religious who supported the Spanish conquistadors in their genocide of
the indigenous population of the Southern Hemisphere said it most clearly.
As conquerors of this new land, their agents, the conquistadors, hacked
apart, burned alive, hunted as game, fed to dogs, shot, beat, stabbed,
scalped; and worked to death as slave labor the natives, all the while relig-
iously claiming in the name of God:28

If you “acknowledge the Church as the Ruler and Superior of the whole
world,” then we “shall receive you in all love and charity, and shall leave

26 Keller, 81. Actually, the God revealed in Scripture “would have no use for [such] a
pretend universe, full of puppet-creatures;” the God of Scripture “calls forth our
freedom - and is... therefore vulnerable to our decisions, good and evil.... Whatever
humans choose “reverberates - in spirit and in truth - in the divine” (81). Thus, relig-
ion should have no quarrel with science, not science with religion, unless that religi-
osity leads to denialism.
27 Is one’s Christian-ness actually determined more by how one objectively acts in
relation to others? Exhibiting Christian virtues in one’s everyday behavior. At least
when I read Scriptures, especially the New Testament Gospels, there is a bright line
drawn between exclusiveness, patriarchy, power and inclusivity, equality, hospitality.
Might the example of Jesus' table fellowship cause some pause to those self-
proclaiming Christians who use Christianity as a badge for who is ‘in’ and who is
‘out?’. See http://www.scribd.com/doc/15242017/.
28 http://www.scribd.com/doc/12392475/Torture-Survival-Manual-for-the-Camps.

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you, your wives, and your children, and your lands, free without servi-
tude,” and even “award you many privileges and exemptions and will
grant you many benefits,” fulfilling our responsibility to protect. But, “If
you do not [meet your obligations in this way, then] we shall powerfully
enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and
manners that we can... and we protest that the deaths and loses which
shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their Highness, or
ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.”29

Immanuel Kant was on the right track when he claimed that “Bringing reason
to the world becomes the enterprise of morality... and the work as well as the
hope of humanity.” 30 But, Sandel argues, reason is not enough. MacIntyre
has it right. We also need a narrative to provide meaning for what has value
and which character traits to uphold. It turns out that is one of the most im-
portant and long lasting features of religion, whether Christianity, Judaism,
Islam, etc. That is, to provide the narrative that defines what has value; what
describes character; that leads to justice. Thus, not only is it important,
through interpreting narrative, to root out bad reasoning, it may be just as
important, if not more so to root out bad theology. For both are of utmost
importance if we wish to live in a more just world.

A set of principles to protect individual freedoms has been proposed within


the context of Islam (its reform to contemporary understandings of human
industry), but may be equally applicable for other belief systems e.g. Christi-
anity, Judaism, capitalism, humanism, scientism, atheism, etc. The founda-
tional proposition is that all personal freedoms rely on a set of tolerant beliefs
that recognize that “freedom is the only form in which man’s worship of God
can be embodied.” This is true whether beliefs are centered on the God of
Scripture, as in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, or in more secular gods
such a belief in science, capitalism, etc. as determining what is ultimately
rational and Real in the world. Following from this principle:

no religious coercion is allowed, as this transgresses individual freedom


and “is too fundamental to be subject to elections or debate;”

29 Noam Chomsky, Hopes and Prospects (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2010), 20-1.
30 Sen, xvii,

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no persecution of other religions is allowed as distinctions do “not justify


enmity, hatred, and killing;”

democracy is necessary for personal freedom as it “is so far the best


relative standard man has achieved;” and

religiously motivated violence is rejected.

From the perspective of utility, maybe the most important reason to protect
personal freedoms “is the intangible but critically important power of ideas....
it can be argued they are as important as economic or military might” in
shepherding the entrepreneurial success of a great nation. Ideas are the en-
gine that drives capitalism. Developing ideas requires personal freedom.31

One of the most important personal freedoms is to remember the narratives


of one’s religion for such narratives can provide deep meaning to the entire
movement towards real justice. For example, in the Judeo-Christian tradi-
tion, the Scriptures recount numerous stories that help to describe and to
define what constitutes justice. Both traditions indicate it is not only the indi-
vidual’s, but the community’s (state’s or nation’s) requirement to do justice.
The justice commanded by God and/or by the Gospel of Jesus, however:

is not the retributive justice of ‘deeds-consequences’ wherein rewards


and punishments are meted out to persons and the community accord-
ing to conduct. Rather, Israel [or in the New Testament, the ekklesia - a
community comprised of those dedicated to Christ] understands itself as
a community of persons bound in membership to one another, so that
each person-as-member is to be treated well enough to be sustained as
a full member of the community.32

Justice derived from utilitarianism and/or libertarianism fails for just this rea-
son. The utility or liberty is from an in-group’s perspective, for the primary
benefit of the in-group. Without the interjection of broader values and inclu-

31See Muhammad Shahrur, Proposal for an Islamic Covenant, trans. D.F. Eickelman
and I.S. Abu Shehadeh, (Damascus: al-Ahali, 2000) quoted in Vaclav Smil, Global
Catastrophes and Trends: The Next 50 Years (London & Cambridge: The MIT Press,
2008), 114 and 140.
32See Walter Brueggemann, An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible
(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 26-7. This command to do justice is deeply em-
bedded in tradition: cf. Deut 14:29; 16:11, 14; 24:19-21; 26:12-15; Isa 1:17; 5:8-10;
Jer 7:6; 22:3; Zech 7:10; Prov 14:31; 17:5; Ps 72:1-2, 4; Mic 2:1-2...(27-9).

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sivity of purpose, justice too often goes wildly astray. This may be the most
important contribution that religion can make to the justice debate - to re-
member the form of justice based on relationship and relationality between
God and humankind (anamnesis; ἀνάμνησις (Gk); literally "loss of forgetful-
ness").

Otherwise statism and/or corporatism33 will step in and claim the divine uni-
lateral “right of aggression and other forms of intervention to ensure ‘unin-
hibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources”
while making certain that the privileged and powerful are never inconven-
ienced or placed at risk. In this world of self-interested ‘justice’ laws are
passed that define justice as maintaining security. But, this is not security for
all members of the community, but primarily the security and justice for the
“principle architects of policy.” 34 Instead, the Scripture of the Christian and
Hebrew Bibles calls for distributive justice. This is a justice that is a reflection
of God’s love for the world and the mutual relationality between humankind
and God. The command to do justice not only marks the polity of the com-
munal life of humankind, it prohibits a form of justice that results in the pro-
motion of “self-protection, self-sufficiency, and self-indulgence” at the ex-
pense of “the needs of those too weak to protect themselves” (e.g. “widows,
orphans, and resident aliens”).35 Anything less, any form of justice or law
claiming to be “justice” that does not promote the common good is not jus-
tice, at least in the eyes of Judeo-Christian Scriptural tradition. Thus, in Mar-
tin Luther King, Jr.’s words:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an


inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.36

33 See http://www.scribd.com/doc/19538880/Capitalism-Socialism-Corporatism.
34 Chomsky, 26-7.
35Brueggemann 2009, 27-9. In both Christianity and Judaism, “Israel [the chosen
people of God - all humanity] is understood as a community that is to be preoccu-
pied with the well-being of the neighbor, and it is to be prepared to exercise public
power for the sake of the neighbor, even when that exercise of public power works
against established interests” (29).
36Martin Luther king, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” in A Testament of Hope:
The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James M. Wash-
ington (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986, 290 quoted in Keller, 115.

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