Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Chapter One: Justice Part Two

I'd like to address a couple of the comments in two posts below: The Dogma Ate My Faith and Chapter One: Putting Things to Rights.

Dave said:
As to the relevance/value/significance of whether we retain the label "Christian" (or not) as a self-identifier, of course there are big implications to that. People will react in a lot of ways, but in any case, I don't think your decision is essentially "neutral." Do you agree with that or disagree? Is publicly saying "I'm simply not a Christian" a form of side-stepping or is it a repudiation (the latter choice IMO being more dramatic or conclusive)?

I'd say it's neither. What occurred to me (the postmodernist thinker that I should be by now) is that I do know the assumptions of my primary social context. It is naive of me to continue to expect them to make the adjustments to include me in their definition of Christianity when I don't line up with those definitions. I changed. They didn't.

By being more straight-forward, I hope to respect that difference (to honor it) rather than to be in the role of repudiator or correcter. In other words, I see that I put some of my friends on the defensive unnecessarily by expecting them to accept my definition of Christian. What if we start with theirs?

I'd like to see what happens. I agree that it is not a neutral decision.

What's prevented me in the past from giving up the name is two-fold: First, I do feel Christian and that my life is an expression of Christian faith. Second, my children in particular live in a decidedly Christian sub-culture for whom admission to the club is monitored by the declaration that one is, in fact, a Christian.

What's happened recently, though, is that by letting go of the label, I can explain or nuance who I am rather than attempting to forge a blend between who I am expected to be and who I am. That's created some static I'd rather get beyond.

Another question... Is there some other "label" that is worth adopting? The admittedly clunky-sounding "Jesus follower" (or variations thereof) is where some people are going.

I like the idea of being label-less for a bit. Grad student of theology is working currently. :)

Patrick said:
If our notion of justice doesn't come from an outside source, and if this notion at its best causes us to act in non-self-interested ways, where does it come from?


I think the need to definitively explain our inclination toward justice as being sourced in God is not because it is so, but because it's one explanation that we have come to accept due to the connection being made for us. And let me go on record as saying I don't mind that connection being made, necessarily. I don't think, however, that it accounts for all of humanity, therefore is not an exhaustive explanation.

Justice, in a western democracy, is not the same notion as justice in a Middle Eastern context, for instance. As one Muslim Professor put it, the west doesn't understand at all how deeply Muslims are committed to the value of "respect." They see their primary obligation to others as being the guardians of the sacred through ensuring respect, which may include violence. That's their version of justice. In Asia, the dominant inclination is to preserve face (to prevent shame). Historically, Japanese samurai killed themselves to protect a reputation. Is that justice? Is that inclination God-given?

I don't believe that if I experience it, it must be universally true or God-endowed. On the other hand, I'm perfectly fine suggesting that the drive for justice that I have is valuable and can be found in the trajectory set forth in the Judeo-Christian tradition, which is one reason I continue to be fascinated by and drawn to it.

Why does Jesus resonate so much with you? To what does his self-sacrificing life appeal? Why do you follow him rather than Donald Trump? Just your own preferences?


What else? There are many for whom Donald Trump really is the man worthy of emulation. Is capitalist success God-endowed since so many find that aim a worthy use of their lives (more than the pursuit of justice)?

Jesus resonates with me because his stories have catalyzed the most introspection and satisfying work. I'm challenged by his Sermon on the Mount and the way he embraced those outside the status quo. As long as I can remember, that vision of living has inspired me.

Lastly, you mention the cross putting things to rights. This is one aspect of Wright's book I'd like to explore in another post. If you want the first shot at it though (or anyone else), please take it. How does the cross actually put things to rights when we see that the world is not substantially more or less just than it was at the time of Jesus' death and resurrection?

12 comments:

OldMom said...

I have been musing over whether or not it would be more accurate to say "humans have an inner drive to see things be 'right'."

It does occur to me that neither you nor anyone who has commented so far has shown me that they DON'T have an inner idea of how things 'should' be. I have worked pretty extensively with young children and the impulse to 'right' is very strong at an astonishingly early age. I also disagree that 'fair' means 'me' to children. My own daughter is an example of a child who would jump in on another's behalf very readily. (And, yes, I do see that this can be easily explained biologically. I'm simply arguing that the impulse is there and does not totally pertain to self.)
As to where that comes from I can entertain several alternative explanations but God gets my vote for most poetic ;-)

You said

"I think the need to definitively explain our inclination toward justice as being sourced in God is not because it is so, but because it's one explanation that we have come to accept due to the connection being made for us. And let me go on record as saying I don't mind that connection being made, necessarily. I don't think, however, that it accounts for all of humanity, therefore is not an exhaustive explanation."

First: name me a connection that HASN'T been made for us. . . .

Secondly, could you elucidate what you mean by it not accounting for all of humanity?

Rebecca

julieunplugged said...

I like where you are going with this and I have to agree that children can be other oriented (I certainly didn't mean to paint with a broad brush).

Good comment about the connection being made for us. Yes I can see that we are always being offered connections to consider.

I thought I explained why I didn't think it was an explanation for all of humanity. Our concept of justice is not shared by all cultures or all historical eras.

Julie

OldMom said...

Oops, sorry. I just didn't refer the 'all humanity' comment back to the original reasoning.

Ok. My postulated inner drive to have things 'right' covers that by allowing for different ways for things to be 'right': Western style justice is just one example.

Great discussion!

julieunplugged said...

Funny you should pop back on here. I just got homefrommy first "Comtemporary Debates on Justice" class and what do you think we discussed? We just began to dabble in the idea that the notion of justice that we assume is universal is particular to the west and is the west's primary contribution to global ethical discourse. My professor said that while other cultures may have some notions that might approximate our impulse for justice, the others do not have the sense of "individual rights" attached to their notions and that in fact, the word "justice" and our meaning of it really don't cover the way other cultures (particularly eastern and Indian cultures) perceive the same word.

After he expressed this thought, the student in front of me introduced himself. He is Indian and Hindu. He shared that the reason he was taking this class is that the concept of justice is foreign to him. He's taken multiple classes now at Xavier trying to get a grasp of what is meant by that term when Christians use it because so far, what he's learned about it is unrelated to his religious and family background.

I found that most interesting in light of our discussion here!

I don't mean to undermine your need to have allof us want things to be "right," but I would suggest that one man's "just" is another's oppression.

For instance, what if the community oriented culture determines that women are more justly served by taking the veil and being cloistered? What if the perception of justice in that culture is on behalf of the greater whole rather than the individual? And yet for most westerners, we would sense that to make things "right" would mean to relieve women of the oppressive conditions of her tyrannical culture...

So when I hear the word justice, I think we do have meanings in mind and they are particular to our worldview.

If the impulse for making things right is generalized to mean any vision of rightness, then it might lose its distinctiveness and therefore, importance.

Does that make sense? Being a more versed justice-oriented thinker than I, what do you say?

Julie

Dave said...

Let's explore this:

It is naive of me to continue to expect them to make the adjustments to include me in their definition of Christianity when I don't line up with those definitions. I changed. They didn't.

That is considerate, and I have no problem with your choice here. The category "Christian," however, is in my mind very broad and rightfully ought not be monopolized or defined by any particular sect. Some Protestants make a distinction between "Catholic" and "Christian." Granted that much of this is apparently naive and vernacular in its origin (based on how members of each group identify themselves) but I wouldn't expect informed Catholics to allow that distinction to stand.

Within the larger set "Christian" there has been a long-standing tradition of "liberal" or "heterodox" and I suppose that, if pressed, that's the basis of my on-going claim of the title "Christian."

Having said all that, I think I get where you're going - would it be correct to say you are looking for a greater measure of freedom (from expectations implicit and explicit) and clarity (of expression with those who are able to remain engaged with you in this conversation) by no longer maintaining a "Christian" public image?

I support what your doing as an interesting experiment that I'm not presently ready to try out myself (but I'm eager to analyze your results!)

We can (and should) continue this but I have to get going to work now.

julieunplugged said...

would it be correct to say you are looking for a greater measure of freedom (from expectations implicit and explicit) and clarity (of expression with those who are able to remain engaged with you in this conversation) by no longer maintaining a "Christian" public image?

Yes. :)

And I do understand the long-standing tradition of liberalism. I don't know yet if I fit it. Perhaps that is why the label feels ambiguous to me. I probably have not adequately identified with any stream of Christian thought to take up that perspective with commitment and confidence.

Julie

OldMom said...

You said:
I don't mean to undermine your need to have allof us want things to be "right," but I would suggest that one man's "just" is another's oppression.

I think you misunderstood me--not surprising since I wasn't clear. I was not, in my statement here, identifying 'right' with 'just.' I meant 'right' in the sense of 'correct'--'as things should be.' We all absorb a picture of how things 'should' be and see that as 'right.' The particulars of that picture vary, as languages vary, but the innate drive for a concept of 'should be' is as inborn as the drive to acquire language.
(This, of course, is not really supportive of Wright's thesis. But I wasn't trying to support him.)

*****
I like your professor's thoughts about concepts of justice. I often wonder how many people in western culture who criticize Christianity for it's many failures to meet our standards of justice, love, etc. realize how much those standards COME from Christianity.

*****

As for being well versed in justice thinking, ok. Let me throw a semi-cynical observation on you. The liberal drive to 'justice' runs headlong into the liberal drive to honor indigenous culture (or, actually, anyone's culture but our own) precisely at issues like the role of women in 3rd world countries and what I usually see is a quick duck-and-run rather than any coherent thought out response to this conundrum. I have decided that we simply have to abandon the idea that all is good simply because someone non-western or non-white or non-whateverweare and have the guts to hold everyone to our own standards. Otherwise we are simply patronizing them under another name.

Rebecca C.

julieunplugged said...

Rebecca, terrific comments. I understand you better now. The impulse for "should be" makes sense to me. I think that could well be universal.

As far as standards go, that's a very interesting question. One of the things I learned last fall in my ethics class is how complicated this does get in the third world. You made the point that the non-westerner can do no wrong (case in point: the way the left keeps defending Islam in general). On the flip side, though, is the hard core leftwing feminist who is involved in trying to get the international community to adopt the Rights of Women proposal. It includes birth control and access to abortion, for instance. Yet many, many third world cultures are opposed to both.

So one of the discussion points was whether or not it is right for westerners to impose their sense of dignity and individual rights on communities that do not share the same moral compass... who hold different community standards? What is just in that instance?

It is way complex. I have even more dirt to throw at the left in tomorrow's column if I can get it written. But don't worry, it's not just the left. I think I'm weary of the whole tone of the debate no matter who's talking. :)

Julie

SusansPlace said...

Your UPI column on predestined grace(I know that is an oversimplification but where it struck home for me) was so, so, so, so, so what I needed to hear today! Thank you!

Before reading your column I had emailed some spiritual sisters, who have been with me a long time and seen the changes in my faith, about where I am today. Saved and baptised at five, followed by 44 years of seeking God and praying for the lost and getting more and more confused/disturbed by the "mystery box" questions, I find myself today feeling rather lost. I feel my beliefs have changed so much, as to be almost non-existent and this despite begging for 44 years to be drawn closer to God. It doesn't appear that God has kept me unless there is a Grace covering the place I'm in that I'm unaware of. I hope so. I'll include just a portion of my email, so you can see why your UPI article affected me deeply.

"Now, I'm going to let it all hang out. I am not sure where I am on my thoughts about God and the soul and everything, really. Let's just say I am questioning it all. It's not that I want to do this...it's just happening...and I can't go back. I told Jana I feel like a "lost" soul-whatever that is. I think I would most likely qualify-today-as an agnostic and that's a fairly "lost" place to be. Definition of agnostic:

1 : a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowable

A thought popped out the other day when thinking/talking about whether I am a "christian". No, I'm not in the traditional sense of the word but yes, I do follow many of the teachings of Christ. As of today(I know this is subject to change and I hope it will change), I think God can best be defined/described as the place where most of the religions intersect. The good teachings that the major religions have in common (and if we can go back farther and look at the ancient religions-goddess, Egyption, Celtic, Native American,myth type religions too)we might most accurately find reflections of "God". I don't think "God"-if there is one-is the Hebrew God. If there is a God, that God is a lot bigger. I don't think Jesus was truly God's son-as in born of a virgin-but He was one that intuitively understood what was behind the scriptures...he was able to parse out the man-made stuff/interpretations and get to the essence. I'm thinking maybe Buddha and other great teachers were similar to Jesus in this ability. Man oh man, I never thought I'd be in this place!! yikes!! All my foundations seem to have crumbled and dissappeared. I keep praying "God, if I've gone off track, please bring me back".

Julie, my heart isn't quite so heavy after reading your article about grace. Thanks!

Susan, a limping spiritual seeker

PatrickHare said...

Julie -

Interesting discussion. I quite agree that the notion of an inbred notion of morality doesn't conclusively prove the existence of the God of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. And certainly, justice looks different in different cultural settings. I just find that the biblical story provides a compelling narrative for the distorted yet present sense of oughtness and conscience.

I do think that the notions of respect and shame that you reference in your Muslim and Japanese examples are God given, but distorted as a result of the Fall. As are our own notions.

While your assertion that your adoption of the worldview of Jesus over that of Donald Trump is nothing but a preference, is notable for its consistency with your position, I find it hard to believe that in your heart of hearts you don't find the self-serving worldview morally inferior to the other-centered worldview. I can't believe that you think that choice is of no more significance than prefering green to yellow.

Assuming your assertion of mere preference to be true, I am still left with the question of Why do you prefer it? Why does it inspire you in ways which Donald Trump hasn't? Why has the introspection which this engendered been more satisfying? (Perhaps your post on Calvinism is apropos?)

Finally, while I haven't read this book by Tom Wright yet, and thus can't take up your invitation, I will say that if the clock stopped right now, the cross would get mixed reviews on its effectiveness. I can't say that it would have failed, because it has made its mark on millions of people, inspired hospitals, orphanages, etc. And it has radically changed me. On the other hand, we still live in a very broken world as you point out.
As Christians (I'll stick my neck out and call myself that despite my disagreements with many who claim that title) ;o), we live in the hope that at the end of the day, God will put things right as the result of the cross. As Paul said, if Christ be not risen, we are of all people most miserable. But if Christ is risen, he will return to set the world right.
Amen, Come Lord Jesus.

Thanks for your vulnerability in sharing your spiritual journey with the rest of us!

julieunplugged said...

Patrick, please forgive me for not responding to your comment sooner. I have read it and am thinking about it. I hope to give a decent comment in the next day or two.

Julie

PatrickHare said...

Julie -

No need for apologies! These are difficult questions - I don't have any ready answers either!

Patrick