LUKE MOON (Evangelical Christian): How do you define Justice? Is it as Augustine understood, giving each one their due? Or is it as the Sophist in the Republic argued, whatever the strong say is justice is justice? Or something in between?
FRANK SCHAEFFER (former Evangelical Christian): Good question. And I like your “how do you define” set up because of course that’s all anyone’s opinion is: an opinion. I’d start with this idea– the concept of justice rests on the evolution of empathy. Unless we cared about other people’s fates (and the fate of any sentient creature) the word itself would lose meaning. I think the same thing is true of the word suffering. In fact what does the word evil mean unless defined by our sympathy for those who suffer? This isn’t a definition but I’d say that justice (amongst other things) is the exercise of empathy for others.
So maybe the word injustice is easier to grasp: causing suffering with no reasonable hope for the betterment of the welfare of another. When I had a knee surgery, I suffered, but it wasn’t because of an injustice. My surgeon had my best at heart. If I had been in the same pain because you kicked the crap out of my knee at the next Wild Goose Festival over a disagreement on just how evil Trump is, that would be unjust.
MOON: Defining injustice is always easier. I mean if Plato’s Republic was about defining injustice, it would be a pamphlet. That being said, I like to define injustice as an abuse of power. I think it allows for a distinction between adultery and rape. Adultery is often between consenting adults, rape is never consenting.
Certainly me kicking you at the Wild Goose Festival would be terrible, but I’m not sure how it would be an injustice because it’s not an abuse of power. I think we are equal in power. The beer at Wild Goose is really great, by the way.
SCHAEFFER: We might be equal in power, but of course if you sucker-kicked me… that equality would disappear. Speaking of which — sorry — but what can I say…? it seems to me that when some child who was brought here by her parents from Mexico as a baby is kicked out by Trump, doesn’t that qualify as an abuse of (very unequal) power? Doesn’t power always have to be tempered by mercy to fit any reasonable — let alone traditional — idea of justice?
MOON: Well, let’s have a beer at Wild Goose and we’ll see who sucker-kicks whom. 🙂 I’m the true minority in that place.
Actually, mercy only works if justice is exercised. If justice is never applied, then mercy is meaningless. That being said, I do think there is room for mercy with the kids whose parents brought them to the US illegally. I’m a fan of the wall, but I’m also a fan of immigration. The people who fight their way to come to the US to have a better life for their families are the exact kind of people that America needs. Maybe we can trade. We give away our lazy asses and we get the risk-takers.
SCHAEFFER: Since the numbers of people crossing the border are down, why the wall? And where’s the justice in this report from the Wash Post today that an executive order drafted by the Trump administration calls for reauthorizing the CIA to reopen prisons overseas and restart the interrogation programs that were dismantled in 2009 after using torture? You know when my Marine son John was serving in Afghanistan at the beginning of that war, he came home hating the CIA people there because of the way they were “interrogating” prisoners. (He was in an NSA Intel unit, so had a lot to do with other Intel people.) He said “It went against everything I was taught at boot camp about USMC honor.” I wonder if Trump is a man of honor? I have a feeling he’s not. And in the end, that might be the worst thing one could conclude about any leader’s sense of justice. Empathy is the hinge, but without a sense of honor, how does power get used?
MOON: John McCain tweeted at Trump this afternoon that “we’re not bringing back torture.” I am not going to defend every Trump executive order or legislative act.
— John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) January 25, 2017
I don’t think empathy is enough. It’s too emotive, too much in the gut. I can imagine empathy being used to justify a lot of terrible things.
SCHAEFFER: Empathy may not be enough, but it seems to have been Jesus’ guiding rule on a baseline for justice. As for Trump, you might not want to defend each executive order or action, but at a certain point you’ll need to decide if you are going to defend anything he does at all in the light of what at best are his odd and totally fiction-based obsessions. If there really were 3 to 5 million “illegal” aliens voting… then the election should be held again. Strange that there is no evidence at all anywhere to support so many things Trump seems oddly preoccupied with. Maybe he’s not consciously lying, maybe he is actually insane. I hope for our sake he’s lying.
MOON: Lol. Totally agree there.
SCHAEFFER: Would you like a last word? You can have it if you can resist opening another can of worms!
MOON: As to empathy, mercy, and justice, I think that is the difference between the role of the state (justice) and the role of the church (mercy). Jesus is the model for the church. …. can opened.
SCHAEFFER: Okay, short (stolen “last word”) response: How can a Christian separate church and state to that degree? If you are following Jesus, doesn’t that mean you have to work for the law to at the very least not contradict what you think Jesus stands for? If not– what price truth? And yes, do answer.
MOON: I think following Jesus does mean obedience to Him above obedience to the state. But it’s obedience in doing good. I wrote an article a few years ago about how cities were banning “unapproved” soup kitchens. New York City passed a law saying restaurants could not give away leftover food, etc. I think Christians are right to disobey these laws. To end in the same way I started…Augustine said, an unjust law is no law at all.
Schaeffer & Moon is written on the fly in a real-time chat room format and lightly proofed by Patheos editors.
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