Posts Tagged ‘Social Justice’

Social justice as a substitute for religion

August 30, 2019

Critics of the new social justice movement—the movement that’s variously called “anti-oppression,” “political correctness” or “woke-ness,” among other things—say it is like a religion.

It has dogmas and blasphemies.  You can be fired for saying the “n-word.”  It enacts a drama of sin and repentance.  It gives believers the sense of righteousness, sense of community and sense of meaning that earlier generations might have got from religion.

This argument is often made mockingly, but below are links to two article that make it in all seriousness.

Of course the fact that something is religion-like doesn’t mean that it’s bad.  Almost all people need something to provide community and meaning, and they’re lost if they don’t get it somewhere.


Gay Rites Are Civil Rites by Scott Alexander for Slate Star Codex.

Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice by James A. Lindsay and Mike Nayna for Aero Magazine.

Diversity is not a substitute for justice

February 20, 2018

Racial and cultural diversity is a good thing.

Adolph Reed Jr.

I, a straight white male, benefited from diversity during my college days in two ways.

I won a college scholarship because I was the only applicant from a small town below the Mason-Dixon line, and because I was one of the few applicants for this particular scholarship who took tests in the humanities rather than the sciences.

The other way I benefited was in meeting a more diverse group of people than I had known before.  I never had a meaningful conversation with anyone who was not white or Christian until I went to college (in the 1950s) and meeting people of different backgrounds was an important part of my education.

But diversity is not a substitute for social justice.  Diversity will not, in and of itself, end plutocracy or war or police brutality or unemployment or divisiveness.

The reason so many powerful people and institutions embrace diversity and reject social justice is that diversity leaves the existing structure of political and economic power intact.   Diversity is a good thing.  But it’s not enough.


Diversity: A Managerial Ideology by Darel E. Paul for Quillette.  Hat tip to Alex Small.

Black Politics After 2016 by Adolph Reed Jr. for (Emory College).  This is long, but well worth reading.

The Political Economy of Anti-Racism by Walter Benn Michaels for (Emory College).  A companion piece to Reed’s article, it also is well worth reading.

Rev. Barber at the UUA General Assembly

April 20, 2017

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, pastor of Greenleaf Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), president of the interfaith Repairers of the Breach and president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP, is a leader of a broad progressive coalition that is changing the balance of political power in his home state.   I think it is important to know who he is and the moral basis of his movement.

He is rooted in a specific religious tradition, the African-American church movement, but is able to unite a broad coalition of Americans of different races and religious backgrounds, including us Unitarian Universalists.

Click on 2016 Unitarian-Universalist General Assembly for a speech that outlines his thinking.  Click on The First Reconstruction, The Second Reconstruction, The Third Reconstruction and / or ‘Resist the One Moment Mentality’ for highlights of his speech.

Bible Christianity and social justice

October 19, 2016

One of the distinctive things about the Forward Together social justice movement led by the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II in North Carolina is that it is based on religion.

He believes that politics has to be based on morality and his morality is based on religion—not religion in general, but specifically the Bible-based conservative African-American church tradition.

And even though that tradition puts its stamp on all of Rev. Dr. Barber’s People’s Assemblies and Moral Mondays, he is able to rally people of many different religious traditions and of no specific religion at all.

Now, I don’t think it should be surprising that a progressive political movement should arise from a theologically conservative form of Christianity.

After all, the followers of Jesus and St. Paul were people, most of them poor, living under an oppressive government.  In the Gospels, the presumption is that a rich man or a government official is a sinner unless shown to be otherwise.

St. Paul taught that in Christ, there are no distinctions between rich or poor, free or slave, male or female, Greek or Jew (and presumably white or black).

wbarber-3rdreconstruction978-080708360-4Christianity is rooted in Judaism whose lawgiver, Moses, who forged a nation consisting of fugitive slaves.   Later Hebrew prophets denounced rulers of Israel for oppression of the poor.

Now, although the early Christian communities were models of what a just and compassionate society would look like, neither Jesus nor St. Paul was a revolutionary or a social reformer.  Furthermore Christians developed a priesthood which, like almost all priesthoods in history, allied itself with the rich and powerful.

But the basic Christian teaching of justice and compassion for the poor never died out.   And down through history, there have been Christians who have taken the next step—to attempt to create a just and compassionate society instead of simply waiting for the Last Days.

Rev. Barber grew up in that tradition.   “I cannot remember a time when I did not know God to be both real and to be about bringing justice into the world,” he wrote in The Third Reconstruction.


The forgotten challenge of Dr. King

January 16, 2012

The Real News Network today rebroadcast a program from Jan. 17, 2011, in which anchor Paul Jay interviewed columnist and communications professor Jared Ball on how we Americans celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, but don’t know or forget important things he really stood for.

Click on The Revolutionary MLK for a transcript of the interview.

Martin Luther King Jr. on a pedestal

January 16, 2012

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the reign of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Heavenly Parent.  Matthew 7:21

It is tempting to depict Martin Luther King, Jr., as a saint, or even as a Christ figure.  The parallels, after all, are striking: a fiery young leader preaches a liberating vision for human community.  He stirs up controversy, confronts the powerful, unsettles the status quo.  He stands with those on the social margins, affirming their dignity.  His eloquent words envision a future that seems impossible, yet stirs the deepest longings of our hearts.  But he is slain, brutally, unjustly, . . .

As with many modern-day prophets—Dorothy Day, Oscar Romero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, countless lesser-known sisters and brothers—King models for us away of discipleship.  Yet our rush toward canonization is a disservice, both to Brother Martin and to ourselves.

He was a faithful, struggling child of God, bearing, like all of us, his wounds and flaws.

More importantly, sainthood is often our mechanism for domesticating prophets and letting ourselves off the hook.  We elevate and idealize our heroes, effectively diminishing the challenge of their witness.   As Dorothy Day herself put it: “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”

via Beware of Saints.

Dee Dee Risher wrote this when she was co-editor of The Other Side, a Christian magazine devoted to racial equality.  As she pointed out, when you put someone such as Dr. King on a pedestal, it is easy to find excuses for not following his teaching.  Who among us is a perfect person?

We observe Dr. King’s birthday as a national holiday, but we don’t grapple with his ideas about nonviolence and social justice.