Tag Archives: christian ethic

What is Just (Baby Don’t Hurt Me)

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past few weeks, the George Zimmerman verdict (acquittal) has caught your attention. Commonly, you’ve probably heard (or seen) “It’s not just,” or “Justice failed,” or even “Justice wasn’t served.” You’ve probably also heard people counter that justice, by definition, was served in this case. This led me to wonder what, exactly, justice means.

  • Dictionary: According to Mirriam-Webster online, justice is, “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments,” and, “the administration of law; especially: the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity.” Related definitions include, “the quality of being just, impartial, or fair; the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action; conformity to this principle or ideal (righteousness),” and, “the quality of conforming to law.”
  • Philosophy: According to Wikipedia, the philosophical concept of justice is, “Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, equity or fairness, as well as the administration of the law, taking into account the inalienable and inborn rights of all human beings and citizens, the right of all people and individuals to equal protection before the law of their civil rights, without discrimination on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, color, ethnicity, religion, disability, age, or other characteristics, and is further regarded as being inclusive of social justice.” Both Plato and Aristotle see justice as harmony, both in and between the individual and as a quality of the state. Locke, on the other hand, sees justice as an inherent quality of the universe similar to the laws of physics. By implication, law is an attempt by humanity to quantify that which God wrote into the fabric of creation.
  • Virtue: Justice is one of the four cardinal virtues, and is the proper tension between selfishness and selflessness. In some sense, it is giving to everyone what is due and as such, seems to be the pivotal virtue of the four as one can view the other virtues as expressions of justice.
  • Theology: The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says, “The original Hebrew and Greek words are the same as those rendered “righteousness.” This is the common rendering, and in about half the cases where we have “just” and “justice” in the King James Version, the American Standard Revised Version has changed to “righteous” and “righteousness.” It must be constantly borne in mind that the two ideas are essentially the same.”

So back to the question: was the George Zimmerman verdict just?

It seems unjust to me that an armed man can chase a boy for several minutes and then shoot that same boy while claiming no culpability in that boy’s death. Zimmerman’s actions appear both reckless and negligent. While Zimmerman may have broken no law (or did not commit murder) as he was charged, it does not remove from him the responsibility for Trayvon’s death. The tragic, and unjust aspect, is that the law supports him in killing Trayvon.

And that is, by definition, injustice.

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On Bombings and Burials, part 1

According to some of the latest news for the Boston bombings, the funeral home who has prepped Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s body cannot find a cemetery willing to bury him. Evidently, his family cannot transport him to Russia due to some complications regarding his passport and citizenship. The city refuses to take responsibility for the body citing public interest and safety. Even someone who professes to be a member of his religion (while disagreeing with his actions) wishes to distance himself from Tsarnaev’s ideologies by remaining unwilling to bury him.

This seems to be a perfect opportunity for the Church to be the Church. Christian theology recognizes that all people, regardless of their actions and whether redeemed or unredeemed, bear the image of God. In that vein, our Judeo-Christian ethic requires that we treat human beings with a certain amount of dignity and respect, even in death. Consider: do we really want to make the argument that we can circumvent that dignity “if the crime is bad enough,” and if we do, then what is the standard of “bad enough”? Is it one body? Three? Ten? Only if children are involved? Where do we draw the line of treating someone else like a human being?

Granted, it’s easy for me to be idealistic when I have no loved one either maimed or killed by Tsarnaev. I admit that. I don’t know if I would feel differently about it. I pray I never have to find out. In this moment, however, I read some of the ugly comments (such as one person who suggested that they cremate his body and flush the ashes down the toilet) and shudder. Why?

Today they’re talking about a bomber. What if tomorrow, it’s a group of people who spout hate speech against a minority group. Like, maybe their sacred text has some nasty things to say about that minority group (such as telling them that their identity and lifestyle are an abomination to God). Maybe some of that group of people use that as an excuse to harm minority groups. As such, public opinion swings to protect the minority group, and disband the “hate-mongers.” After all, we need to protect the public good, right? Jesus addressed these issues pretty clearly (and, in my opinion, in a superior manner than other religions). Do to others what you would have them do to you. If you had grossly injured someone, whether maliciously or not, how would you wish they treat you?

So what if the Church did something radical, like foot the bill to have Tsarnaev shipped home for burial? Even better, what if we chose to bury him in one of our cemeteries? What might that say about Christians? How might that demonstrate that we truly follow Christ?
As we spread the good news, may we remember that evangelism involves our relationship between God and humanity, but it also involves the dignity of the individual. When Jesus summed the law, he stated first to love God, but he reminded them of the command like it: to love your neighbor. Tamerlan Tsarnaev is your neighbor; how will you love him?

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