June 18, 2006

Social Justice!

Posted in Religion, The Cause at 4:39 pm by egalitaria

I find it interesting how religion affects the way people live. Of course, this shouldn't come as a surprise, but hear me out.

Religions that propagate an eternal life in heaven or paradise usually assure followers that their rewards will be gained in abundance in the future. That all existence on earth points towards a single end after life also speaks a message that life on earth is temporal and passing. Further, that the weight of activity on earth holds little worth, as it is not the 'here and now' that take primary importance, but the 'there and later'.

This is also the reason that most activity generated by such religions centres around evangelism, or teaching of doctrinal beliefs. Since the focus is on heaven/paradise/eternal bliss, it makes sense for preaching to take place. This ensures security for the future, which is the most essential, as opposed to the present. Spread the faith is the number one call.

While this is right, based on the premises of the various faiths, this does not mean that the 'here and now' should be disregarded. For example, the focus of other religions is purely on doing good to alleviate suffering. Because there is little emphasis on a heavenly afterlife, all energies are spent on social work on earth. To live life to the maximum in the here and now, because this is all that exists and matters.

So, taking my argument to the extreme, you have the Christians/Muslims/Jews whose primary objective is to spread their respective gospel truths. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the Buddhists/Hindus whose primary objective is to do good on earth and help mankind. Both these objectives make sense from each religion's doctrine.

Now I come to my real argument, as a Christian, to fellow Christians. Despite the fact that we look towards heaven as an end to life's journey, this does not mean social work is negligible. In many books of the Bible, God calls for social justice. Basic verses speak volumes of helping the needy, standing up for the righteous, ensuring that justice is given out in the courts. The book of Amos even calls for the corrupt to be ridden of in the court.

My message is simply that, although Christians believe that the earth is temporal, it is still our responsibility to ensure suffering is eased. What is the difference then? The difference is this: Suffering exists, but God is the balm. Everything that we do should point towards God ultimately. Social justice needs to be called for at all levels because the ultimate judge is Him. Helping the poor and mistreated, the marginalised in society and the prisoners, those who are ostracised and weak – because all are created equal under His eyes.

While we look to the future and cast our eyes on what is unseen at this point in time, we are in the 'here and now', and are responsible for our fellow beings. Let us take heed.

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3 Comments

  1. Hedonese said,

    Was doing some spring cleaning and found this email dated April 2003 by
    a fren… I think it’s worth a bit of wider circulation…. you can feel the
    prophet Jeremiah’s passion and lament in this one 🙂

    May take some time to digest but a lot of interesting concerns latent
    here, close to the heart of wat I hope the Msian church could be like as
    well.

    He wrote:

    hi dave and all,

    “This struck me as a clear and present danger especially in colleges
    where Christian youths read Comte, Marx, Jean Paul
    Sartre in classrooms and in churches, fed with a steady diet of “Prayer
    of Jabez” type of Christianity… the enormous gap
    between faith and reason seems more unbridgeable.”

    at the risk of sounding like a jeremiad,lamenting about how bad things
    really are, i can’t agree more with u,dave. this may be a caricature and
    over-generalization on christian youths in malaysia, but the problem
    does not lie with the youths
    only. it is the malaise of the privatization of the christian faith, as
    well as the deadening effects of dualism (spiritual/secular false
    dichotomy) on the church at large. of course, i only speak of the stream
    of evangelicalism that i’m a part of in malaysia.

    i wouldn’t presume to speak about catholicism or any the other mainline
    denominations like the anglicans. one thing’s for sure, the catholics do
    have a much more social interest in their missional outlook. wouldn’t be
    a bad thing that we learn
    something from our catholic brethren in this respect. it is frustrating
    to see our youths, who could handle books written by philosophers like
    sartre, marx etc., or scientists like hawking or dawkins…but given
    such little intellectual stimulation in our christian discipleship.
    don’t get me wrong…i’m not condemning stuff like prayer of jabez
    etc… i think there is
    need for that kind of teaching in the church, less we turn into a bunch
    of deists,blinded by rationalism.

    but given our culture today, a culture of affluence and pain-avoidance,
    there is a danger of domesticating
    the christian faith into a middle-class “malaysian dream”, comfortable
    religion. too much of our christianity had been
    “imported” from liberal america. as christian ethicist, stanley
    hauerwas, said ” yippee!!!it’s so good to be a christian in america…as
    long as you keep your christianity private”. i can’t agree more… as
    long as we view our faith as another option in the supermarket of
    consumer society, our youths will always receive a bad deal. it trickles
    down. if our
    leaders are of a certain kind, it’s just normal to see that our young
    would emulate what they see modeled to them.

    i don’t mean to criticise our leaders…

    in any case, i am only speaking about and from the
    charismatic/evangelical stream that i belong to. i have been deeply
    challenged recently by the anabaptist tradition, particularly their
    stress on the public dimension of our confession. our gospel is the
    gospel of the kingdom of god.(pardon my usage of “god” in small
    letters…no disrespect intended) god’s lordship in all of life. the
    resurrection of our lord affirms the goodness of the created order. the
    greek for the
    word “salvation” in the new testament refers to the whole person…there
    isn’t a soul and body divide as
    such, as if what is ultimately saved is just the soul, while the body is
    scrapped. no. the body is so,so
    important.

    a study of the whole bible also reveals that heaven is never an
    ethereal, “other-worldly” reality. it is this earth, the one we are
    living in now,the one who’s ozone layers are depleting by the day,
    albeit renewed at the consummation of history.
    yes, new heavens and the new earth. we don’t get whisked away, and leave
    this so-called “evil world” behind. no..that would have been a sign of
    god’s defeat. creation is never abandoned. creation is caught up in
    god’s good redemptive purposes, and the church is the firstfruits of new
    creation, inaugurated through the death and resurrection of our lord,
    approx. 2000 years ago. maybe the great miracles we have been hoping for
    in the church, is not some kind of
    “revival” where more “souls” are saved. that’s important…but we’ll all
    be shortchanged if that’s all we concern ourselves with. what a renewal
    of the original christian mandate to steward creation in ways that
    honour and worship god.

    could a greater christian ecological consciousness constitute a great
    miracle in its own right, given how little the church cares about it
    today. or maybe christian initiatives toward greater and deeper racial
    reconciliation and
    appreciation. the church is a sign and a wonder to the world, a sign
    that god’s rule in the future has already begun in the world, among a
    people, as motley as ourselves. the church is meant to be our most
    basic, fundamental social unit, undercutting even our biological
    familial relations. no wonder, jesus’ words about who is his mother or
    brothers, as well as his challenge on not calling anyone on earth our
    ‘father’,except, the lord in heaven, are so,so
    radical. it was literally a new creation that he has come to constitute,
    a new people, where forgiveness is
    our badge of identity. wouldn’t it be great that christians are known to
    others in society by their practices, eg. they are known as people who
    forgive each other,does not abort our young,faithful in our marriages,
    those who love each other in word and deed. “that they may know you who
    sent me”, our lord said.

    all that is said above is political. politics is basically making
    decisions that affect a social group, in terms of ethical priorities,
    values,economic allocation of resources. all human, social groups do
    that. in this sense, aristotle is
    right… all humans are political animals in that sense. if u believe
    that morals/values are important for the individual, politics is just
    those same morals albeit on a macro-level. there is no two ways about
    it. no man is an island. we are all social creatures. the
    autonomous,detached individual is a modern myth. if that’s the case, the
    church is
    political. that must go down as the greatest understatement in the
    history of mankind 😀 we are a royal priesthood, a holy nation. nations
    have distinct characteristics, not least how they organise themselves.
    can we ever hope to recapture the body
    politics of the early church, as seen in acts?(please don’t
    misunderstand me…i’m not pushing for theonomy or encouraging the
    setting up of a christian state/nation. far from it. in fact, in many
    ways the liberal conception of the nation state today can be seen as an
    idol, where countless millions put their trust in, when that allegiance
    should only be reserved
    for our lord. to explain this point, would need another email :D)

    bottom-line is…both dualism, private religion(ala gnosticism) must
    go…the church is exremely earthy. spirituality is earthy. it has to do
    with how we wash our dishes, how we play with our kids, how we spend our
    money, how we have sex…we do
    all this things in a peculiar fashion because our god is a peculiar kind
    of god. he has been revealed to us as father,son and holy spirit. he is
    the god who revealed specifically in our lord jesus christ. not a
    generic “god” that all civilised, religious people can casually refer
    to, and we all think that we are talking about the same person. a
    distinct kind of god
    requires a distinct form of ethics, a distinct kind of politics, but
    politics nonetheless. let us not kid ourselves that the church is
    spiritual and holy, while all the corruption of politics belong to the
    world. if we think this way, we have already capitulated to the
    public/private divide, which modern liberal democracies are so happy for
    “christianity” to remain
    in, private and toothless.

    please forgive me in typing the mail in small caps including all my
    references to our lord. it only betrays the fact that i’m a slow typer.
    this email wld have been impossible without small graces like this. i
    wish all of you a good weekend,
    challenged daily to bear our crosses, for his glory and the world’s
    salvation.

    christus victor,
    aporia

  2. Sivin said,

    for me, the whole “new heavens and new earth” paradigm at the end of the book of Revelation turns my “just believe Jesus and go to heaven” kind of faith upside down and inside out. Because it takes me beyond seeing earth as a temporary place where I merely pass by to a world God is redeeming! 🙂 My 2 cents after a while.

  3. egalitaria said,

    hi. thanks hedonese 🙂 that’s one of the rare articles i read thoroughly from agora. KM is an interesting character.

    yes the question that usually emerges is why christians would then not zoom immediately to heaven upon believing if indeed that is the ultimate purpose of living… and of course, the answer is that enjoying communion with our maker is but one of the many reasons we are here… we are to be his little representatives on earth 🙂


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