The Puzzling Concept of Justice

Cross-posted from Radical Religion.

“Justice language” is, in my experience, the greatest stumbling block in an otherwise rich and productive dialogue between socially-engaged Christians and Buddhists. It should not be so, but last night’s Presidential announcement of the death of Osama Bin Laden shows us precisely why this stumbling block exists. Last night, Obama announced that “justice” had been served. In this case, the clear implication was that the death of Bin Laden was part and parcel of this “justice.” But was it?

I don’t think that Amos had this kind of thing in mind when announcing that God wanted justice to “roll down like waters” (Amos 5:24). In fact, I don’t think that there’s any language about “justice” in the gospels which would support Obama’s view thereof. The word he was looking for last night is “vengeance,” which I’m pretty sure God has reserved for Godself (Deut 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30).

If we think instead of what “justice” should mean in any theosocial context, we can come quickly to the notion expressed in the sermons given on the “Kingdom of God” (or Kin-dom or just basileia). Justice is merciful care for the downtrodden. Justice is a social order in which human bodies are not violated for profit or any selfish intent. Justice looks more like the community described in Acts 2:44-47 in which the community held no private property and distributed any material goods among themselves according to the need of each. No word about revenge is spoken in that description. No word of revenge has any place in justice at all.

If justice then is more about mercy and compassion, it is not only more consistent with Buddhist understandings of human relationship, but it is also precisely the opposite of what’s been pronounced “justice” in this political context.

Quest of the Historical Malcolm X

Cross-posted from my newly-formed and post-Union blog Radical Religion.

Irene Monroe has a good take on Manning Marable’s new biography of Malcolm X up at her Huffington Post blog. I will leave her comments for you to read, but please do. She is an excellent writer with a much-needed perspective on race and sexuality in American culture. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a Union alumna either.

More to the point of this posting’s title, I began to wonder upon reading Rev. Monroe’s piece whether we might be on the brink of some kind of Schweitzer-esque quest for the “Historical Malcolm X.” Schweitzer’s 1906 volume The Quest of the Historical Jesus is a great introduction to the field of historical Jesus studies. In a nutshell, the central question here is what new light might be shed on faith claims to Jesus based on historical research into the person Jesus of Nazareth.

With Marable’s new book shedding new light on the person of Malcom X, do we need a similar re-evaluation of the claims we can make to his legacy as well? Do we need to consider a “Malcolm of History” versus a “Malcolm of Faith” as we do with Jesus? I do not wish to draw a soteriological parallel between these two figures. Rather, I want to raise again the question of whether the facts-that-happened version of history is more important than the usable past. I don’t have a solid answer, but I do have my sympathies for Martin Marty’s view of history and Michel Foucault’s view of discourse and narrative here.


In my own estimation, new historical evidence might shed light on a figure’s past in terms of the facts-that-happened. Such evidence, however, may or may not have much bearing on the usable past version of history as a story we tell ourselves about a particular figure or event. Malcolm X remains simultaneously the person described in his autobiography and the person described by Marable. He was always both, just as we are all both the people we believe ourselves to be and the people who match our self-perceptions.

Bishop Senyonjo’s Courage

A quick heads-up that Religion Dispatches has an article on Union alum Bishop Christopher Senyonjo currently running on their site. For those who do not know, the Bishop has been the sole voice of religious support for the LGBTQ citizens of Uganda.

He has been doing a great service both in Uganda and in the United States. The churches need not only more Christopher Senyonjos, but more of us to recognize and publicize efforts like this. Please share this article far and wide.

The Revolution Has Been Televised

Contrary to the old saying, the Revolution has indeed been televised. Al Jazeera, despite Mubarak’s shut-down of both new and old media, has carried live coverage of a peaceful revolution in Egypt.

This is a great day. Twenty-one years ago today, Nelson Mandela was freed from Victor Verser Prison: this too was televised. The media has a great responsibility to the people not as our opiate but as a partner in liberation.

Mubarak has resigned.

الله أكبر

Let My People Go

Protester faces off against police forces in Egypt

We are so accustomed in the Abrahamic tradition to see Egypt as the oppressor to be overthrown. It is a central part of the Exodus narrative, which has been crucial in Jewish history as well as African-American Christian identity. So what happens when Egypt itself yearns for freedom?

That is precisely what we are seeing now. The people of Egypt are straining against the bonds of a modern-day Pharaoh, and he’s one that the United States has nearly unequivocally supported. The Sarthanapolos blog has an excellent guide about “How Not To Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt”, which contains many corrections to the distorted view that we have had of our Muslim sisters and brothers for years. Notably, it points out that Mubarak and Nassar before him were not peace-seeking fonts of stability but repressive dictators and that the Muslim Brotherhood is not anything like Al Quaeda.

How long must we follow Constantine before we remember Christ?

More information:
Al Jazeera English’s special coverage
follow @AJELive on Twitter
NPR has coverage of Egypt and the wider Middle East