Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Another Shock from Rome

A few weeks ago, a poster voiced her disagreement with something I said about social justice:

Christ came to save us from sin, not social injustice, right?

For this poster, then, it must have come as a shock to read Pope Benedict XVI's comments this past week. The Holy Father, speaking on July 1st, remarked:

Poverty, underdevelopment and, therefore, hunger are often the result of selfish behaviors that, born in the human heart, manifest themselves in social life, economic exchange, in market conditions and in the lack of access to food.
You can read the story here if you should like.

I draw attention to this because I think there is a pernicious tendency among some Christians to think that sin is this invisible, metaphysical goo that sort of sticks to us, making us do bad things and keeping us from heaven. This is a fine metaphor for a child, but it fails to take account of a deep reality of sin: we, too easily and too often, put our own selfish desires and wants above the creative will of God. In a quest to feed our own appetites for material good and earthly power, we turn people into objects and use them for our own gain. When the late Blessed Pope John Paul II called attention to the social structures of sin, he pointed precisely to instances of injustice such as the plight of the world's starving poor.

When the Holy Father draws attention to the needs of the poor or the marginalized, he is doing what all good theology intends to do: to liberate women and men and children from the chains of sin and evil so that they might give great glory to God. Clearly, Pope Benedict XVI is not advancing a political agenda, for the Kingdom of God is not aligned with any (current) party. Instead, he is advancing a cultural revolution, whereby we take seriously God's ongoing plan of creation and take part in it, working to make sure that all members of our human family have access to the basic necessities of human life.

So, to the original poster, allow me to say simply that it's not an either/or split. It's a both/and pairing: the fruit of sin, our tendency to diminish others and treat them like objects, is social injustice (at least, social injustice is one flower on this wicked plant). We cannot address one without addressing the other.

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