One of the goals of my blog is to write about social justice issues in ways that motivate readers to act justly. Since living in metro Detroit and interacting with some very justice-oriented Catholic nuns, I’ve learned enough about social justice to become a rather passionate advocate. But I’ve also learned that this subject is not a normal phrase in the vocabulary of many good people I know. Maybe it’s time to address the basics before building a platform on just responses to the huge array of injustices rampant in the 21st century.
Today I will try to clarify the meaning of social justice vs social charity–a more familiar practice for many people–with a comparison from a book called Social Justice published by Greenhaven Press in 2005.
The primary difference is explained clearly by using the story of the Good Samaritan and the Biblical Exodus story. “Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt. Moses did not ask Egypt’s ruler for better food and medicine for the slaves, which would have been an act of charity. Instead, he demanded that Egyptian society be changed so that the Hebrews would no longer be enslaved.” The author notes that actions promoting justice, unlike social charity activities, are often controversial because actions that promote justice challenge the status quo. A Catholic bishop was quoted, ” When I gave food to the poor, they called me a saint. When I asked why the poor had no food, they called me a communist.”
This same theme is expressed vividly by Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate, in his speech delivered April 12, 1999 in Washington, D.C.
“It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes… Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbors are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless… Indifference reduces the Other to an abstraction.”
In the next few blogs I will attempt to discover ways to be less indifferent and more socially just. I would love to receive proposals from readers!