Justice, Morality, and Human Significance: Conversation Starters with Protesters
By Eric Chabot, CJFM Midwest Representative
The “Why” Questions
How can we talk to people in the midst of all the raclial tension in our country.? Just yesterday, while in a part of downtown Columbus, Ohio (see my display here), I saw two young girls with a sign that said “justice.” I asked them three things: “Why” do they care so much about justice and where does their concept of justice come from? “Why” do people matter so much? And, “why” do they feel so morally obligated to protest and fight for how humans should be treated? Yes, they hadn’t thought much about it and by the end of the discussion I asked them “Don’t you think you should know “why” you are out protesting for justice? One thing is for sure: the concern over such a topic demonstrates that people live as if they care about justice, equality, and human rights. I plan on using this approach with many others. Where am I going with this?
Why do people matter so much?
Given people are spending their entire lives fighting for what they consider to be inequality, justice and human rights. But, why do humans matter so much if all of reality is reducible to matter, chance, and the laws of nature? Biological reductionism, metaphysical materialism, and psychological behaviorism say that impersonal, physical, and valueless processes cause valuable, rights-bearing persons to be.Humans, therefore, can assign value to fellow humans by sheer choice. However, this assignment of value to human life is subjective, not objective. Assigning value to people based on personal choice leads us to ask, “What if someone doesn’t think a group of people are not valuable?” Rights, it seems, are linked to personhood. The Bible, for example, says that humans are made in the likeness and image of God, and that they are therefore intrinsically valuable. Rights come by virtue of who human beings are by nature, as opposed to function, productivity, or ‘usefulness.’ The two girls that I spoke to fell into some kind of postmodern individualism which says the grounding for human significance is based on subjectivism. In this outlook, significance is a matter of personal preference or is conferred by some external authority such as the state. This is why I asked them the following question: “What if Hitler doesn’t think people matter?” Maybe that is just his opinion?
Why are you morally obligated to fight for justice?
What is the justification for our moral knowledge? If God exists, then objective moral values are valid, independent of our opinions or preferences. The fact that we think we are morally obligated to speak out as to why many injustices are morally wrong establishes this point: we do believe in objective moral truths. Most of these protestors invest in activities that promote the kind of world they want. Many will admit they want to spend time making the world a better place. But who gets to define what “better” is? Most likely, people want a world of justice, equality, and for humans to be viewed with dignity and respect. But how do we know what the world should look like unless we have some standard as to what is just and unjust? People who fight for justice know how things ought to be, and they assume a standard of justice and goodness in order to bring to fruition their preconceived notions of a just, fair, and equitable society. On a secular worldview however, things happen either by “blind, pitiless chance” as Richard Dawkins says, or by the laws of nature. On this line of thinking, there is no grand plan or purpose behind the evil and injustice we observe. If there is no God, evil is just a social construct, and merely an illusion. I am asking these people the following: what is the grounding for the following three things?
Moral Values: are what matter to us (love, justice, mercy, justice). They are what motivate our behavior. They ground our judgments about what is good or bad, desirable or undesirable.
Moral Duties: indicates an oughtness of action; whether an act is obligatory. ‘’I shouldn’t do that, or you ought to do that.”
Moral Accountability: What difference does it make to you if you just go ahead and disregard your moral obligations to whomever?
I know many of us may say “That’s too much to think about?” My response: I am happy to walk people through it. This is a great opportunity to share how the Biblical worldview grounds the need for justice, morality and wht humans matter.
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