Justice: Passing Fad or Immovable Truth?

Added about 2 years ago by Marcus K. Paul

GUEST BLOG: As part of our #ThemeOfTheMonth focus on injustice Marcus K. Paul, author of The Evil that Men Do, discusses historic and modern understandings of injustice.

There’s something about injustice that gets to nearly everybody. A sense of justice seems to be at the core of humanity, whatever side we’re on, in whatever debate. Hardened criminals in prison sense it if they are mistreated by “the screws”; missionaries and aid workers feel it in their daily encounters with the dispossessed; others feel it vicariously as they read the morningMarcus Paul paper over the cornflakes.

Justice is a pointer to who we are. As G K Chesterton says, a sense of injustice is the difference between the ancient moralists and modern pessimists (A Handful of Authors p.65) for whom the blind forces of evolution are the final word.  At present, most of the globe is united in condemning one colossal epoch-making, world-changing, injustice taking place on the borders of Europe. But while whole communities can suffer the impact of injustice, it is only as individuals that we can feel it. Innumerable examples of this could be given from today’s newspaper alone but let’s examine two for what they can tell us.

If, five years ago, it was reported that a sixth-former was hounded out of her school by both peers and teachers for expressing the view that biological sex exists after a talk on transphobia by a visiting speaker, there would have been widespread disbelief in the reportage. Today we have learnt to accept such reports, however shocking and unpalatable.

Another case concerns Rev Dr Bernard Randall, a mild-mannered man of gentle disposition who was the Anglican chaplain at a well-known independent school in England. He raised concerns about an organisation who were encouraging staff to chant “Smash heteronormativity” during a training session. Pupils asked him to discuss this in his sermon series some months later. He addressed the issue by talking about freedom of thought for all and not denigrating a person “simply for having opinions and beliefs which you don’t share”.

For expressing this view, completely in accord with Anglican teaching in an Anglican school, Dr Randall was suspended and lost his job. His case is still under review. How many years would we have to go back before we would have read this sequence of events as part of the plot of a futuristic dystopian novel? The answer is “not many”. Every reader of this article could supply their own instance of a quite recent injustice which struck them as simply nonsensical, an event which simply should never have arisen in “the modern world”. But there’s the point: change, and in particular the reversal of long-held views of social morality and justice, can happen almost overnight. Today’s “modern” may not last the night. Remember the change in view about corporal punishment between the early and late eighties?  What one generation sees as acceptable or enlightened and modern, the next may well believe to be benighted and archaic. This, of course, puts paid to the idea that our current views about more or less any issue (the morality of Empire say, or the relation between gender and sex) are finally and absolutely right. C S Lewis used to talk about “chronological snobbery” and remind us of the fact that a view being intellectually fashionable bears no necessary connection with its truth.  

If considered and deeply held views are so malleable and can change in a historical blink of an eye, how are we to understand the deeply held views of previous centuries?  This may not present a particular problem to the secular world, which is happy to dismiss forebears as “barbaric” or “medieval”, but it does present a thought-provoking conundrum for the Church. If morality is God-given and the Bible, in some sense, is the handbook for it, how did the Church come to engage in such blind alley, morally dubious or outright wrong actions 500 or 1000 years ago? How could the injustices of The Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades have taken place in a Church which claimed the Spirit of God and the Bible as its guide?

These are questions that Christians need to have some sort of answer to. After all, not all Christians in previous ages were wicked, selfish, evil people! What went wrong? Or is it that we are seeing them wrongly, through eyes wearing twenty-first century filters? What do serious historians say, as opposed to the Press and those with an agenda designed to run down the Church both in history and in today’s world?

The Evil that Men Do addresses these issues: the injustices which the Church has sometimes perpetrated in the past, and, in turn, the injustices the Church often suffers today at the hands of some modern commentators. If you want answers to hard questions, you may find them here.


Marcus Paul has enjoyed a life-long career working with students and sixth formers in universities and schools in three continents. He now spends his time writing and speaking about the Gospel and the Church. His book The Evil that Men Do is being featured as part of our #ThemeOfTheMonth. Yoiu can get your copy here!

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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