Social Justice or Vendetta?
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a life for a life!” This law, which appears several times in the Bible, was never intended to encourage people to participate in acts of extreme vengeance or unhinged violence. Scholars now generally agree that this “law of retaliation” (lex talionis) was intended not to escalate violence but to limit the degree of retribution that a victim of injustice was authorized to take in response to wrongs committed against him.
The virus of hate has long incubated in the human spirit. It metastasizes as a soul-killing sickness. Throughout history, it has often reached epidemic proportions. Indeed, history’s recurrent plagues of violence only reveal that attempted immunizations against this virus have more often than not proved ineffective. The hate-virus attaches itself especially to what we might call our “justice-receptors.” Particularly vulnerable are those persons whose sense of justice is underdeveloped, distorted, truncated, or misguided. I shall mention a couple of proverbial ways of expressing how this viral infection of the justice-receptors manifests its symptoms. Some people, for example, will “make a mountain out of a molehill.” In such cases, the degree of offense they perceive has been perpetrated against them is exaggerated out of all proportion. Like sharks that smell blood in the water, their rapacious reaction to even the slightest offense seems strangely instinctual and automatic. People may also become accustomed to “wearing a chip on their shoulder.” Or, if they cannot find something to be offended about, then they will manufacture new chips to pile on. Such folks seem to have nothing better to do than to invent new ways of being offended. But try knocking one of these chips off such a person’s shoulder, and you will live to regret it! Such a one may decide to assault you physically—maybe even kill you! Or, he may unleash against you a hateful tirade that lets you know in no uncertain terms that you have disrespected and violated his boundaries. Ironically, such persons who demand that you respect their boundaries will often show a blatant disregard for the boundaries of others. What becomes paramount instead is the protection of their own personal space.
Clearly, hate groups, both of the right and the left, have more in common than what they will ever admit. Their behaviors are eerily similar despite their great ideological differences. They feel fully justified in perceiving and treating others with whom they disagree as objects of scorn in need of eradication. Eradication may entail either the taking of the “offender’s” life or the destruction of his reputation. The major problem all haters have in common, however, is that they are vicious in the fullest sense of the word. That is, they are accustomed to cultivating vice in the human soul rather than virtue. Over time, their character becomes fixed. As a result, they become thoroughlyvicious people. Now these sorts of people appear everywhere in abundance, and their number and the virulence of their hate seem only to increase by the day.
Aristotle had something important to say about the practice of justice as a virtue. It just so happens that the other cardinal virtues—prudence, courage, and temperance—are fully expressed through justice and can in no way be disconnected from it. This means that justice can never be rightly practiced by persons who are imprudent, cowardly, or intemperate. Expressed in another way, justice can never be rightly practiced by persons “whose god is their belly” (Phil 3:19). Justice must, rather, start first as an attitude in the human soul before one can ever hope to express it rightly. Whether justice is retributive, distributive, or restorative, persons who are motivated by their lower instincts will always fall vastly short of practicing it. All “social-justice warriors” need to heed this caution. Otherwise, they may be guilty of allowing their concern for social justice to morph into various kinds of vendetta, and the violence that they “justify” in the name of social justice will, in fact, turn out only to be another expression of injustice.