Sunday, September 13, 2009

Faith and Justice

Kolvenbach’s article on the Jesuit belief in “faith and justice” raises the question of whether or not justice must be aligned with faith to be considered truly just. As a non-religious member of the Jesuit Loyola community, I still partake in acts of service and justice, but out of my own sense of humanity rather than a sense of responsibility to a faith or to the Gospel. From my own experience and from the experiences of some of my close religious friends, I have gathered that faith and justice can exist together, as the Jesuit ideal, but can also exist independently. I believe it is possible for people to seek justice on the premise of humanity and self-learned morality alone, but do not see anything wrong with aligning the search for justice with a belief in religion. While Loyola does promote the faith and justice combination, especially since its Center for Community Service and Justice is located directly under the Chapel and is in close association with Campus Ministry, it does not reject acts of justice that are based simply on humanity but rather promotes a humanitarian education over a theological one. Although Kolvenbach relates injustice to a lack of spirituality, he also claims that justice lies in humanity, that injustice stems from selfishness and a lack of action: “ ‘Despite the opportunities offered by an ever more serviceable technology, we are simply not willing to pay the price of a more just and more humane society’” (32). In today’s society, we must be willing, out of our own responsibility to humanity, to make the changes to achieve justice.
In the debate over the independence of justice from faith, Toni Morrison would argue, on Huck’s behalf, that justice can act independently of religion. Morrison readily sees the justice and sheer humanity behind Huck’s actions, especially his desire to speak the truth to Mary Jane over an issue that both condemns slavery and promotes humanity: “Her dismay over the most grotesque consequences of slavery catapults him into one of his most mature and difficult decisions—to abandon silence and chance the truth” (392). Despite his lack of religious faith, Huck manages to act justly out of his newly gained sense of humanity that most likely stems from his interracial relationship with Jim and his experiences along the river of both sadness and peacefulness. Morrison defends Huck’s desire to escape to the “territory” as another display of his sense of justice, for he merely longs for the separation from a society that does not know how to balance religion and justice, from a society based on chaos: “Although Huck complains bitterly of rules and regulations, I see him to be running not from external control but from external chaos. Nothing in society makes sense; all is in peril. Upper-class, churchgoing, elegantly housed families annihilate themselves in a psychotic feud…” (387). The association of a “churchgoing family” with chaos and violence furthers the idea that faith alone cannot render justice.
Smiley sees The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a novel demoting humanitarianism mainly because of the racial issue of the relationship between Huck and Jim. Although Huck does perform acts of justice, his treatment of Jim, his closest friend, counteracts such displays of humanity because it does not promote racial equality. Smiley also views Huck’s desire to escape his society for the “territory” as a desire to escape the responsibilities he has for humanity and therefore justice. But Smiley does readily see the problem between faith and justice of Huck’s southern society in Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book Smiley believes to be a more adequate portrayal of slavery and humanity. In this novel, Smiley claims that Stowe “comments ironically on Christian bankers in New York whose financial dealings result in the sale of slaves, on Northern politicians who promote the capture of escaped slaves for the sake of the public good, on ministers of churches who give the system a Christian stamp of approval,” (360) therefore criticizing the supposed relationship between religion and the service to justice in displaying the corrupt attitudes of the religious authorities towards slavery. In her portrayal of racial injustice at the hands of those claiming the decency of a religious background, Smiley’s article establishes religion and justice as two separate entities.
Huck’s role in Twain’s novel provides the perfect example of the conflict between (rather than the alliance of) faith and justice. The young boy witnesses enough ill displays of society for the reader to realize that Huck cannot live justly in the racist, Christian, southern sphere. Huck’s struggle to find his own sense of conscience reflects upon this struggle between faith and justice because despite his upbringing that leads him to believe that his actions towards freeing Jim are lawfully wrong, Huck still goes against this sense and develops his own judge of right and wrong that leads him to take action in favor of Jim’s freedom. In a way, Huck acts justly although he believes, by societal standards, that his actions are unjust. One could argue that Huck does not have any background in religion and therefore does not know how to relate faith and his just acts, but Huck manages to get along pretty well on the merit of his self-learned conscience. Huck’s actions prove that in the historical southern society as well as in today’s society, even in the absence of a certain faith, justice can be achieved on the basis of humanity.

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