All posts tagged: justice

Can Justice Demand Prison Abolition?

Ihave been thinking, writing, and teaching about punishment and prisons for a while now. That is because I have spent time, on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, with incarcerated men and women for the better part of the last 20 years. Sometimes I am there as an educator, but more often I am ministering as a lay Catholic volunteer. For several years in graduate school, I served as the Catholic chaplain in a facility in Boston. Honestly, I am not sure when I became a prison abolitionist. I did not start that way, but I arrived there. People of faith, especially Christians, have a special responsibility to respond to the crisis of mass incarceration in the United States. Yet, reform is not enough. I came to believe that an authentic Christian account of mercy and justice demands nothing short of abolition. There is much about the modern prison that opposes dignity and hope, but the special responsibility of Christians to address the prison also arises from the extensive Christian heritage of the institution itself. The …

Does the Mass Say Christmas Is About Justice?

Is Christmas about justice? B. D. McClay’s recent column in Commonweal, “Christmas is a Time for Justice” seems to suggest that Christmas is about justice, divine justice. She argues in an “admittedly lighthearted way” that the movie In Bruges is a Christmas movie because in some sense it is about justice and “accounts beginning to come in.” The movie is about an Irish hit man, Ray, who accidentally kills a child. For this mistake his boss Harry insists he must die to settle the account—justice demands it; Harry sends Ray to Bruges along with Ken whom Harry has ordered to kill Ray. It is in fact a wonderful though violent movie with a twist at the end very much worth watching. The movie’s theme functions as a metaphor for Christmas. So if the theme of the movie is about justice and accounts coming due, it seems that Christmas, when we celebrate the incarnation and birth of Christ, is ultimately about justice because our accounts have come due. I cannot help but think that McClay is …

Further Reflections on Capital Punishment (and on Edward Feser)

According to Edward Feser, I seem “to think that the moral demands of the Gospel apply in exactly the same way to both the private sphere and the public sphere.” And this, he goes on to say, “is not only not the Catholic position, it is not even the Eastern Orthodox position. It is merely David Bentley Hart’s personal theological position, and he simply asserts it without argument.” Ah. Except that I don’t, and never have (though neither would I necessarily reject the proposition, since it seems a claim more dangerous to deny than to affirm; I would need to know precisely what “in exactly the same way” means in Feser’s mind.) I can see the cause of the confusion, however. The issue is capital punishment, and Feser’s angry expostulation comes near the end of his rancorous reply to two extremely bad reviews—one by me, one by Paul Griffiths—of the “Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment” that he and Joseph Bessette recently published under the title By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed. Now, in fact, nowhere in …

And the Nominees Are . . . Hell or High Water

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. This review contains no spoilers. The best stories take us to new places and in doing so give a better understanding of ourselves. They persuade us to sympathize with the heroes—their struggles crush us—while sharing their ire for the dirty, no-good louts presented against them. Great plots challenge, intrigue, enchant, and ultimately force us to come to decide: What am I to do—who am I to be—in light of what’s happening here? Good stories end happily ever after but great ones leave us thirsting for more. This year’s Best Picture nominee Hell or High Water is a great one. Set in present-day West Texas, we meet cowboys, Comanches, and Texas Rangers in a desert expanse peppered with depressing “Fast Cash” billboards and flashing casino lights. The film tells of two brothers, Tanner and Toby Howard (played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine, respectively), who resort to robbing Texas Midland Banks in order …

The New Jerusalem

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. (Is 1:25–26) You have to set your square large enough that all your livestock can fit inside it. You start by pacing off the perimeter. Put some rocks or some large stones where you want the corners, your front gate and maybe an extra portal or two on the side or the back. You have to see in your mind if it’s a big enough area. And then you walk around it, again and again, kicking the dirt out of the way until you’ve made a deep enough groove. Then, after you’ve walked the miles around what will be your house you’re going to need some water. Not …

Answering Questions that Matter: Authority as Accompaniment

The value of human life has become a concern that increasingly pervades multiple aspects of society—both on a communal and personal level. I am provoked to ask this question every day when I look at the faces of my students at the high school in which I teach. Who are they? What gives their life value? Who am I in relation to them and what am I proposing to them about the meaning of life and the nature of reality? These questions have become even more urgent in light of the surmounting tension between law enforcement officials and people living in predominately Black urban cities. I am struck by those who feel compelled to proclaim the value of the lives of Black people. The fact that there are countless people who feel that this statement needs to be made implies that we have lost clarity and direction when facing our humanity and the source of our value. What is it, indeed, that makes life matter in the first place? The homilies and speeches given by …

Moral Virtue, The Grace of God, and Discipleship

Moral theology has traditionally explored how people act in the world (“moral”) in the context of their faith in God (“theology”). This volume purposely examines morality in the context of Christian belief. What difference does faith make in how a person lives his or her life? Surely a person of faith engages in certain distinctive activities, such as going to church, praying, and reading the Bible. But what about the myriad of activities that all people partake in every day, such as eating, facing difficulties, exchanging goods, and making decisions? Does the person of faith engage in these activities with the same “morality” as everyone else? As is already clear, a life of discipleship is not simply about performing certain types of actions. It is a vocation, a transformation of one’s very self. Such a transformation of course impacts how we act. The primary question for this chapter is, how does discipleship, a life of following Jesus, transform not only who we are but also how we act in this world? The ancient notion of …