What is the Relationship Between Social Justice and Apologetics?

Unless you have been living under a rock, you might have noticed there is a lot of debate about how local churches and campus ministries can integrate social justice issues into their teaching and outreach. Yes, some say no to any social justice issues while others make it the primary issue. One thing that comes to mind is the relationship between apologetics and social justice. One thing for sure: people that fight for social justice care about people, and believe in equality, rights, and the dignity of humans. I think that apologetics can help explain ‘why’ we care about these issues. This means we are back to the topic of worldview.

Some of the fundamental questions that make up a worldview are the following:

• Origins: How did it all begin? Where did we come from?
• Fall: What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?
• Redemption: What can we do about it? How can the world be set right again?
• Morality: What is the basis for morality? In other words, how do we know what is right and wrong?
• History: What is the meaning of history? Where is history going?
• Death: What happens to a person at death?
• Epistemology: Why is it possible to know anything at all?
• Ontology: What is reality? What is the nature of the external reality around us?
• Purpose: What is man’s purpose in the world? (3)

In addition to these primary questions, there are three major narratives :

  1. Identity: You have to be true to yourself.
  2. Freedom: I should be free to live any way I want as long as I’m not harming anyone else.
  3. Happiness: You’ve got to do what makes you happy in the end. Morality: No one has the right to tell anyone else what is  right or wrong for him or her.

Does this sound like the thoughts you have about yourself and about life? If so, then you have drunk deeply from the well of Western culture. But we think that if you ponder the Big Questions noted above, you will see the connection between these and the four aforementioned narratives. And if God does exist, well—that has ramifications for all of the questions and narratives we have. Our worldview speaks not only to questions about origins, meaning, morality, and destiny, but also to secondary questions about family, career and calling, politics, economics, education, the arts—all of life. Our worldview is all-encompassing, and the different components fit together like the strands of a web. We ask ourselves a lot of questions: What am I supposed to do with my life? What is ‘the good life’ and how can I be happy? Who am I and what is my identity?

Let’s look at some worldview questions and provide some comparisons here:

  1. Origins
    1. Are we simply further evolved animals that came about through the interplay of matter, time, and chance?
    2. Are we created in the image and likeness of a personal God?
  2. What is the nature of humanity?
    1. Is humanity a highly complex meat machine, or a person made in the image of God?
    2. Are we created in the image and likeness of a personal God?
  3. Morality
    1. What’s wrong with the human condition?
    2. Is God the foundation of moral values and moral duties, or do humans/society create their own moral values and moral duties?
  4. Purpose
    1. Is there any objective meaning and purpose in life, or are we simply random creatures in a purposeless, meaningless universe?
    2. Do we create our own purpose and meaning?
  5. Identity/What Defines Us
    1. Being an Image Bearer of God?
    2. What I own? Where I live? My career? My sexuality? My political position?
  6. Destiny 
    1.What is our end? The Greek word ‘telos’ carries connotations of purpose, end, goal, and destination.2. Personal extinction, transformation to a higher state, reincarnation, or resurrection?
  7. History: Does history have a beginning and an end?
    1.Does history begin with God’s creation of the world and end with the return of Jesus?
    2. Is history headed in a specific direction?

Why do humans matter? 

These worldview issues are all related to the issue of social justice. But back to the issue of fighting for humans.  Why 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 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. 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. But to atheist and skeptics, why do humans matter so much and why would they be outraged over all the mistreatment of their fellow humans? Why fight so hard for humans?

There are five options other than grounding human value in anything other than a view 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. Here they are:

First option: Peter Singer and others describe any attempt to see humans as more significant than any other part of the animal world as arrogant speciesism (the view that one’s own species is the superior one).

A second option is some form of rationalist autonomy, in which one of the properties that make humans significant is the use of reason—specifically people’s capacity to set ends for themselves.

A third option is to see human significance as somehow grounded in an evolutionary framework through adaptability and survival, though humans’ place at the top of the evolutionary ladder could well be temporary. This outlook opens the door to a view that is the subject of transhumanism (the view that it might be possible for human beings to surpass their humanity and become something different than merely human).

A fourth option is a type of naturalistic Platonism, which recognizes that some necessary things about human beings are built into the structure of the world but does not necessarily acknowledge that there is a designer who placed them there.

A final option, which moves toward the discussion of postmodern individualism addressed in the previous chapter, would be to see the grounding for human significance collapse into some form of subjectivism. In this outlook, significance is a matter of personal preference or is conferred by some external authority such as the state.

See Why People Matter: A Christian Engagement with Rival Views of Human Significance, John F. Kilner, Russell DiSilvestro, David Gushee, Amy Hall, John Kilner, Gilbert Meilaender, and Patrick Smith.

Conclusion

Apologetics can help Christians be informed about why they fight so hard for social justice. Yes, atheists and secularists and fight for social justice issues as well.  But I think a theistic worldview lays the groundwork for why we fight for the equality of humans, dignity, value,  and a better world.

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