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Theology and Apologetics

Principle vs Justice

This is an atomic fourth part in a series about decision making.

In recent years, I have been presented with this dilemma of principles vs justice when evaluating the ‘goodness’ of something. Upon further reflection, I found that I frequently made judgments based on principle alone.

Here in America, our society as a whole has developed a very principle-based mindset regarding ‘goodness’ and decision making. We judge decisions based on how they measure up to a given principle. Some examples:

Raising taxes on investments stifles business and productivity, so anyone who raises taxes on investments is against productivity. The poor should learn to work for themselves, so providing them aid is just enabling them to not work. Sex outside of marriage is wrong, so anyone who does it is living in sin.

Let me drive this home for Christians with this oft heard example: the pastor who raped that child is disgusting. If they could do something like that, they probably weren’t a Christian in the first place. The non-Christian reader might find themselves rather unsurprised by the behavior, though detesting it no less.

How do we get these principles? Maybe someone who we trust or an authority figure gave them to us. Maybe based on our experience, we develop them as truths that we must stick to in order to achieve whatever our desires are. These principles are foundations for how we live and what we believe.

And from where do we get justice? How do we know what justice is? It seems everyone has a sense of it; an immutable sense that cannot be argued or taught away.

A conflict has arisen in me about this. We live in a world where justice is spit on and ignored for man’s personal gain. In this world, what value do principles have? Is principle more important than justice? Is it justice to stick to your principles? What do you do when you are confronted with a situation where your sense of justice conflicts with a long established principle?

When I see the dramatic rise of income inequality and corruption in the US, I begin to question whether booming business is worth that cost. When I see the life of the poor, I can’t truly believe that I am helping them by not giving them aid. After having sex outside of marriage, I now realize how foolish it is to look at someone differently for such sin. After all, I have not experienced a loss of personhood through that sin.

Where do we draw the line for how bad you have to be before we, as humans, decide out of principle that you are no longer good? Or that you cannot have God in you?

I talked before about how good is what is desired by all, but without perfect information, we can’t possibly make a decision knowing the impact it might have.

So we make principles. We make principles that tell us that even when we don’t have all the information, if we stick to them, it will be good.

But, that is a lie. A lie we bought and believe. And now we think we are ‘just’ for keeping to our principles. But no man is just. No man is better than another. For justice is as out of our reach as perfect information is. I might rephrase my earlier question this way: what makes you think any of you are any good at all?


About Josh Poland

Worship Leader, Economist, Musician, Martial Artist



  1. Pingback: Redemption of Desire | Josh Poland - November 4, 2014

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