Justice and Sustainability

An attorney friend not long ago asked me, “What is justice?”

Good question.

I had no answer for him, but the very next day, while doing research for a theology class, I read the answer. It came from Matthew Fox’s book A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity. In it, he says: “Sustainability is another word for justice, for what is just is sustainable and what is unjust is not.” The flavor of that phrase resonates with me as truth.

Today, of course, I’m thinking about the heart-wrenching oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. But I’m also thinking about poverty and social inequities. I’m thinking of the poor people in Haiti without shelter during the hurricane season as the Goldman Sachs people defend their million-dollar bonuses.

I’m thinking about Capitalism and how it is neither sustainable nor just, and wondering what will replace it. I’m thinking about our energy, taxation, health care policies all of which are neither sustainable nor just, and wondering what will replace them. In fact, what policies do we have in place that are sustainable and therefore just?

Few, if any.

Even the way we elect our officials is unsustainable and therefore unjust, but to ask them to effect real change in the electoral system is like asking a knife to cut its own handle. Therefore, it’s up to us.

This is the task that lies ahead for all of us–personally and individually–and as an election approaches, these are the questions we should be asking the candidates. Ask them to define sustainability. Ask them to define justice. Challenge every decision they make on our behalf to consider, as the Iroquois Nation does, the effects of their policies seven generations hence.

 In 1887, Lord Acton said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This has always been true, but these days it can no longer be hidden. Now that it has been exposed, let us hold our elected officials to a higher standard. 

Let’s not let them get away with any of this any longer. Our lives depend upon it.


Filed under Evil, politics, Possibilities, Social Consciousness, Spirituality

3 responses to “Justice and Sustainability

  1. I had the pleasure of listening to Matthew Fox a decade ago. That is an interesting definition of sustainability. It makes a lot of sense interms of the have’s and the have not’s. I certainly value the concept of the Seven Generations, but that is almost a black hole in modern politics, the opposite of all that is real. One of the reasons I got excited about President Obama after his appearance at the 2004 DNC was that I could sense a certain pragmatism that I felt was absent in politics. The problems of today require that long term view. I like the idea of having politicians try to define sustainability, but ultimately they will just use it, the same way they use terms like “Green.” In the end, it is hard to imagine people looking beyond their own self-interest. Hopefully it will not require a big crisis to get people to live more sustainably.

  2. capncrusty

    As Aristotle might have it: if “justice” = “sustainability”, and one can have a sustainable system of resource usage if and only if the numbers of humans doesn’t outstrip the planetary “capital”, then logically, “justice” = “2 billion people or fewer on earth”.

  3. Gary

    How long does Capitalism need to be around before it demonstrates sustainability? While its name is only as recent as the mid sixteen hundreds, its major tenants were described by Assyrian culture about 2000 BCE. The notion of a diverse demand economy is not only very old it has been far more “JUST” than the plethora of command economy experiments proffered to replace it. They have not turned out well. So, what will replace Capitalism? I hope Capitalism. Like the mathematical system first recorded by Sumerians, Capitalism has evolved. It will evolve. “Still today, it is the worst of economic systems — except for all the rest.”

    People often criticize Capitalism’s failure to equalize outcome: there are winners and losers. But is that not one of God’s first principles? Did She not write “survival of the fittest” on every star and grain of sand in the universe? Moses may have lost that tablet on the way down the mountain — but, it is so clearly written that every critter on the Serengeti can read it. Should our economic goal be to equalize outcome OR equalize opportunity? Which is just?

    Just a thought,


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