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Monday, September 10, 2007

Reinhold Neibuhr on Justice vs Philanthropy

Came across this today...

"Christians pride themselves upon an ethic that exceeds the requirements of law. But it is significant that Jews, schooled in their legalistic tradition and also the inheritors of the prophetic spirit, are on the whole more depth in the field of justice than Christians. They might well say to Christians what Cosimo de'Medici said to Catholics in the Renaissance: "You have built your ladders into the heavens. We will not seek so high or sink so low." Christian businessman are more frequently characterized by a spirit of philanthropy than by a spirit of justice in asserting the claims and counterclaims of economic groups.

Love in the form of philanthropy is, in fact, on a lower level than a high form of justice. For philanthropy is given to those who make no claims against us, who do not challenge our goodness or disinterestedness. An act of philanthropy may thus be an expression of both power and moral complacency. An act of justice on the other hand requires the humble recognition that the claim that other makes against us may be legitimate."
(emphasis mine)

Q. Do our acts of charity and philanthropy sometimes get in the way of acts of justice? How does the scripture in Micah 6:8 (He has shown thee oh man what is good. But to do justly, to love mercy and to act humbly with our God) inform Niebuhr's comments?

- From Love and Justice, Selections from the Shorter Writings of Reinhold Neibuhr

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