Elsewhere: social justice and inequality


What the Catholic teaching of social justice is and is not should be clearly understood by all faithful Catholics. Often in the political arena, the term is used to represent goals which are actually contrary to the true Catholic meaning.

In October I wrote a piece on what social justice is and a piece on what social justice is not. A while back, Dr. Mark Hendrickson (faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College) touched on the same issue for Catholic Exchange.

The modern left’s “social justice” strives for economic equality. It endeavors to reduce, if not erase, the gap between rich and poor by redistributing wealth. This is “justice” more akin to Marx and Lenin, not according to Moses and Jesus. It is a counterfeit of real justice, biblical justice. Modern notions of “social justice” are often wolves in sheep’s clothing.

The fundamental error of today’s “social justice” practitioners is their hostility to economic inequality, per se. “Social justice” theory fails to distinguish between economic disparities that result from unjust deeds and those that are part of the natural order of things. All Christians oppose unjust deeds, and I’ll list some economic injustices momentarily. First, though, let us understand why it isn’t necessarily unjust for some people to be richer than others:

God made us different from each other. We are unequal in aptitude, talent, skill, work ethic, priorities, etc. Inevitably, these differences result in some individuals producing and earning far more wealth than others. To the extent that those in the “social justice” crowd obsess about eliminating economic inequality, they are at war with the nature of the Creator’s creation.

The Bible doesn’t condemn economic inequality. You can’t read Proverbs without seeing that some people are poor due to their own vices. There is nothing unjust about people reaping what they sow, whether wealth or poverty.

Jesus himself didn’t condemn economic inequality. Yes, he repeatedly warned about the snares of material wealth; he exploded the comfortable conventionality of the Pharisaical tendency to regard prosperity as a badge of honor and superiority; he commanded compassion toward the poor and suffering. But he also told his disciples, “ye have the poor always with you? (Matthew 26:11), and in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:24-30) he condemned the failure to productively use one’s God-given talents – whether many or few, exceptional or ordinary – by having a lord take money from the one who had the least and give it to him who had the most, thereby increasing economic inequality.

The Lord’s mission was to redeem us from sin, not to redistribute our property or impose an economic equality on us. In fact, the Almighty explicitly declined to undermine property rights or preach economic equality when he told the man who wanted Jesus to tell his brother to share an inheritance with him, “Man, who made me a judge or divider over you?” (Luke 12:14).

Read the whole article at Does Social Justice Allow Inequality?


  1. I read the above links to your previous posts and to Dr Hendrickson's as well. I appreciate your clear presentation of what we Catholics mean by the term. Just this week one of my conservative Facebook friends posted an article that definitely is a version that a Catholic would reject. So today I posted a link to your article about what social justice in not, with the hope that he understands there is a different interpretation.

  2. The Bible talks about redistribution, but it certainly does not equate it with stealing. When all agricultural lands returned to their ancestral owners at the Year of Jubilee, that was redistribution, IMO. When debts were cancelled every seven years, that was also a form of redistribution. When Joseph nationalized Egypt's agriculture during the seven year's famine, that could be seen as a form of redistribution.

    You can argue about whether these examples should be taken as normative for Christians today, but what you can't argue is that the Bible condemns economic redistribution, because it certainly doesn't.

  3. Tyson, scripture is always open to interpretation. Satan himself quoted scripture to our Lord with his own spin. The question is, where can one find the truth – what is the correct interpretation. Catholics believe fully in Holy Scripture, as well as Sacred Tradition and our Magisterium who are guided infallibly by the Holy Spirit. It is to them we turn for the correct interpretation and for teaching on Social Justice – which this piece is about.

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