Social Justice is not Socialist Justice


Dr. Kelly Burton


All humans are born with a sense of justice. In justice, equals are to be treated equally. Human beings are equally rational animals. We are equal as human beings. Yet we are different in so many other ways. We have different gender preferences, races and ethnicities, socio-economic backgrounds, geographical differences, and various generations co-existing with their cohort differences.


Social justice is about finding a balance when the differences become a strain on our economic and social well being. It is about righting unfair economic disparity based on oppression. The primary source of oppression is falsehood - beginning with our conceptions of God and human nature. Some views of reality maintain an implied or a literal caste system due to false views of reality and the development of a false worldview that maintains oppression by systemic means through institutions that support the oppressive false view of reality. Some people may dehumanize others for economic and/or social gain because they do not view their fellow humans as equal. 


Furthermore, any form of oppression is based on a false view of good and evil for human beings. Distorted views of the good life often lead to vicious means of obtaining false goods. If a person, or a culture, believes that comfort, success, power, or money is what makes for a good life, then these ends justify the means of attaining the goal. Sometimes the means become oppressive to others. Capitalism without God becomes oppressive because the goal of life apart from God is always self-centered and aimed at the profits of competing individuals. Some people suffer for the profits of others. This is not a necessary feature of capitalism, but it is a necessary feature of capitalism without a proper view of God, human nature, and good and evil for human beings. 


Perhaps, then, the solution to economic and social injustice is socialism or communism, where the state can serve to regulate economic injustice through redistribution of wealth through taxation. The state may also implement diversity, equity, and inclusion programs across cultural institutions to weed out systemic social sources of oppression, such as an implied caste system that is self-perpetuating. What goes by “social justice” today has taken this path. It appears to be a corrective to what has gone wrong with the Western capitalist system.


The perceived problem with the Western capitalist system is that it perpetuates economic disparity through individual, cultural, and/or racial privilege to the disparity of racial and social minorities, other cultures, and the economically downtrodden. Capitalism appears to favor some individuals and oppress others. Marxism calls the favored the bourgeois and the oppressed the proletariat. Today’s Social Justice movement has expanded Marx’s economic categories to include race, gender, and other oppressed categories of people. The aim for Social Justice is the removal of economic and social inequalities.


Economic and social equality is a laudable goal. Can a socialist version of Social Justice provide the foundation needed to achieve this goal in a lasting manner? Socialist justice cannot and will not achieve the goal of equality and the elimination of all forms of social and economic oppression given the assumptions upon which socialist justice rests. It will only exchange one system of oppression (Western capitalism apart from God) for another (Western communism apart from God).


We have seen the terrors of both national socialism and universal communism in history. Both versions assume that material reality is the only reality; that human beings are mere animals (although more evolved than lower animals). Humans have no soul and are not fundamentally rational. Instead, humans are fundamentally willing beings and what we desire most is power. In fact, we are locked in a perpetual power struggle (human vs. human, class vs. class, race vs. race, culture vs. culture, religion vs. religion).


If all is matter, there is no God, and this life is the only life there is no afterlife and we are locked in a perpetual power struggle, what is the point? What is the goal of life? What is the ultimate goal of humanity? Why struggle against the system to bring about social justice if we are going to return to the dust in a few years?


The current social justice movement has become more than a social and economic struggle for equality. It has become an alternative “faith” for a people who have no faith in God. The movement has become a source of meaning in a materialistic view of reality. It provides hope for the future (though none of us will not be part of that future). Social justice makes working for equity and inclusion purposeful. We want to help people to have better lives. The social justice movement provides an optimistic view for an otherwise meaningless materialism.


Neither socialist justice nor Western capitalism without God can provide the foundation for true social justice. In justice, equals are to be treated equally. Only with theism does God create human beings equally in his own image. Humans are equally rational. Humans — all humans collectively together — are given the work of dominion (not domination). In dominion, humans are given the task of filling the earth with the purpose of “naming” the creation (understanding what each thing in creation is) and developing all the powers latent in ourselves and in the created order. By engaging in this work, humankind is to know their Creator and to increase in understanding of who that Creator is.


God has equally distributed talent to each human being for their unique contribution to this collective human project. Each human being is given talent by God for the work of knowing God and exercising a unique role in the increase of the knowledge of God for all. Exercise of talent is how we create value. Economics is based on the exchange of what is of value. All of us, equally, have the God-given capacity and responsibility to identify, develop, and exercise our talent for the goal of knowing God and making God known. When we are doing this we will find true enjoyment.


The role of the government in a just society is to secure the rights of individuals to life, liberty, and pursuit of the good. Each institution should support the individual’s pursuit of the good according to its form and function. The family can support a just society by knowing and speaking the truth for each member of the family and in helping children to identify and develop their unique talent for contribution to the good. The educational system can continue the process begun in the family. Rather than tearing down what is learned in the home, the educational system should be concerned with sharing knowledge with all students regardless of background. The church can support a just society by being the pillar and ground of the Truth and by discipling church members in the truth. We all can support a just economic order by investing in, creating, and purchasing what is of real value. We can be good stewards of what we own for a time, of our finances, and of our environment. The moral law provides many principles for creating and maintaining a just social order. 


True social justice involves the relentless pursuit of truth at the foundational philosophical level. We must know and speak the truth about the existence and nature of God, human nature, the good life (and our work) and evil. Social injustice results from the perpetuation of false views of God, human nature, and good and evil. Socialism does not speak the truth about reality, so it too will perpetuate the very oppression that it opposes. Those who want justice must know the truth, speak and live the truth, and work to tear down systems of falsehood, including the current socialist justice movement.


  1. Lori Tyson on April 2, 2021 at 4:40 pm

    I like what you said about how all humans are to develop the powers latent within ourselves and in the created order. I believe that God put them in ourselves for the purpose of using them, just like the parable of the stewards and their talents. It’s tricky when it comes to being a mom, though. There’s a good bit of almost waiting to develop all the talents God has given you in order to love and raise your children. And I think some of that may apply to being a wife, as well. If your husband need your support in a particular way that kind of keeps you from having the extra time to maybe go back to school or work outside of the home. But, I know this was not the overall point of your essay; it was about a biblical way of looking at social justice. However, if Christians can’t tease out with this means for them, how can we apply it to the world at large? This is tricky! I would love to hear your thoughts on this :-).

    • Paul Chen on December 23, 2022 at 7:57 pm

      Hello, Lori – your comments above are insightful. Undoubtedly, God wants us all to “develop[] all the powers latent in ourselves and in the created order.” Yet you note an aspect of timing that is involved. Just as human physical growth entails a sequence of properly-ordered changes (e.g., zygote, fetus, infant, child, adult), human intellectual, psychological, and social growth also (probably) entail a sequence of properly-ordered changes. We don’t jump from infant to mature adult; instead, that many-years-long transition requires time, learning, and experience.

      You write: “There’s a good bit of almost waiting to develop all the talents God has given you in order to love and raise your children. …if Christians can’t tease out with this means for them, how can we apply it to the world at large? This is tricky!” I believe you’d agree that the time during which we “rais[e] our children,” which does not necessarily end abruptly once they turn 18, may also be a necessary period of personal development for us/parents/adults. (I don’t want to sound condescending, but I’d suggest that adults who never raised children, whether or not the children are biologically borne to them, lack experiences that form those parenting-adults in certain ways. On the other hand, adults who didn’t raise children may have had other experiences that formed/developed them in other ways. We all develop in different ways.)

      Even when we may think/feel we are not learning/growing/changing in our lives, that our growth is stagnant/dormant, the truth we affirm is that God is always working in each of us (whether we recognize Him/it or not) every second. And even in our golden years, when our intellectual and physical development may not only slow down, but perhaps even seem to “stop” or “go backward,” I believe that in other, more subtle ways, we are still growing, learning, and maturing in ways that we could not have done, had we not had the experience and learning that we accumulated over the years.

      Some of us may require only a few steps to get from point A to point B development-wise, whereas others may require many more steps. Neither, I don’t think, is necessarily “better” than the other. We each need different things in life. Thank God, He knows what we need.

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