|Yes, he's average and his name is Joe, but what does he think about justice?|
Book 1 of Plato's Republic. Polemarchus, a character in the dialogue, has defined justice as "treating your friends well and your enemies badly." This position wouldn't seem all that far from the view of justice accepted by the average "guy on the street" even today.
Most people intuitively feel that they have some obligation to promote the good of those who are close to them (friends, family, neighbors), but that this obligation doesn't extend to anyone outside this circle of interest. They also feel that enemies deserve retaliation as a matter of justice.
Of course, most Americans, at the same time, would also describe themselves as "Christians." And we know that the Gospel promotes an ethic of radical altruism and forgiveness. Jesus exhorts us to sacrifice our own good the sake of the other, to care for strangers as though they were our brothers and sisters, and to forgive our enemies. This, for a Christian is the true meaning of justice.
So who is right: Polemarchus (the man on the street) or Jesus? And why is there such a divorce between what most Christians actually believe justice to be and what the founder of their religion actually taught?
The "objective" part of this post is officially over, and now I feel compelled to muse about the issue at hand in my own clearly partisan style:
I suspect our average Joe gets more of his information about justice from Rush Limbaugh than he does from Scripture. And his view of justice owes more the Old Testament's "an eye for an eye" than it does to Jesus exhortation to "turn the other cheek." One need only to read some of the writings of a typical Christian evangelical to see that the position of average Joe on justice is just about as far removed from the spirit that animates the Gospels as it can get.
So, if our average Joe doesn't really buy into the ethos that's at the heart of his most sacred book, then why does he persist in his allegiance to the very faith that is founded upon the ideals in this book? Habit probably. He was most likely brought up as a Christian, his family is probably filled with Christians, all of his friends are probably also Christians, and he simply can't conceive of a life apart from the faith of his childhood.
But to call average Joe a Christian in any true sense of the word is like calling a hyena a lion because they both have tails. Average Joe may refer to himself as a Christian, but like Polemarchus in Book 1 of the Republic, his moral system is intellectually simplistic, extremely limited in scope, and overtly retributive in nature. Taking good care of those you like and getting back at those you dislike might be a framework for justice that makes sense in a place like Texas, but it certainly will never promote the common good or create a society of anything more than the most self-interested individuals. And it certainly has nothing in common with any legitimate version of Christian that I am aware of.