Sunday, February 12, 2012


I’ve been thinking a lot about justice lately. This is in part due to Osama and Obama. We know about the general philosophical reasons given for the threat and implementation of justice—deterrence, rehabilitation, and retribution (paying debt to society). But I’ve been deeply unsatisfied with narrow understandings of justice and judgment. I spoke about this at the Environmentors Awards Ceremony because the program teaches a wider view of justice.

With the announcement of Osama’s death, I received phone calls from people to see what I thought about what was going on, if I was celebrating outside the White House gates. I had many reactions and was curious to hear the comments of others. The celebrations outside the White House gates were very interesting to me, and I watched for some time. I heard one man say “I speak for all the New York City Firefighters when I say this: I hate Osama and I’m glad he’s dead.” I also heard one man say “His death doesn’t bring any of our loved ones back or change what happened that day.” Another said “We support the giving of justice in this manner.” I just sat and watched.

The celebrations reminded me that we are in war. As much as I forget sometimes, we are in a war. And in war, sometimes (please see the movie Joyeux Noël) people rejoice at the death of enemies. I say “sometimes” because anyone who has actually fought in war will tell you it can deeply mess you up; it is not glamorous. In fact the effects of it might lead you to regret the death of your enemy. The warring hope is that you don’t personalize your enemy but keep them objectified or else it will be difficult to kill him or her. (Have you seen the movie Joyeux Noël, yet?)

So I wanted to take a moment to talk about another understanding of justice. This is a view of justice that I get from my interpretation and understanding of God. It’s a view of justice that I see in my Environmentors program as we deal with environmental justice. The traditional view of justice is that justice is punishing wrong. But justice is bigger than that; isn’t it? It’s setting the wrong things right. Justice isn’t just chastising; it’s renovating; it’s restoring and reconciling. It’s not just diagnosing, it’s healing; it’s not just exposing, it’s transforming. I’ll err on the side of saying less rather than more and let that sit and marinate for a while without giving examples. I will say if you ever get a chance to engage in work that goes to this level, you’re really achieving the ideal of justice alluded to in the final words of the U.S. pledge of allegiance “. . . one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

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