“Distributive justice” is a concept that has been handed down for over 7,000 years. It’s roots come from the Jewish Torah and extend to the Christian theologies of today. It is the reasoning behind the taxation and redistribution of wealth in this, and many other countries. This type of justice demands that the fortunate share with their less fortunate brothers and sisters.
Unfortunately, this ideology has been warped and twisted by those who are confused by it’s meaning. Instead of having a meaningful approach to distributive justice, men and women are being fed their daily fish with no means of learning to fish for themselves. This is NOT distributive justice, it is economic slavery.
One of the best sources I have found to describe the true meaning of distributive justice is the Catholic Catechism which states:
2236: “The exercise of authority is mean to give outward expression to a just hierarchy of values in order to facilitate the exercise of freedom and responsibility by all. Those in authority should practice distributive justice wisely, taking account of the needs and conditions of each, with a view to harmony and peace. They should take care that the regulations and measures they adopt are not a source of temptation by setting personal interest against that of the community.”
In short, government authority is needed in order to maintain freedom and taxes should be collected to take care of the less fortunate in cases where true needs and conditions exist. It also requires that a person in authority NOT set their will against the will of the community for self interest.
In the United States, the government hierarchy is: Federal government – in charge of making laws that effect ALL citizens, State government – in charge of making laws that effect citizens of the State, and Local government – in charge of making laws that effect even smaller jurisdictions. Therefore, the only entity that exists that can satisfy the will of the governed, in regards to distributive justice, are the local hierarchies of the chain. They are the only ones who can make meaningful and just decisions in regards to redistribution of wealth as a “safety net” because they are hearing and seeing, firsthand, the “will of their communities” as well as the “needs of their communities”. The farther up the authority hierarchy you go, the more you risk “ruling against the will of a community” at THEIR expense.
There are cases where State and Federal government have a legitimate role to play in distributive justice (disasters), however, these entities continually exceed the authority given to them by this specific type of justice. They no longer represent communities, they represent self and/or special interests.
It is for this reason that I refer, once again, to the Catholic Catechism to find out what my duty is:
2242: “The citizen is obliged in conscience NOT to follow the directives of civil authorities when they are contrary to the demands of the moral order, to the fundamental rights of persons or the teachings of the Gospel. Refusing obedience to civil authorities, when their demands are contrary to those of an upright conscience, finds it’s justification in the distinction between serving God and serving the political community. “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. “We must obey God rather than men.”
“When citizens are under the oppression of a public authority which oversteps it’s competence, they should still not refuse to give or do what is objectively demanded of them by the common good; but it is legitimate for them to defend their own rights and those of their fellow citizens against the abuse of this authority within the limits of the natural law and the Law of the Gospel.”
The United States federal government have overstepped their competence in matters distributive justice. They have left us, as a nation, on the brink of a financial bankruptcy that will fundamentally change America in a very negative way. As a Christian, I am to abide by the laws of the land, but have a duty to protect my brothers and sisters from the oppression that the federal government is bringing down upon us all in the name of distributive justice. The Church, in it’s Christian form, also has an obligation to stand up for the truth. All of those called by “holy orders” need to emphasize that there is a BIG difference between the distributive justice of God, and the distributive justice of the United States government.
As a side note, I had a talk with a priest one day about this very topic and he posed a real scenario to me.
He had noticed that a man, who had not been at Church in a while, started coming until one day he did a sermon on the importance of “voting according to one’s Christian beliefs”. After that day, he did not see the man in Church again, but rather, at the grocery. He approached the man and asked him why he quit attending Church and the man responded, “I’m not attending a Church that tells me how to vote”.
This poses the question, “is it more important to have a parishioner in the seat to listen to the Gospel in hopes of conversion or is it more important to preach the Word and let those who will listen, follow?”
I am fortunate to have met a priest who chose the later and stood on his ground. To this very day, when it comes time to vote, he makes sure we understand that we have a duty to put people in authority who have our values and views of distributive justice, as well as social justice.