Friday, June 20, 2008

A Theology Post!?!

Lately I've been revising an essay of mine that addresses the differences between “righteousness” and “justice.” For most readers of Paul, the difference would appear mostly cosmetic. I've latched onto a contemporary analogy, though, that I think might be helpful in showing a distinction at issue that makes a significant difference.

Consider one of the most important economic issues facing the globalized economy today, debt. In the event of a crisis, whereby there is a person or a country whose credit is overextended, the normal response is to tweak the existing structure that imposes and enforces repayment, normally through some kind of legal reform or economic refinancing. The upshot is a realignment of one’s position with respect to the existing economic and legal structure, but not a complete reassessment of its legitimacy. This is generally comparable to how most traditional conceptions of righteousness is understood to work in, say, The Epistle to the Romans. If we were to extend the analogy, justice would then correspond to wholesale, worldwide debt forgiveness. The results of debt forgiveness are, in terms of the existing structures of political economy, unthinkable (and, inasmuch as the results are thought at all, with the probable collapse of present markets, economies and currencies, even horrific). Which is to say, because debt forgiveness and justice cannot in any way be made to square with the existing legal and economic order, neither can the results of their occurrence be fully anticipated or evaluated. This seems really striking to me, and ultimately very significant for a conception of theology that actually informs one's political disposition.