Social justice - equality and difference

All human beings are created by God in His image, and all are equally endowed with rational souls, have the same nature and the same origin. So from a Christian point of view, every human being, from the moment of conception unto death has equal dignity which is an intrinsic characteristic - nothing can take this dignity away. So it does not matter what moral status they have, it does not matter what sin they have committed, that person still has intrinsic dignity. This is the foundation for the catholic understanding of equality. It is not first about rights (which can be redefined by human courts) but about how we have been made by our creator. Furthermore Christ sacrificed Himself on the cross to redeem all men, so that all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude. Therefore all human beings enjoy equal dignity.

The problem in a secular world, which does not accept a creator God, is that the definition of what it is to be human can be changed. So it has become acceptable in most western nations for pre-born human beings to be terminated, if the mother wishes this to happen. The humanity of the pre-born child is now regarded to be a matter for a mother to decide, rather than it having, as it does for Catholics, an intrinsic dignity and status. What has also happened in western societies is that the definition of what it is to be human has been added to. So, for example, a prevailing desire of same-sex attraction in a person is regarded as an orientation now, which is regarded as intrinsic. This concept of intrinsic orientation opposes the Judeo-Christian understanding of the unity of soul and body; that the nature of our bodies united with our souls defines our sex, and the 'orientation' that God therefore intends. Redefining intrinsic human characteristics is the ultimate statement of arrogance by a state, and a very definite anti-Christian move.

Discrimination: Flowing from the equal dignity of all, are rights possessed by all. Each person has a right not to be discriminated socially or culturally on the grounds of sex, race, colour, social condition, language or religion. All these forms of discrimination are contrary to God’s design.

The Church calls us to celebrate God-given difference. Man has been made so that he is not equipped with everything he needs for his development in body or spirit. He needs others. This is perhaps expressed most clearly between men and women. They are different but called to live in harmony which is possible by charity. The Sacrament of Marriage is a sign that God calls men and women to not look on each other to see how they can use each other, but rather how they can give themselves sacrificially to each other. This pursuit of harmony through self-giving sees the Holy Trinity as the goal and beatitude of human life, for there is, amongst the divine Persons, both profound equality and profound difference.

In human society there are also differences that appear tied to age, physical abilities, intellectual or moral aptitudes, social status, or material wealth. Life in human community is not about competition, but seeing that differences belong to God’s plan. These differences encourage and oblige generosity, kindness and the sharing of goods; ultimately God is inviting us to sacrificial self-giving.

Sinful inequalities: Excessive economic and social disparity between individuals and peoples is a scandal and is sinful. Such disparity militates against social justice, equity, human dignity, as well as social and international peace.


The principle of solidarity, also articulated in terms of “friendship” or “social charity” is a direct demand of human Christian brotherhood. Solidarity is manifested in the first place by the distribution of goods and remuneration for work.

The virtue of solidarity goes beyond material goods. In spreading the spiritual goods of the faith, the Church promotes, and often opens new paths for, the development of temporal goods as well. In other words mission and development happily go hand in hand.

Seek ye first the Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.  Mt 6:33

This is the last of my blogposts on Catholic teaching on human community. I hope you have found it enlightening and helpful, not least in discerning whom to vote for in the forthcoming elections.

Fr Ian

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