It is often said that social justice is about forcing others to be charitable. I should let you in on a secret: I do not give a crap about whether you are charitable or not. If I was trying to force you to be charitable, I would be doing it to force you to be righteous, but social justice is not about whether you are just but whether our society is just (sorry, not everything is about you).
Now saying that I am trying to force you to be charitable, is a clever (though repeating the same stupid arguments over and over againn sort of undermines the whole clever thing) rhetorical trick. If I am forcing you to be righteous, I am forcing you to be saved…I am carrying out Satan’s plan. But, I am in not all that interested in the afterlife. I am hoping to make this world a better place to live.
Now, the prospect of a just world scares many religious people. I cannot be sure the reason for this, since the prospect of peace and equality does not contradict my religion. However, I think many worry that if we do not have inequality and misery people will not have a reason to seek out religion. Look at Europe, the well-being of social democracy has led to a people generally uninteresting in religion (though I think this mostly has to do with the history of religion on the continent). Yet, if your religion can only sustain itself through human suffering, this seems to be a religion that I should oppose rather than embrace.
One reason that I am generally uninterested in discussions about private donations versus government effort is that private donations are more about the giver than they are about
the needy. The change you put into the red kettle outside of WalMart this holiday season was more about the warm fuzzy it gave you or the sense of guilt it delayed than it was about those it will help. It will only help a small few and only for a short period of time. This is not to say that it is bad to give to charitable organizations. In fact such organizations do much good, particularly when we consider the rather pathetic and meager effort we make as a society.
The aim of social justice is not to “help poor people” (something we all think is good) but to minimize inequality and poverty. Private donations may well help poor people, but they cannot and do not address the deeper problems of poverty and inequality. Now the political structure of the United States has largely undermined the effectiveness of most government efforts to address poverty and inequality, so this is not a defense of government programs as they now exist, but only collective efforts can address the issues of poverty and inequality.
Many will say that my approach is inconsistent with Mormon approaches to these issues. That may be the case. This has led me to a recent epiphany. I may belong to the same Church as those who think that there Social Darwinism is rooted in some interpretation of the pre-existence, but I do not share the same religion.