Enduring Injustice

Many religions teach an afterlife in which all wrongs are righted and every sacrifice duly recognized and applauded. The virtuous will be rewarded, and the wicked will be punished. No one will get away with anything, no matter how great or how small, and no one will be unappreciated or forgotten. Everything is made right, and everything lost is restored. Such a vision appeals to anyone who has ever suffered unrectified injustice during life, and that includes everyone of us to varying degrees. But anyone who believes in such an afterlife will never fully appreciate the idea of injustice. They will never know what it means to accept the reality of an unfair and uncaring world because they will always have someone to make everything all right in the end. As believers, they will never experience a major aspect of what it means to be human.

Personally I’ve never suffered any great injustices in life. I’ve never been a victim of crime worse than some relatively minor property crimes. No one has ever taken pains to humiliate me publicly. I’ve never had any family or friends murdered. With that said, I have received my share of slights, rudeness, unfair treatment, economic exploitation, as well as all the vicarious injustices of family, friends, and society at large. It’s fairly easy to dismiss each small injustice, but it’s more difficult to accept that there’s no guarantee that any of the people over the course of a lifetime who hurt you will ever feel bad about it. It’s even more difficult to accept that mass-murderers and large-scale swindlers sometimes avoid receiving their just desserts, that their victims will never be brought back to life or have their life savings returned. I think it takes a certain amount of maturity to come to terms with this reality, and the proper response is not to rely on baseless hopes of future justice but to strip ourselves of an expectation of justice. We have no guarantee justice will ever be done, and it’s precisely for this reason that we must work hard to achieve it as much as we can in the short time we have. This disillusionment about the world is a kind of virtue and as such provides its own bittersweet reward, the ability to remain somewhat more calm and rational in the face of great injustice.

One response to the Problem of Evil is that God allows suffering so that we can develop certain virtues such as compassion, sacrifice, and humility. I find it remarkable that, with an afterlife as described above, he necessarily denies us the opportunity to experience enduring injustice and thus develop the virtue of resignation and detachment. Of course, any afterlife at all denies us the opportunity to accept the reality of a finite existence and grapple with the extinction of our consciousness. Neither of these observations are direct criticisms of this proposed theodicy, but they do indicate that God would have had to choose which virtues to cultivate in us to the exclusion of others. It seems very odd for God to create a universe in which only atheists can develop certain virtues and still condemn them to hell.

Image: vichie81 | FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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