Philosophical Considerations

So far we have examined mission and the struggle for justice. It is time to relate these concerns to philosophical considerations about justice. The American philosopher Martha Nussbaum asks how religion relates to justice. What happens when there is a conflict between religion and liberty, as has happened in India and other non-Western nations? There arises a dilemma for the liberal state. Interfering with the freedom of religious expression is a damaging attack on one of the basic capabilities of humanity. Yet such religious practice may coerce some people, especially women. Child marriage, harsh divorce settlements, and other practices may infringe human capabilities. Secular feminists do not see the problem, since for them the values of women's equality and dignity outweigh all religious claims. Religion may be seen in Marxist terms, and therefore as patriarchal. Others portray it in liberal terms, and therefore believe that its content can be translated into moral values. A third, feminist, position reverses the valuation: core, traditional values of a community oppose the acids of modernity; being a traditional Muslim, Christian, or Hindu is on this view an affirmation of human dignity. Some such arguments stem from cultural relativism, where it is held that crosscultural moral norms are by definition impossible of justification. Others, especially in the Christian evangelical movement, think local values and tradition are a better way to lead one's life, since they spring from an organic understanding of what it means to be a person in that place and time. The conflict between religion and liberalism arises from a lack of agreement as to how the changes brought by globalization are to be met.

One way of resolving the argument between religion and liberalism is from the notion of capabilities. In Women and Human Development (2000), Nussbaum argues on the basis of a concept of the capabilities of human beings, which can command a broad cultural consensus. Consequently, this is a notion which can be endorsed for political purposes. It serves as the moral basis for constitutional guarantees endorsed by people who do not agree on what a complete good life for a human being would be. These central capabilities have value in themselves, and are not just instrumental in making possible further actions. Nussbaum argues for ten such "central human functional capabilities": life; bodily health; bodily integrity, including absence of domestic violence, absence of sexual abuse, and choice in reproduction; sense, imagination, and thought, which covers religious practice, freedom of expression, and the use of literacy and numeracy; emotions, which refers to not having one's emotions blunted by trauma, fear, or anxiety; liberty of conscience and the ability to form a conception of the good life by practical reason; affiliation, social interaction, and having the social basis of self-respect and nonhumiliation, which entails the absence of discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation, caste, or place of origin; expressing concern for other species, and the world of nature; play and laughter; and control over one's environment, both political and material.

Such a list, argues Nussbaum, is how we come to conceive of what justice might be. Some of her list is made up of "natural goods," where the vagaries of life and the sheer presence of luck play a part. Health and emotional balance are at least in part based on natural attributes, but governments can aim to deliver the social basis of these capabilities. Nussbaum argues, for instance, that a government cannot determine the emotional health of a woman, but governments can implement laws on violence, rape, and family relationships. They can also determine whether a nation is at peace internally, by preventing civil wars.

Why should one opt for capabilities and not functioning? Capabilities allow for human choice, so a person who chooses to fast may do so, and a person who wishes to be celibate may be so. There is no one global world, or global process, but a myriad of local cultures, traditions, and values. It is important that choices are respected. Such a view means that human rights become "capability rights." If a person in theory has freedom of political participation, but in practice has none, then there must be doubts about its meaningfulness. "Women in many nations have a nominal right of political participation without having this right in the sense of capability; for example, they may be threatened with violence should they leave the home. In short, thinking in terms of capability gives us a benchmark as we think about what it is to secure a right to someone" (Nussbaum 2000: 98).

The dilemma between religion and human rights is made sharper because of a decline in political power, one of the ways in which in many countries globalization has impinged on the nation-state. This is a difficult problem, since religion can play a role in promoting moral conduct, though Nussbaum repeats that she is not adopting a liberal understanding of religion, which reduces religion to rational accounts of moral choice. The resolution of the issue by Nussbaum is not my concern here. What matters is that she recognizes that it is a dilemma, in which religion can have a central role to play.

Amartya Sen puts the issue in a different way. He is concerned with the relationship of justice and political institutions. He argues that when Rawls's A Theory of Justice postulates an account of justice as fairness this leads him to a difficulty. If universal justice, drawing on classical utilitarianism and Kantian rationality, is to be related to political institutions, where are such universal institutions, capable of implementing these rules of justice? They manifestly do not exist. Rawls therefore opts to set his theory within individual political societies, in which institutions can develop and so bear the weight of implementing his theory. However, he cannot let go of a universal vision and in the 1996 revision of A Theory of Justice he speaks of nation-states and other collectivities having relations based on justice. Is not Rawls restricting his theory of justice too much? Rawls postulates two places where justice can be found: within the nation-state, and between states and societies. This move brings him into potential conflict with an alternative view of solidarities based on transnational collectivities. Sen's essay was written before the publication of Nussbaum's appeal to feminist solidarity across the world, but it is clear that Sen has this option in mind, along with professional obligations arising from membership of a profession, or worker's solidarity. Sen argues, in a way similar to Nussbaum, that the future of justice in a global world demands the consideration of "multiple identities." Individuals may have different identities (female, Christian, citizen, member of an NGO, etc.).

He sums up his argument as follows: "The exercise of assessing the relative strength of divergent demands arising from competing affiliations is not trivial, but to deny our multiple identities and affiliations just to avoid having to face this problem is neither intellectually satisfactory nor adequate for practical policy (Sen 1999b)." Sen refuses to let the concept of person as citizen be the trump card in much the same way as Nussbaum rejects the subordination of religion to secular values. Global public goods include codes of business ethics which keep corruption in check, generate rules of conduct, and foster healthy relationships with customers and other businesses. The implication for churches is that they need to be aware of the power of multiple identities.

Multiple identities raise the question of ecclesial identity, and so we are once again faced with the issue of mission. A local church will see its identity as to do with faithfulness to the Gospel, holding on to its apostolicity. "When the Church seeks to be truly apostolic it must drive forward . . . we are moulded by and carry the story which we seek to make fresh in every generation" (Green 2001). Urban mission means simultaneously acknowledging the identities of individuals as immigrants, only a few years in their new country, and yet also enabling them to feel empowered by the presence of the Spirit. How mission is contextualized becomes important.

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