Justice is What Love Looks Like in Public. Why Resist It? Is It Possible We Hate Loving Our Neighbors?

Cornel West: Justice is what love looks like in public.
John Ruskin: We hate justice.
All of Us: We don’t hate loving our neighbors!!

Justice is what love looks like in publicJustice is what love looks like in public – but we hate it. Here are two influential thinkers of the last 150 years. John Ruskin had a strong influence on Mohandas Gandhi’s deep concerns for justice.  Cornel West is a recently retired professor of philosophy (Princeton, Harvard, Union Theological Seminary).

Cornel West: Justice is what love looks like in public.

West likes to say that, says it often. I’m sure it is pecisely right. We might be able to turn it around and say that love is what justice looks like in public, which is also true. But it’s less important because less necessary.  We avoid, or undermine, justice. We need to see this fact – if love shows up in public it carries concern for and service of justice.

John Ruskin: We hate justice.

The mistake of the best men through generation after generation,
has been that great one of thinking to help the poor by
almsgiving [and other means] …
except the one thing which God orders for them, justice
Justice …
being even by the best men denied
is by the mass of men hated wherever it appears.
– John Ruskin

This is the observation of a careful and respected observer and explainer from the late 1800’s.  He is one of those astute judges of moral realities.  (Another post quoting Ruskin)

… neighbor love in action is basically what the definition of justice is. It’s how it works.
West has said this over and over. I don’t think we can honestly fault that explanation.  Loving our neighbors – which is the second greatest commandment according to Jesus and other ancient teachers – that neighbor love in action is basically what the definition of justice is. It’s how it works.


We fight back. Good grief!  Seriously? But haven’t you noticed how reliably justice issues make people uncomfortable, make them argue back?

 Church attenders often are more eager to have comfortable Sunday mornings than to hear about needs of other folks.  That’s understandable.  We ALL have pressures and needs, and need a break now and then. But if justice is what love looks like in public, then in our public activites there should certainly be some emphasis on justice.

Jesus himself, though frequently present in religious services, and usually it seems not at all disruptive, nevertheless had his moments.

  • In Nazareth (Luke 4) he bluntly raised justice issues, quoting Isaiah. It led to an attempt to kill him.
  • In Mark 3 he is described as disrupting the service, blatantly contradicting the will of the leadership, by performing a just healing. He did it after, as Mark says, “He looked around in anger … deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.” They were offended – didn’t want to be inconvenienced, least of all to have their authority and morality bluntly confronted, by Jesus putting love- justice into action. It led again to plotting against his life.
  • Or in Mark 2 he contradicted their religious convictions (prejudices) by another just healing.

Remember when Glenn Beck (famous from Fox so-called “News”) said  terms like social justice or economic justice are absent from the Bible (NYT article), that if these terms are used in your church, you should leave, and inform church authorities, because they are code words for Communism and Nazism.  That’s hogwash – figuratively speaking of course. It’s nasty, morally a stench.  But “conservatives” loved it.  They don’t want to hear about justice.

And remember that phrase, “with liberty and justice for all.”  Pretty clear.

But Ruskin said that even “the best men through generation after generation” avoid the issue.  He’s right. It’s like the great unmentionable, the thing which must not be spoken, the great disturber, which arouses people to strong reaction, sometimes even violent resistance.  See how they reacted to Jesus.

But, you see, justice IS love, as Cornel West says.  And it is  ALWAYS “SOCIAL justice”; because


relationships among persons or groups of persons, that is smaller or greater societies, no matter how the idea of justice is formally or philosophically defined.

Justice, in its broadest sense, is the concept that individuals are to be treated in a manner that is equitable and fair
Fairness is activating the same part of the brain that responds to food in rats… This is consistent with the notion that being treated fairly satisfies a basic need.”  Research conducted in 2003 at Emory University involving capuchin monkeys demonstrated that other cooperative animals also possess such a sense and thatinequity aversion may not be uniquely human”.
(Wikipedia: Justice)

Inequity aversion” is no doubt innate.  But “equity aversion” also has strong roots within us. This is quite sad. Ruskin again:

Justice …
being even by the best men denied
is by the mass of men hated wherever it appears.

Cornel West urges it on us – “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”

No wonder Jesus felt a need to talk about it. He insisted that love for one’s neighbors is a VERY high value. In action, it is justice. And he knew it is instinctively resisted, even ignored, by humans, especially humans with power.  And we are humans, and have at least a little power.  So I suspect we’d better give this matter some serious attention. Jesus behaved justly, and urged it on his hearers.

The ancient prophet Micah,

with whose work Jesus was surely acquainted, said it very clearly.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.   And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8

It’s pretty straightforward.  You have to move quickly to find explain-it-away tactics to protect yourself from this very clear requirement.



  1. Was Social Justice Part of Jesus’ Message? Oh Yes. 4 Scriptures.
  2. If You Do Not Love Your Neighbor Whom You CAN See – Can You Love God?
  3. Follow Micah; Be Christian Activists When Possible. Call Out Evil Doers, Who Hurt Us Because They Can.
  4. Are Matters of Economics Moral Issues – Spiritual Issues? Isaiah Pushes It!

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