By David Hegg
Last week, in my series on virtues, the subject was prudence, understood as the ability to discern the best, most appropriate action to take in any given situation, at any particular time.
Next in the traditional list of cardinal virtues comes justice. Practically speaking, justice as a virtue helps define and constrain prudence so actions taken are actually prudent in so far as they are fair, righteous, and most of all, lacking bias.
In civil society, the questions of fair and righteous are usually answered by the laws of the land that set the same laws for everyone. And, recognizing that unjust laws made true justice impossible, America’s founding fathers designed a separation of powers by which the legislative branch, which constructed the laws, were accountable to the judiciary branch to determine if those laws were, in fact, fair and righteous.
But, the question of bias is not so easily answered.
You’re probably familiar with the ancient symbol of justice. A woman, known as the Lady or Goddess of Justice, is depicted as outfitted with both a scale and a sword. She weighs the evidence on the scale, then pronounces a verdict. The sword reminds us justice is invested with the power of life and death. This is sobering, for it demonstrates the gravity of her business. The virtue of justice bears incredible weight in civil society, and where it is compromised, life is gravely eroded. In the 1500s another element was added to Lady Justice: a blindfold. The blindfold emphasizes the very core of justice as a virtue. Justice is blind, and therefore true justice is unbiased. Lady Justice is unable to adjudicate on the basis of anything but the weight of the evidence that tips her scale.
It is no exaggeration to say that justice perverted sounds the death knell on civil, free society. And the greatest threat to justice, that which perverts this virtue into the enemy of fairness, righteousness, and freedom, is bias of any kind.
But, as we increasingly recognize today, justice is on the ropes. Simply put, the blindfold is pulled down at every level of society and the recognition of power, wealth, position, and/or the attendant consequences of justice being meted out are allowed to redefine fairness and righteousness and justice itself. We see it as well in the “identity bias” that has overruled merit with ideology, preferred color over character, and largely turned the traditional understanding of justice on its head.
And why is that? At the risk of oversimplifying the issue, justice is eroding in our time because bias has been legitimized at every level of society. The blindfold has been taken off as disparate groups battle for supremacy to further their own agenda. This happens at the highest levels of our government as the battle lines are formed and each party’s agenda portrayed as fair, righteous and just. The result is that appointments, legislative initiatives and a host of other projects are unashamedly advertised as promoting an ideologically biased agenda that is reckoned by the other side as unfair, wicked and tyrannical. But, of course, should the power shift, they will work hard to promote their biased view of justice as well.
This legitimizing of bias is prevalent at every level of our society. To the extent that bias is allowed to flourish under the guise of progress, we will increasingly see injustice being allowed and even applauded. We will continue to see the bias of political ideology triumph over actual accomplishment, the sovereignty of feelings over facts, and the ability of the powerful elite and wealthy to forestall the justice due them.
So, what is the answer? I can only offer a few simple suggestions. First, we need to reaffirm the necessity of justice as an essential virtue in our own hearts and homes, and pass it along to our children. Second, we need to be consistent in assessing how deeply the toxin of bias has invaded our own thinking. It is proper to hold views and engage in dialogue with our opponents. What is not prudent is to allow our differences to turn opponents into enemies fit for destruction. Third, we need to demand that those calling for our support and our votes will have exhibited a sound rejection of bias, and a strong pursuit of justice in their personal lives, careers and relationships.
I know I don’t say it often, but thank you for reading this column. Please know that my intent here is simply to offer some thoughts that may allow you to engage in conversations that matter. To that end, I will continue writing as long as I think this column provides value for our wonderful Santa Clarita Valley community.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.