A Culture of Justice

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Pope John Paul II coined the term”culture of life,” which refers to Catholic social teaching on the dignity of human life. The teachings are responsible for the hard-to-pin-down politics of orthodox Catholics, with their opposition to abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and war. Later, George W. Bush borrowed the phrase on the campaign stump–a brilliant move that channeled John Paul for Catholic listeners, while evangelicals heard simply “opposition to abortion rights.”

Writing on the Religion Dispatches blog, Tom Davis makes a provocative observation: The dignity of life, however defined, is a higher priority for many Christians than it is in their sacred texts. Both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament actually put greater emphasis on the idea of “loving your neighbor as yourself, what Davis calls a “culture of justice,” rather than the “culture of life.” He offers a reading of the Hebrew Bible story of Tamar and Judah, from which he concludes that using the dignity of life to defend injustice toward women is “a long way from the compassion of scripture.”

Judah and Tamar, school of Rembrandt.

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