Chapter 9 - Structural Poverty - The Structures of Sin

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The approach or method of social analysis is very influential in determining political decisions. It helps to identify causative factors of poverty: whether poverty is primarily caused by the mistakes of the poor themselves, or whether it is the result of social discrepancy, exploitation and oppression. The first approach is called the individual approach. If it is adopted, the goal is to educate, help or indirectly force the poor to work harder and to act more responsibly. If the second, the structural or institutional approach, is adopted, major social changes are needed in order to provide opportunity for the poor to live with dignity.

The individual approach is rarely rejected. On the contrary, the structural approach is often suspected and refuted for various reasons. The powerful and the wealthy obviously do not want changes, which they assume as threats. Some religious people themselves often label this approach as a Marxian

In this chapter, the problem of structural poverty will be discussed. The social reflection will clarify the understanding and the terms involved in this problem, particularly the relationship of human beings as individuals and social beings. Then, some ideas about social justice will be presented. Theological reflection starts from the Church’s social teaching which has long taken the structural approach into consideration. It will examine this theme particularly based on the concept of the structure of sin, which has been widely used.


The Image of Human Beings in Social Sciences

Philosophical and theological anthropology - particularly in the West - generally emphasizes the individual and personal aspect as the basis of human dignity and personal social responsibility (see An attempt of Comparison Between the Javanese and Western Cultures in Chapter 10).

Social sciences, particularly sociology, are not against and do not reject such an understanding. They are more interested in human societal dimensions, which are very influential and may limit human freedom. These sociological views rely more or less on empirical observation and examination, from where these theories are derived. These theories also deserve attention in philosophical and theological reflection. The social sciences should also prevent themselves from being trapped in a collectivist ideology, which puts the societal dimensions in an absolute position.

A balanced and useful understanding of the relationship between the individual and society is found, in our opinion, in the works of Peter L. Berger, a famous sociologist who pays great attention to the sociology of religion. According to Berger, the relationship can be described in three inseparable complementary descriptions.

(1) Human beings live in the society as if in a prison: Human beings and their freedom are very much constrained by socio-cultural norms, regulating social institutions, social roles, and social controls and sanctions. Let us take the example of handshaking as a symbol of greeting. We are “obliged” to use the symbol (not the same in all cultures) if we want to greet another person. Theoretically, we are free to use any other way or symbol, but consequently we might not be understood or we may be even considered insane. If there were no such symbol we would have to invent a way to greet others. In that sense, such a social “prison” is very helpful and practical. Similarly we have language as a much more complicated symbolic system of interactions as well as simple signs like the colors of traffic lights (red, yellow, and green).

(2) The society lives in human beings like puppeteers controlling their puppets. Socio-cultural norms, regulating social institutions, and social norms cannot be externally imposed upon us but should be internalized so that they become patterns and attitudes of our behavior and are not felt as foreign elements.

The process of internalization has three interrelated aspects: (1) the socialization process: we learn to live together with others and pay attention to their reactions, and so on, (2) the inculturation process: we absorb the worldview and values of our culture, which help to mold our identity and at the same time preserve our culture, and (3) the personalization process: each of us determines specific characteristics of our individual personality.

Therefore, it is not surprising that in general we do not feel forced by our society. The internalization process, particularly that of the inculturation aspect, can also account for why everybody does not feel at home in the same social environment. It is understandable why a person from the West generally tends to be more individualistic than one from the East, who prefers togetherness.

(3) An individual actively takes part in molding his/her society just like an actor in a drama: The society with all its aspects does not drop down from heaven, it is not an immutable object, and it is not determined by “eternal laws” (determinism) which direct its course. The society develops continuously with considerable freedom of its “actors”, though they are not free to choose the stage on which they perform their “social drama.”

Basic Categories of Socio-cultural Analysis

To clarify the societal dimension in more detail, some dimensions of it and basic concepts have to be explained. The dimension, different from the socio-cultural field, cannot be observed directly. Observation is only possible through each field and sub-field of social life (see Methodical Background of Social Analysisin Chapter 5). For example, values or symbols of social interactions adopted by a society are very influential and visible in all aspects of social life but they cannot stand alone. Only by observing and reflecting on human interaction and behavior in all fields can all the categories be abstractly derived and formulated.

As we say, a number of terms need clarification. The picture of a fishing net is used to clarify it.

(1) The term social system can be defined as a societal entity with many stable interrelated elements. Therefore, a social system refers to an entire societal unit, both macro (state and religion) and micro (village and local community), with various factors and pretty solid structured sub-systems. In this sense, a system is the entire system of the fishing net.

(2) The term social structure reveals that the societal system is solidly but at the same time flexibly structured, just like the rigging in a fish net. A social structure can be defined as the entirety of interactions of human behavior in society, which is stable and thus can be predicted or anticipated.

(3) The term social institution refers to what concretely preserves a society, thus it is like a knot that ties each rope in a fishing net. A social institution can be defined as regulations in a societal unit about common problems. The regulations can be repetitive (often repeated), anticipated (almost certain to happen), demanded and imposed (by the society), learned and internalized.

(4) The term socio-cultural dimension states that in every society there are certain worldviews and values, just like in a fishing net there is a model or plan on how it should be made.

The above diagram contains four basic interrelated elements (see the arrows).

(1) Culture, studied by cultural anthropology (ethnology), includes both non-material aspects (worldview, religion, tradition, value, knowledge and technology) and material ones (technological products and arts). Culture, particularly its non-material aspects, is seen and manifested in social life and therefore is often called cultural structure. How to analyze culture will be discussed in Chapter 10. Social life, and mentality, social structure and social institutions, are studied by sociology.

(2) The individual manifestation of culture in attitudes, patterns of behavior, social roles and the like are each called mentality or structure of mentality if primarily determined by the common socio-cultural life in the society and not only by the individuality of each member. In other words, the perspective of mentality is the micro or personal/individual perspective of the society and refers to social action.

(3) The macro perspective of the society will perceive how a culture manifests itself in the social structures of an entire social system as a whole (including all sub-systems). In this relationship we should pay attention to the structure of classes, gender-based social distinctions and forms of job division.

(4) Finally, culture, mentality and social structure are seen and manifested in various social institutions, namely symbols and institutions that concretely regulate the social life. Some examples (handshaking, language and traffic lights) have been mentioned before. Institutions in this sociological sense are much wider than in popular language. They can at least be called mechanisms that establish and strengthen the shape of the whole social system.

In addition to the four basic elements, we should also consider the international structure, that is, the foreign influence affecting the society (which is in fact reciprocal) and the historical dimension, the fact that the entire socio-cultural system has its own history and continuously develops. Therefore, the structural analysis, which includes the four basic elements, should be equipped with historical analysis if we really want to understand the society. Structural or synchronic (at one point in time) analysis and with historical or diachronic (following the history) analysis can be compared a static photograph and a film. In a static photograph all details can be examined repeatedly, carefully in detail, but it represents only a certain moment in time. In a film, everything goes rather fast and, as a result, many details escape our attention, but we get a more vivid picture about its development.

Socio-cultural (Structural-institutional) Approach

There are many theories attempting to explain social and developmental problems, including poverty with all its aspects. In line with the theories and their emphasized factors, there are many social and developmental strategies, which cannot be discussed here.

The approach in this book can be called comprehensive in the sense that it attempts to include as many factors and aspects as possible. However, this book chooses a theoretical approach, which emphasizes socio-cultural dimensions in the above sense. We consider that proper political action and strong appropriate economic support are needed. However, all those are in danger of failure if the socio-cultural dimensions are neglected, as is often observed. In a certain sense, the socio-cultural system has an effect, which is like a filter or a prism of glass, which can change and redirect penetrating lights. Similarly, the socio-cultural system can change or even disrupt political attempts, and thus the target is not achieved, or the produced result is contrary to the goal.

The “prism effect” can be clarified in the following examples. In the agricultural field, for example, many developing countries provide low-interest-rate credit for farmers, in addition to other facilities, with the purpose of increasing the products and setting farmers free from poverty. The first can usually be achieved, but farmers can be even poorer because they still rely on the advance (pre-harvest) sale (ngijon). Traditional money lenders who charge high interest rates though village banks offer loans with interests only 50% of those of the traditional money lenders. On many occasions only farmers with a lot of land can enjoy the opportunity. It is not surprising that farmers with little land have to sell their lands. But, why do farmers show such “irrational” and seemingly “stupid” attitudes? In many traditional societies, one characteristic of the social structure is personalism, the preference for solving a problem through personal relations, by chatting, bargaining and compromising between both sides. What matters is the personal relationship. Therefore, farmers feel safer and more comfortable with pre-harvest buyers who exploit them than with anonymous banks with their abstract regulations (forms and signatures). In other words, the attempts of the village banks which are in fact right can succeed only if these special characteristics are taken into consideration.

Another example was the general election in the Philippines in 1987, after President Aquino took power. The election was so democratic and free that the poor in that country, then estimated at 50% of the population, could have elected representatives who could fight for their interests. However, most of the members of parliament were still dominated by the families of the landlords and the rich, who more or less “own” the country. Why were people so seemingly “stupid”? The reason was in the Philippines there was a strong socio-cultural value called utang ng loob, namely a strong moral obligation to show gratitude when obtaining something. The poor before the election received various “presents”, such as money for their sick children. They felt obliged to vote for their patrons because they were indebted. In other words, all democratic efforts will not bring any concrete result if these traditions are not attended to and not changed through promoting democratic attitudes.

The term “socio-cultural approach” reveals that all categories in the above diagram are concrete and specific, and therefore, situations vary from place to place though similarities are often observed. However, the approach can also be called structural-institutional if the emphasis is put on the more abstract approach, which should be always concretely examined. In this perspective, poverty can be called structural or institutional if the primary causative factors are to be found in social discrepancy (see also Economy with Preferential Option of the Poor in Chapter 11).

Social or Structural Injustice

The structural or socio-cultural approach is very helpful in understanding injustice as an ethical issue. We have to distinguish between personal injustice with what is usually termed structural or institutionalized injustice though both support each other in a sort of vicious circle.

The problem of personal injustice is not very complicated and not very difficult because the concept is very clear. It is generally understood that one should be just in one’s actions.  Teachers, for example, should treat their students fairly and equally, in the sense that they cannot prefer certain students because of sympathy, money, origin or family status. Such a demand is obvious in itself and many teachers attempt to realize it though this ethical rule is not easy to implement.

Structural or institutionalized injustice or what is called social injustice, which has permeated and manifested itself in societal structures and institutions, is different. This form of injustice is not directly caused by an unjust personal attitude. It is like the air that we breathe everyday, whether we wish it or not. It is like a shackle or a trap, which determines and limits our activities and vision. However, human beings create such injustice as a common historical heritage.

The effects are twofold. On the one hand, we with our actions are so tied to structural injustice that our personal actions are also in danger of being unjust. On the other hand, societal structures and institutions are structured and directed in such a way that our actions often result in or support injustice though our intention is good and cannot be directly blamed.

The following are just some examples. An abandoned child, from a broken family and with no experience of true love from parents is almost destined to become “asocial”, a homeless person, a beggar or a pickpocket, and so cannot be blamed. Another example is property, land, power and influence distribution, which is not even at all in many poor countries. The unjust distribution, supported and preserved by the existing social structures and institutions, results in the limited opportunity for the low social class to progress, voice their needs and free themselves from dependency and oppression.

Furthermore, the way to achieve the necessary means and institutions that lead to progress is very much determined by one’s position in the social structures.

This can be clearly observed in the world of education. In many countries, secondary and tertiary education systems have been designed in such a way that they benefit only the rich while the poor are more and more left behind. In this way, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown wider. Structural injustice has also been observed in the teaching profession. Though teachers give good and qualified education and act justly towards their students, the result of their attempts benefits only the elite, who often abuse their knowledge and skills to exploit the weak so that they can become even richer. However laudable the goodwill of teachers, they are almost helpless in dealing with the unjust mechanism. Though acting justly, they indirectly support structural injustice.

Structural and institutionalized injustice as the primary root and cause of many social problems is nowadays the specific characteristic of the concept of injustice. It is only since the second half of the last century that human beings have gradually realized this reality. Therefore, there is an increasing awareness that all attempts at justice will fail if drastic changes in societal structures and institutions are not implemented.  Such

changes cannot be done individually but should be a joint effort of all human beings with goodwill.

Social Responsibility

The above concepts are very important in social ethics, particularly for the understanding of social responsibility. This may not be limited to individual actions, such as in the above cases, which search for the virtue of justice and avoid the evil of injustice. Social responsibility also has structural-institutional aspects. It realizes that every social system is ambivalent in its positive and negative aspects. Such a system should be accounted for and is liable to change.

In this connection, we have to pay attention to what has been described about the interaction between individuals and the society. In many ways, including those involving social ethics, the majority of people are dependent on their socio-cultural environment. Each person as an individual following her or his common sense acts in accordance with the logic of the system where he or she is. Such a person obeys traffic regulations and, in doing so, avoids accidents and saves human lives. Similarly, in an effective progressive taxation system the rich support even distribution and justice, something unrelated to their own attitudes or values. Therefore, urging to hold moral demands is not enough.

On the contrary, the wisdom of a social system assumes the existence of individuals with common sense and courage. In a critical situation, where old institutional regulations are no longer adequate, they are willing to free themselves from traditional patterns of behavior. There should be people who do not stop at encouraging the need for change but who are also willing if necessary, to act on their own responsibility, without much support. That is the way to initiate change. It often meets with obstacles and constraints, or even hostility, because such is considered to disrupt and disrespect a highly-valued tradition. However, almost all major changes in history have been initiated by individuals and groups who have been willing to risk.


“Structures of Sin”

The manifestation of social responsibility, taken individually or structured institutionally, faces the reality of social sin and the structure of sin. Our reflection starts from the reality of social relationships among individuals, institutions, systems and social structures as mentioned before.

The term ‘social sin’ is found in article 16 of the encyclical Reconciliatio et Paenitentia written by Pope John Paul II on December 2, 1984. It has three meanings. First, social sin refers to the social influences of sin. Every personal sin - including the most personal and secret - is a result of human solidarity and, affects and influences other people. Secondly, social sin refers to sin against other people, such as the sin against justice committed by individuals against their community or the sin committed by a community against individuals. Thirdly, social sin refers to social structures opposing God’s plan. In this sense, sin does not refer to free human option or decision but to the universal condition and power beyond human beings. Social sin is rooted in the structures of social life. Social sin is caused by sinful structures.

Therefore, social sin creates a climate which facilitates personal sins and which considers them normal. Besides, social virtues are hindered even if people make an effort to live them out sincerely.

We can also approach the understanding of social sin from the viewpoint of the object and subject. As an object, social sin is the sin of individuals or a group against the society. As a subject, social sin refers to community or collectivity. Gregory Baum suggests that social sin should first be seen as a subject. There are four levels of social sin. The first is the level of injustice and dehumanization trends manifested in various institutions - social, political, economic, or religious - which embody people’s collective life. The second is the level of cultural-religious symbols, which legitimize and allow unjust situations. The third is a wrong awareness created by institutions and ideologies in such a way that people collectively involve themselves in destructive actions. The fourth is the level of collective decision born of deviant and corrupt awareness, which increases injustice in the society and intensifies dehumanization trends.

As similar understanding can also be applied to the problem of the relation between personal sin and the structure of sin. The problem is that the two become a mutually strengthening vicious circle. In the encyclical letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, Pope John Paul II speaks about global structures, which preserve the North-South discrepancy (SRS 13-16). He furthers his ideas about social sin which he has described in Reconciliatio et Paenitentiae and speaks of the structure of sin. The Pope says the structure of sin:

“is rooted in personal sin and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove. And thus they grow stronger, spread and become the source of other sins and so influence people’s behavior” (SRS 36).

It is necessary to realize that those structures are concrete realities, which originally were rooted in personal sin and in turn they develop their own power. It means that the power of sin manifested in social structures is difficult to eradicate, even if so desired by individuals. Between the structure of sin and personal sin there is a reciprocal relation: personal sin strengthens the structure of sin and the structure of sin allures personal sin.

‘Social Conversion’ toward ‘Structures of Grace’

Pope John Paul II states that the structures of sin must be faced with solidarity, namely “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are really responsible for all” (SRS 38.4). In addition to solidarity we need a strong determination, which according to SRS also supports movements of solidarity among the poor themselves. We support “their efforts to support one another and their public demonstrations on the social scene ...” (SRS 39).

As stated in chapter 8, the progress of a society and personal repentance are two sides of the proclamation of the Gospel, which should be wholly proclaimed. In this chapter, we see that the two sides are related to the reality called the structure of sin. Because personal sin and the structure of sin have a reciprocal relationship, personal repentance and social repentance are needed in order to change the structure so that progress in the society can take place. Personal repentance has social influence and can encourage repentance within a community or a group. In its turn, personal repentance can manifest itself in the form of structural joint actions and movements, which can change the structure of sin (see an example in Spirituality Originating from Divine Solidarity in Chapter 8).

In a poor village, people generally did not have enough money for various needs, such as for their children’s schooling. Therefore, they had to practice ngijon, namely selling their crops when they are still green, such as unripe rice and cloves or coffee trees, which need not be sold for several years. In the village there was also a relatively richer and more educated man, who could raise up capital. With the capital he had, he profited from the people’s desperate situation. As a result, in a short time the capital was returned but he still had the right to harvest the crops he had bought under the system. One day he asked himself: “Is what I have done not in line with the image of Jesus’ disciple?” Since then, he stopped thengijon purchase system. On the contrary, he convinced his neighbors to abandon this harmful practice. He became a motivator in his village to pursue common development, both through the Basic Christian Community and the Basis Human Community (about these communities, please refer to The Pastoral Planning of the Church in Chapter 12). This person has experienced a change, normally called conversion. He has changed from profiting for himself at the expense of others to working for the common welfare with his neighbors. From a personal conversion through what we call social solidarity, he initiated a social conversion and began to establish the structure of grace.

Structural change can take place through political actions. Therefore, in facing the structure of sin we need action-oriented social repentance, which encourages political actions and movements to create changes toward more human structures. At this level, we can talk about the structure of repentance or the structure of grace, because through the social networks grace can be experienced concretely. Human life is in tension between two laws: the law of sin and the law of grace (see Rom 5:12-21; 6:15; 7:14-24, particularly verse 17). Human free choice and decision are within the influence of the two structures and we are always obliged to choose: either strengthen the structure of sin or change it into the structure of grace.

The Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation issued by the Congregation of Faith (March 22, 1986) talks about the priority of freedom and personal repentance. However, the need to change unjust structures also remains an urgent one:

“the recognized priority of freedom and of conversion of heart in no way eliminates the need for unjust structures to be changed. It is therefore perfectly legitimate that those who suffer oppression on the part of the wealthy or the politically powerful should take action, through morally licit means, in order to secure structures and institutions in which their rights will be truly respected. (...) It is therefore necessary to work simultaneously for the conversion of hearts and for the improvement of structures.” (LC 75).

In line with the discussion about the structure of sin, let us remember that Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Laborem Exercens about human work talks about indirect employers, including:

“both persons and institutions of various kinds and also collective labor contracts and the principles of conduct which are laid down by these persons and institutions and which determine the whole socio-economic system or are its result” (LE 17).

For the sake of a just relationship, the influence of the “indirect employer “ should be paid attention to. The need to change the “indirect employer”, calls for structural change. Laborers face not only the direct employer, with whom they have the work contract (if any) but also the entire system, institution or structure, such as the labor laws, regulations about just wages, working hours, health insurance, rights for a union, and the right to strikes. Theology of work will be discussed inTheology of Work: The Primacy of Human Being Over Capital and Moral Principles in Economic Life in Chapter 11.

The Influence of Cultural Values On Social Conversion

Social conversion is not easy because besides personal conversion it also requires the conversion of the community, where there are a number of cultural constraints, particularly those related to power (see Enclosure 2). A systematic cultural analysis is going to be discussed in the following chapter (Problems of Poverty from the Socio-Cultural View in Chapter 10). In this part, we will see some influences of cultural values, which can become social constraints in social conversion and structural change.

In the Javanese culture, the harmony patterns, both the religious-cosmic harmony and the collective-hierarchical societal harmony, are very important. The internal sense or sensitivity to understand where one is (rasa) is very dominant in determining how to behave and place oneself so that one will feel at ease and at home (krasan). In such a culture, sin is not primarily seen as a violation of moral requirement but as a destruction of harmony, which can cause shame (‘shame culture’). In terms of the relationship between the creation and the Creator, sin means that such a relationship is broken. Life is not harmonious anymore.

If harmony patterns are too dominant and harmony is only superficial, it will become formalism or hypocrisy, which only emphasizes good forms and appearances but does not try changes necessary for the common good. In the harmony pattern and the narrow primordial context, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has a critical and creative role. It is the source of inspiration to internalize God as the Most Benevolent for all, who prioritizes the poor and the abandoned and encourages the struggle for social justice. Harmony is not something acquired, but is an ideal, which should be continuously struggled for through contemplation, reflection (the mystical and reflective dimension) and actions (social involvement, the political and ecological dimension). Therefore, little by little social conversion and renewal are developed in a continuous struggle under the light of Jesus Christ’s Gospel.

Cultural pluralism, which has become a special feature of the Indonesian society, is not only a wealth or a blessing but has also brought difficulties for social conversion and structural change. We notice inter-religious tension (fanaticism, suspicion, fear). Similarly, the plurality of ethnicity/religion/race is not free from discrimination (against minority ethnic and non-native groups). The socio-cultural plurality in terms of ethnicity, religion, race and class has truly enriched Indonesia but also contains a danger such as unhealthy rivalries among those groups. It causes discrimination and unstable relationships between the state and religion. In a very pluralistic society, there can be abuses of interest by certain groups.

Another problem is the cultural abuse for the sake of power interest and power legitimation especially if social control is weak. Such power is not a unifying factor of the forces in a pluralistic society but rather a divisive one, whereas social conversion and structural change require the unity of an undivided human community. If, for example, a paternalistic and feudalistic mentality is still dominant in the society, particularly in the political life, people will not care about politics any longer and they are bored with or afraid of taking initiatives. In such an atmosphere of political fatigue, it is difficult to initiate social conversion and structural change, particularly if freedom of speech is not guaranteed. Besides, a murky atmosphere of rumors can appear at any time and such will damage the healthy social situation.

Culture is a living and growing complex reality and includes both material and non-material aspects. Its growth is never free from external influence, either positive or negative. In inter-cultural contacts, generally the material features of an incoming culture can be easily adopted. Such does not mean materialism but is the adoption of concrete (material) forms without the understanding of the underlying (non-material) spirit. For example, an engine is adopted and used without any understanding of the science and technology, which have produced it, or a parliamentary institution may be adopted without democratic awareness, which results in its implementation in a traditional pattern.

From inter-cultural contacts, there may be a conflict of values, which might create a crisis for traditional institutions, such as the family, marriage, religious service and community work (gotong royong). Economic and political progress causes deep socio-cultural changes. They lead people to want a comfortable life (refusal to do manual labor, prestige, a consumerism, corruption and nepotism) leading to social/moral decadence (discrimination against women, individualism, egoism, gambling, prostitution, crime, and alcoholism). When material values and materialism are dominant immaterial or spiritual values are endangered. The strength of these phenomena shows how difficult personal conversion is, let alone social conversion.

There is often a pseudo-synthesis between the old and the new socio-cultural system. There are three principal reactions to change: traditionalism or fundamentalism in various forms, practical atheism, and attempts to search for new alternatives. Traditionalism or fundamentalism are a sort of escape from new challenges. Practical atheism can be observed where religiosity or a relation with God does not have a place in practical decisions or actions even though people still claim a certain faith. The hope for the emergence of a social conversion to structural change can be found in the intention and readiness to look for new alternatives. New challenges are faced in continuous critical dialogue in the light of God’s words, through contemplation, reflection and action.

The Promotion of Justice as the Foundation and Manifestation of Love

Personal injustice is condemned by the Church. However, in order to respond to “the signs of times” appropriately, the Church should develop a keener sensitivity to social injustice and commit itself to change of unjust structures and institutions.

It is often forgotten that between the proclamation of the Gospel and the promotion of justice there is an inseparable, close and reciprocal relationship. The good news of the Gospel must be realized and manifested in struggles for justice. Likewise such struggles need the light of the Gospel. Why so?

(1) In the entire Gospel it is clearly revealed that true faith is not only an internal matter, but rather should be real in all dimensions and life, both personal and social. These are clearly shown in Jesus’ life, actions and teaching directed to the needs of the people of His time. Faith without real manifestation of compassion is not deeply rooted. If Jesus had proclaimed only spiritual human salvation, he would not have ended his proclamation with His death on the cross. His concrete commitment, a witness to His message, became an obstacle for His enemies. Therefore, both in the Gospel and the tradition and history of the Church the basic principle of love has been always emphasized.

However, the basic principle should be implemented in accordance with the times and its signs. When people are not fully aware about the structural and institutional roots of the societal life, the charity approach, suitable for helping the victims of injustice, is considered an appropriate and adequate reaction. Though charity is still needed, the more urgent current task is to eradicate the root of injustice.

The characteristics of structural injustice, if compared with the response to poverty in the past, is the reality that human beings are in fact able to create a more just world but are often unwilling to do so. New opportunities and means are often used to exploit and conquer fellow human beings, the weaker groups or nations. Therefore, injustice cannot be any longer considered as inevitable bad luck. Human beings, gripped by individual and collective egoism, have to account for their supporting institutions and structures.

Unjust social structures and institutions should be penetrated by the law of love, which is nothing else than the effort to promote justice. We as the Church cannot excuse ourselves for the reason that we do not know such a demand. We are obliged to use all possible means and power at hand to achieve the goal because the foundation of love is justice. Justice does not include everything, and it is not the highest virtue, but love can shrink into a caricature if not based on justice.

If a businessman, for example, exploits his laborers by paying unjust wages, his injustice cannot be compensated with bigger donations to the Church though that money may be used to help the neglected, who possibly are the laborers’ poor families. Such donations should be refused if known to originate from unjust business. Charity cannot compensate for the obligation of justice, such as paying the laborers a just wage.

(2) The Promotion of Justice is Absolutely Needed to Proclaim the Gospel Convincingly. The good news about salvation and liberation of all people and nations, particularly the most oppressed, the poorest and the neglected, can be understood, believed in, and perhaps accepted if people are visited and addressed in their difficulties and hope. If evangelization is not accompanied by concrete witness and commitment, the Gospel will be considered nonsensical and outdated.

(3) The above reason is perhaps not convincing because it might be considered a mere tact and strategy. However, the task to promote justice is based on a more sound reason. Any form of injustice is against the spirit of the Gospel and the goal of God’s Reign because injustice, for whatever reason, denies the respect for human dignity and the rights of human kind as the image of God and Christ's sisters and brothers.

Therefore, injustice is in fact practical atheism, which denies God not with words but with actions. Acting unjustly or supporting structural injustice is the same as behaving as if God were non-existent. Such practical atheism, particularly if performed by those who claim to be Christians, is perhaps more dangerous than theoretical atheism which denies the existence of God.

(4) The challenge for promoting justice involves also Church structures and institutions. All means and efforts, powers and influences in Church should be penetrated by the dimensions and efforts of justice promotion. The Church, namely all the believers, should be brave enough to question how far we have begun to show justice longed for by humankind and demanded by the Gospel. We should begin by looking at ourselves. We should also critically and honestly highlight and review the ministries the Church because the Church structures and institutions are under the law of sin, and so are not free from injustice in all its forms. Courage is required to make difficult changes. But that is exactly what repentance means.


(1) Are there texts in the Old Testament, which mention social structures and the structures of sin though they may not use those terms? Give examples. What are the messages in those texts?

(2) Are there texts in the New Testament, which talk about social structure and the structure of sin though they may not use those terms? Give examples. What are the messages in those texts?

(3) Why does Jesus in the Gospel show an open and kind attitude to everybody including the sinners. (see for example Mk 2:1-12; Lk 7:36-50) Why does he rebuke the Pharisees, scribes and the rich with rude and sharp words (see for example Mt 23:13-32; Lk 1:46-56; Lk 6:20-28)?

  • Are the two attitudes contradictory?
  • How can you explain the conflict based on the interpretation of the texts?

(4) In the Gospel the socio-cultural institutions in Israel are often mentioned, such as the law of Sabbath in Mk 2:23-28 and 3:1-6 or the Pharisee tradition in Mk 7:1-13).

  • What is Jesus’ attitude towards the institutions?
  • Is Jesus’ attitude meaningful in our present time?

(5) In SRS 36 we read:

“If the present situation can be attributed to difficulties of various kinds, it is not out of place to speak of ‘structures of sin’ which, as I stated in my apostolic exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia, are rooted in personal sin and thus always linked to the concrete acts of individuals who introduce these structures, consolidate them and make them difficult to remove. And thus they grow stronger, spread and become the source of other sins and so influence people's behavior”.

Do the SRS concepts of (human) individuals and structures differ from or even contradict the concepts of individuals and structures according to P.I. Berger? Why?

(6) SRS 37 states:

“... among the actions and attitudes opposed to the will of God, the good of neighbor and the ‘structures’ created by them, two are very typical: on the one hand, the all-consuming desire for profit, and on the other, the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others”.

Are the two attitudes merely personal or also structural? Why?

(7) The Pastoral Letter of the US Bishops’ Conference “Economic Justice for All People: Catholic Social Teaching and US Economy” (art. 69-71) mentions the following four forms of justice:

a. Commutative justice calls for fundamental fairness in all agreements and exchanges between individuals or private social groups.
b. Distributive justice requires that the allocation of income, wealth and power in society be evaluated in light of its effects on persons whose basic material needs are unmet.
c. Social justice implies that persons have an obligation to be active and productive participants in the life of society and that society has a duty to enable them to participate in this way.
d. This form of justice can also be called contributive, for it stresses the duty of all who are able to help create the goods, services and other non-material or spiritual values necessary for the welfare of the whole community.
  • Discuss these texts and try to explain what kind of justice is structural. Why?

(8) The theologies of liberation emphasize that the church as social institution has to review and ask whether the structures in the Church are not against justice. Many Christians, including Church leaders, agree that the Church is also the Church of sinners but object to the concept that in the Church there are ‘structures of sin’.

  • How can such an attitude be explained? What is your opinion?



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