Diamond in the RoughForrest Gump is not a consistently great movie and I’m not sure what it really stands for, but one scene stands out as a true analysis of the relationship between personal holiness and the struggle for justice. I’m thinking of that scene at the Vietnam rally on the Mall in which the radical boyfriend of Gump’s childhood friend smacks her and blames it on anger at the poverty, violence and injustice in the world. The wisdom of the Church, and the best argument against the worst of liberation theology, is that the promotion of justice cannot be accomplished by those who are not pursuing personal holiness.
Walker Percy points out in Lost in the Cosmos, that in Nietzchean America, when all commitment to the truth is jettisoned, all that is left is the power of violence and lust. If we are under the sway of violence or lust, our efforts at improving society will ultimately lead to an equally unjust, if not more unjust replacement. That is one of the reasons it is an act of social justice to fight pornography, premarital sex, adultery, and other abuses of human sexuality.
The other reasons it is an act of social justice to fight sexual misconduct is that an act of sexual impropriety itself is a social sin as well as personal one. When I was in college (1977-81) I had a couple of friends who conceived a child out of wedlock. They were told by a priest that, considering all the poverty, violence and injustice in the world, what they did wasn’t so bad.
In once sense, this is true. Even the Church Fathers considered Anger to be a greater sin than Lust, primarily because of their anthropology. Lust issued from a lower part of the body, Anger from the middle part, and Pride from the mind. So Pride was the worse sin. Still, Lust is one of the Capital Sins.
At any rate, at the time my faith was completely unformed, after umpteen years of CCD and religion in Catholic high school, so I didn’t know how to respond. I have come to believe, however, that every abuse of our sexual powers is not only a personal sin, but a time bomb that explodes in the fabric of society. Adultery, for instance, is an act of social injustice.
As a result, the government, in its efforts at promoting the common good, has a vested interest in regulating sexual activity (even if sexual sins can never be eliminated). That is why, for instance, divorce should be made difficult. Society has an interest in all but truly abusive or fictitious marriages staying together.
Note: I am not simply equating divorce with adultery. Obviously some divorces are justified on a civil level. Adultery never is. But I do believe that divorce is a blight on American society and should be inoculated against at every opportunity. The best way, of course, is to promote truly holy marriages through adequate preparation, not only just prior to the marriage, but throughout the education of the young by home and school.
Of course, anger and the resulting violence are equally, if not more inimical to the pursuit of justice than lust and sexual sin. If we fall easily into anger and violence, we not only put our friends and neighbors in danger, but run the risk of ruining our efforts at promoting justice.