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Issues of Justice and Peace (Teachers Text)

Into the Classroom Series - Section F (Teachers Text)

Author(s): John Murray

ISBN13: 9781853907913

ISBN10: 185390791X

Publisher: Veritas

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  • Into the Classroom is a series of eleven new books designed for second-level teachers beginning the new Leaving Certificate Religious Education syllabus. Each of the books covers all the content in the relevant syllabus section. With their accessible and engaging commentary, they will also be of great interest to third-level students, educators and a general readership.

    Issues of Justice and Peace introduces the principles and skills of social analysis and encourages the application of these principles and skills in the local context, and in a selection of national and global contexts. It also identifies and analyses the links between religious belief and commitment, and action for justice and peace. Finally, it reflects upon the challenge to sustain this relationship, particularly in relation to the Irish context.

  • John Murray

    John Murray, a graduate of the Mater Dei Institute, having taught religion and English for many years, is now a lecturer in Moral Theology in the Mater Dei Institute.

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    Never really optional
    Section F is an optional module in this syllabus, one that will probably be a popular choice (1). It is a familiar topic, clearly significant for the lives of teachers and students. Issues of justice and peace are to be found everywhere: newspapers, news headlines, films and novels, the school curriculum, the professional concerns of teachers and the personal concerns of students, and throughout society. To be fully engaged in the real world as a morally aware person, one will inevitably face the challenge of understanding and interpreting fairly issues of justice and peace (and the central concepts involved). Issues of justice and peace are never really optional.

    A controversial and complex area
    The subject matter is controversial, unavoidably so if one is to be accurate and specific. This makes the area potentially very interesting, particularly at senior level where students can be expected to engage with complex and debatable issues in some depth. This is not a cut-and-dried syllabus module, presenting neat answers to every question and ready-made solutions for all problems. An approach that is simplistic is to be avoided, especially one that sees all issues of justice and peace as a battle between the good guys and the bad guys (as many popular films portray them). Often, the reality is that the opposing sides in disputes disagree about the relevant facts and the appropriate interpretations of the situation, even though they are equally committed in good conscience to justice and peace as ideals. What is needed is the virtue to find and face the relevant facts, to interpret them in the light of a clear knowledge and understanding of justice and peace, and to act justly for peace.

    Accuracy and fairness are essential
    The controversial nature of the material should not encourage vagueness to avoid offending anyone or disturbing the peace. Some types of offence can be socially responsible and some types of peace ought to be disturbed. Needless controversy should be avoided, however, as a polemical approach tends to generate more heat than light. The study of justice and peace will come down to specifics at some stage and it is then that a good teacher will help students to become aware of personal biases and prejudices and how to deal with them. A concern for justice will entail a commitment to accuracy and objectivity in ones critical thinking, especially when dealing with points of view that differ from ones own. Anything that prevents us from being accurate or fair is a serious obstacle to the successful teaching or study of this section of the syllabus.

    Some common errors to avoid
    Another danger of stressing the controversial nature of the subject matter is found in the temptation to see justice and peace as a totally subjective or relativistic moral area. We can be tempted to conclude illogically, from the fact that not everything in the area of justice is clear-cut, that nothing is clear-cut. We move from the true observation that we do not know everything in this area to the false conclusion that we cannot know anything. One of the most common expressions of this non sequitur category of logical fallacy is the idea that because morality is not always black or white, it is (always) grey. Another popular slogan is that there are no absolutes in morality, because not every element of morality is an absolute and because we can always learn more and improve. None of these conclusions are logical. We do not have to see everything in this section as totally clear-cut, known, black or white, or absolute; nor do we have to see everything as vague, unknowable, grey, or relative. Some things are not totally clear; some things are absolutely clear. Our aim is to work out which is which, or to at least show how we can go about doing this. We may not be able to specify all the possible answers to questions of justice and peace but we should be able to clarify some answers, to demonstrate and facilitate how to find further answers, and to explain how still other answers are inadequate or even just wrong.

    One cannot be totally neutral
    I believe that it may be possible and useful for a teacher (or an author) to be a temporarily neutral chairperson of the discussion of issues of justice and peace, to facilitate discussion and exploration by others, but I do not think one can be neutral ultimately or totally. One cannot do justice to justice by always sitting on the fence: the reality of justice demands commitment at some point. Even though one is always ready in principle to revise ones position in the light of further knowledge or insight, one must take up a position of some sort. Pupils will often ask what the teacher thinks on a particular matter, and it will not always be appropriate to dodge the question or refuse to answer it. To claim to be neutral is in fact to take up a position of sorts. Such neutrality might even teach (falsely) that no position is correct, or that all are acceptable, or that one is as good as any other. None of these positions are adequate; each fails to grasp moral truth. Teaching is always concerned with truth (2). Besides, any teacher teaches in a school with a particular ethos or identity, and this ethos will never be neutral on the basic issues of justice and peace. Nor should it be. A teacher should always teach in harmony with the ethos of his or her particular school.

    Though this is not the place to go into the matter in detail, I believe that there is a problem in the lack of explicit attention in this syllabus to the issue of truth, particularly religious truth. There exists a real, though unacknowledged, challenge in teaching coherently in a religious school a course in RE that does not directly treat the schools religious faith as true, that deals with the meanings of various faiths and philosophies, but does not take any position on whether any one of these is better or more accurate than the others. In reality, no curriculum is ever entirely neutral, even if it aims to be. This book assumes that the new RE exam curriculum can be taught in a way that respects all faiths and philosophies and is fair in its investigation and presentation of them, whilst being faithful to the ethos of a school, which most often in Ireland will be of a Catholic ethos. How this can be done is not entirely clear to me and I have not addressed it directly in this book. It is an area that deserves and needs further attention from all concerned.

    My approach
    My approach is not neutral. This book, which is practically focused, will deal mainly with the teaching of this section within the context of a Catholic ethos. This is the tradition I know best and the one I accept as true. It is the tradition that most potential readers of this book will share. I believe that much of what I write should be readily acceptable to other traditions because the Catholic moral tradition is reasonable and open to the truth present in other traditions.

    I write as a Roman Catholic who is committed to a natural law approach to ethics, one always informed by Divine Revelation as understood and taught authoritatively by the Catholic Church. Natural law is examined in the other primarily moral section of the syllabus (Section C: Moral Decision Making), but it may be helpful to outline here the Catholic understanding of it.

    Natural Law
    By natural law, the Catholic tradition means our grasp of moral right and wrong by reason. Human persons are created in Gods image (a truth that is foundational for much that will be examined in this book). This suggests we have a God-given ability to know moral truth by the light of our reason reflecting on what it means to be a human person living in community. We do not have to rely totally on our access to Gods law through our faith-response to Gods Revelation to know moral principles and norms. We can know them by thinking clearly about our human potential and the various goods at stake in living a human life as an individual in community with others (and in relationship with our natural environment).

    Faith in Gods Revelation is not superfluous, however, as the natural law is not always clearly known and it does not tell us all we need to know about God and his full plan for us. Though morality can be grasped by all rational persons in principle, we need Gods specific guidance in Scripture and Tradition to enable us to be certain and confident about morality in practice (3). The following is a prime example of this complimentary relationship of reason and faith. We can know the truth of the Golden Rule , in everything do to others as you would have them do to you (4) , by reasoning about the common humanity that makes all humans equal. As a compliment to this essentially personal rational grasp, we can know the truth of this rule by our acceptance in faith of the Gospel and the authority of Jesus Christ as the Son of God who teaches us the truth about how to treat each other. In this case, faith backs up reason and strengthens its authority, but it does not supplant it or contradict it. The moral reasoning referred to here is the characteristic feature of natural law.

    Even one who does not accept the theological explanation of natural law given above (referring to the human person as created in Gods image) can know the reality of natural law. From a secular perspective, this is seen in understanding morality as essentially rational and objective. (I do not mean by this to neglect the very important emotional aspect of morality but to emphasise that morality is not purely emotional. It is always necessary to judge prudently and fairly whether our emotional reactions or responses are appropriate.) True principles of right and wrong, and consequent rules of behaviour, are not arbitrary impositions of the will of the stronger on the weaker (the State on the citizen, for example, or the school principal on the student). True morality is a matter of reasonable principles, norms and rules. We can discover what the principles, norms and rules should be by using our reason well. This enables us to know the rightness of the good laws and policies we already have and to be fully committed to them; it also enables us to criticise and reform those laws or policies that are faulty (that is, unreasonable). A natural law approach, at least in a general form that emphasises the reasonableness of morality, is implied in any kind of ethics that allow for a justified, reasoned critique of the existing society, or any subsection of it, and its laws, policies, customs and behaviour.

    A natural law type of approach is very much in keeping with the spirit and letter of the present syllabus and this section in particular. One of the aims of the RE syllabus is to foster an appreciation of non-religious views as well as religious views , natural law emphasises that a non-religious approach to morality can be compatible with a religious approach (and vice versa) insofar as both are reasonable. Natural law provides a kind of bridge between faiths and between all people of good will.

    Not totally subjective
    There are different views of what constitutes natural law (6) and of what is reasonable: this is an area of some debate amongst those who agree that morality is essentially reasonable. There are also some emotivist or intuitionist approaches to morality that leave out reason altogether. Such approaches seem plausible in the face of the wide-spread disagreements about ethical matters. It is extremely important, nevertheless, to emphasise the rational nature of ethics, rather than an ethics based on emotions or conventions or mere prudent avoidance of trouble. The obvious fact of disagreement on moral issues, or even on fundamental moral theory, does not prove, as many assume, that morality is subjective (another example of a common fallacy in moral discussion and teaching). In fact, the more moral disagreement there is, the more we have to work at discovering the objective morality that will enable us to find, or at least work towards, unity and peace. Tolerance of pluralism is not enough in itself to build and maintain a community; there must be some shared values to ground a common basis for living in society with others.

    Justice cannot be merely a totally individual idea inside each persons head. What is subjectively in ones head should match the objective reality outside ones head. This in turn should be reflected in the understanding of others so that we can share morality, at least at a basic level, and so live in peace as a community. Reference to justice does not sit easily with a subjectivistic approach to morality , the common understanding of justice is that it is an appeal to objective standards, not merely individual preferences or claims. When one claims Thats not fair one is not referring to purely personal preference but to what one hopes will be accepted as an objective standard proving that the particular act or situation objected to is not actually fair. Not totally relativistic
    So justice is properly understood as not purely subjective, but objective. Nor can it be understood adequately as totally relative. Justice is not a completely culture-based or society-based set of ideas or moral rules. A relativistic approach, seeing justice as a society or culture-bound set of conventions and opinions, does not allow for any justified critique of cultural injustice or societys injustices nor a more global view of a higher justice transcending lower, local versions of justice. Unless we can agree on the basics of justice, we will not be able to address responsibly the many problems facing individual societies and the world, such as poverty and environmental degradation (which cannot be solved by mere tolerance or lack of discrimination). So we must avoid being drawn into any distorted or reductionistic view of justice. There must always remain the possibility of a shared search for, and agreement on, the common good(7).

    This rejection of relativism does not deny that there can be some valuable diversity and an essential open-endedness in how a shared morality can be applied to various situations and societies in a plurality of ways. Such varying applications can be right and just. There may be more than one right answer to the questions of justice (and more than one wrong answer too). We will need to be committed to objective moral principles while being respectful of the plurality of potential ways to apply these principles. Before respect for pluralism, however, comes knowledge of, and commitment to, objective moral principles: this suggests how the teacher might approach this section of the syllabus.

    My main aim
    One of the most important things necessary for teaching this syllabus is a clear understanding of the key concepts and their interrelationships. Providing this understanding is the main aim of this book. It does not provide a one-stop book containing everything needed for a teacher to teach the section. (This book may be teacher-friendly , but its not that friendly!) This would make for a more unwieldy, much bigger book. It is hoped that other authors, especially those from other religious traditions, will contribute further material for the syllabus. I have not tried to provide many examples from current affairs and analysis to illustrate and back-up my discussion. Examples given here are more typical than topical. Topical examples go out of date quickly. Students are not impressed by stories that are even a few years old. To the teacher they seem like only yesterday; to the student, they are ancient history! If a teacher knows what to look for, it will not be difficult to find up-to-the-minute examples and information to use in teaching about justice and peace. Some practical ideas regarding this are given throughout the text. Also, copious references will be made to specific websites and other sources to aid research (8). (I have included a large number of such references to allow some choice to teachers and students and to show the breadth of material available on the various matters in the syllabus. I am not suggesting that teachers or students ought to read everything I mention; nor do I necessarily agree with everything in all the references I give. I expect all references will be used judiciously.)

    The importance of the religious aspect
    Justice has been a popular topic for religion teachers over the years. Unfortunately, the specifically religious aspect of the subject matter can be neglected. It can be tempting to teach the topic in a mainly (or even exclusively) secular way, noting examples of various injustices and dealing with the definition of the central concepts in a generally moralistic way, without ever really dealing with what justice and peace have to do with faith in Christ (or with what Christian faith has to do with justice and peace). This secular approach might seem appealing because of fears that students will be hostile or apathetic towards explicitly religious material. Teaching this way, however, fails to integrate reason and faith, which is a major aim of good religious education. One also suggests to students by this non-religious approach that the secular approach is real life, whereas the religious approach is not. Section F of the senior RE syllabus is not exempt from this danger if it is read superficially or interpreted in a particularly narrow fashion, (focusing on the first half of the section, for example, which is quite non-religious in its language) (9). In order to facilitate the integration of the philosophical and the theological approaches to justice and peace, this book deals in extended detail with the five perspectives on justice (in part 2.1), the Judaeo-Christian vision of justice and peace (in part 2.3), with theological challenges in interpreting environmentalist arguments (in part 3.1) and with the concept of stewardship from a Christian perspective (in part 3.2) (10). It is worth mentioning in regard to the integration of the religious and the ethical, that a new book has just been published by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a book which should help to explain how justice, peace and Christian faith are linked. This is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Vatican City: Liberia Editrice Vaticana, 2004). Unfortunately, it appeared too late to be used much in the writing of this book, and I have referred to it directly only a couple of times. I would highly recommend it as a support for, and development of, what is presented here (11).

    Integrating this section with other sections
    As well as the challenge of understanding the section as an integrated whole, rather than a set of separate bits about justice and peace issues and opinions, there is also the challenge of integrating this section into the senior cycle RE syllabus as a whole. This lies beyond the scope of this book but I will finish this introduction with a few remarks on how this section might link up with other sections (and with the respective books in the present series that deal with the sections).

    The first section that immediately springs to mind is section C: Moral Decision Making. This section makes reference to ethical topics directly relevant to section F: Issues of Justice and Peace. These include human rights and their charters (part 1.2), the common good and individual rights (1.3), the relationship between morality and religion (2.1), the idea of right relationship in the preaching of Jesus (2.2), social sin (2.3), moral conflict and debate (3.1), moral theories such as natural law and virtue ethics (3.2), the role of conscience (4.2), and various areas of moral decision making in action such as political and economic questions, crime and punishment, and medical ethics (4.3).

    Section A, The Search for Meaning and Values, sets the context for the entire syllabus (and is therefore obligatory). The first and last parts of section A link up with section F. In particular, it is useful to deal with issues of justice and peace in a way that respects the transcendent questions of meaning and identity that give rise to the emergence of values, as studied in section A. Putting this in a simpler way, I would suggest that for a Christian the issue of justice and peace cannot be understood merely as a practical matter of finding some way of getting along with one another without trouble or harm. Though this is no mean challenge in itself, there is a further dimension than the immediately practical. Why be just? Why search for peace? The Christian answer will include reference to God and his plan for our happiness and fulfilment as human individuals in community. The Christian views morality not as an arbitrary set of conventions agreed by the majority, nor as only an application of reason or logic to human interrelationships; Christians see morality as a response to God. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Our commitment to justice and peace arises out of our being created by God, saved by God and sanctified by God. It is hard to see how justice or peace could fully make sense in a meaningless world: God creates the meaning of our world and the sensibleness of justice and peace.

    Other sections deal with justice and peace issues. Religion and Gender and Religion and Science are the two that clearly specify topics with a definite justice angle - issues such as sexism and genetic engineering. One could also keep the themes of justice and peace in mind when treating the sections on the Bible, Christianity, and world religions.

    There is plenty of scope for the teacher to combine elements of Section F with other sections of the syllabus. One
    certainly should not see justice and peace concerns as confined to Section F. As I said at the beginning, issues of justice and peace are not optional; they constitute an important dimension of virtually every human situation or topic.


    An outline of section F is found in Appendix One. Readers can use this as a way of keeping track of the course as they read through this guide. The outline is my own; it is not intended as a substitute for the official text, which should be studied carefully.
    it is appropriate in this regard that the publisher of this book is `Veritas, a name which means truth.
    Various Protestant traditions emphasise Scripture over tradition and some would be very wary of natural law because it seems overconfident, in the light of sins effects on our intellects and wills, of our natural ability to know right and wrong. The well-known reference by St Paul in Romans 2:14-15 to the law written on the hearts of the Gentiles has been understood by most Christians, nevertheless, as a warrant for accepting the possibility that all people can to some substantial degree grasp Gods moral law by the natural use of reason, even though supernatural grace and truth are practically necessary for fully clear moral knowledge and the ability to live by this knowledge.
    Matthew 7:12. All Bible quotations in this book are taken from The Catholic Bible: New Revised Standard Version (STL, 1993).
    The fourth aim of the syllabus is this: To appreciate the richness of religious traditions and to acknowledge the non-religious interpretation of life, syllabus, p. 5. The syllabus in full is available online at and is published in hard-copy by The Stationary Office, 2003.
    Some consider natural law to be exclusively the simplistic approach of the Catholic Church behind its condemnation of contraception - the view that what is artificial is wrong and that we must never intervene in natural processes. This is not the concept of natural law in the present work. Nor is it the view behind the Churchs condemnation of contraception, nor her understanding of natural law in general. I deal in more detail with this in part 3.2 below.
    See on this, and on other matters mentioned in this paragraph, the fine book by David Hollenbach, The Common Good and Christian Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
    Please see Appendix Two for criteria for using web sites and other materials.
    The third overall aim of Section F in the syllabus is worth noting: To identify and analyse the links between religious belief and commitment and action for justice and peace, Syllabus, p. 59.
    Though the book does deal with some major issues of methodology, especially in chapter one, it does not attempt to gauge how much material should be taught at each stage of the course, nor how the various parts of the section should be proportioned to each other, nor how much time should be spent on each topic. In some cases, it may not be practical to refer in class to all that is explored in the present book, but it is hoped that all will be useful. It is also hoped that the treatment of issues here will be of interest to others outside the context of second-level schools.
    There is a kind of compendium of Catholic Social Doctrine available online: The Social Agenda, by the Council for Justice and Peace, at The new Compendium is similar to this, though much more developed - it is more than five hundred pages long. It has an extensive index that will enable the reader to quickly find what the Church has to say on specific topics dealt with in this book (and on further important topics). Though the style is highly compact, and difficult to read and probably not suitable for any direct use in a classroom, it is a sound and comprehensive treatment of the main issues and its overall vision is very inspiring.



    The first and second general aims for the section (syllabus, p. 59) relate directly to the concerns of its first segment , Part One: Reflecting on Context. The first reads: To introduce the principles and skills of social analysis. The second is: To encourage the application of these principles and skills in the local context, and in a selection of national and global contexts. This chapter explains what these terms mean so that teacher and student can achieve the specific objectives listed in the areas of knowledge, understanding, skills and attitudes (syllabus, p. 60). Reflecting on Context requires examination of the concrete social world with a critical eye in order to understand it better. The chapter does not engage in specific social analysis or make any detailed empirical claims about society or issues, but instead explains what social analysis is and how it can be done.

    Overall structure of the course
    Why does the section begin with social analysis, before one has studied the central concepts of justice and peace? Beginning in this way emphasises that Justice and Peace are not purely abstract or theoretical concepts; they arise out of, and apply to, specific situations and real people. Part 1 focuses our attention on concrete reality and questions will be raised by this initial analysis. Then part 2 (to be looked at in the next chapter) looks at the moral principles of justice and peace in order to shed light on the questions raised by the initial social analysis. One could revise ones initial social analysis in the light of the moral principles studied in the central part of the course. As written, however, the syllabus leads the student on to look at new issues (from part 2.4 and through part 3), namely violence and just war and environmental concerns, rather than looking backwards at the specific issues analysed in part 1.

    Part 1.1 deals with the central concepts of social analysis;
    Part 1.2 deals with applying social analysis to selected, specific contexts.

    There are various ways one might go about analysing society. The syllabus indicates a particular approach and gives a brief outline to guide the process (syllabus, p. 61). This draws heavily, almost word for word, on a classic text by Joe Holland and Peter Henriot, Social Analysis: Linking Faith and Justice (1983) (1). Mention should also be made of two books, also published in the early 80s, by Irish writers Seán Healy and Brigid Reynolds, both well-known in the justice and peace movement in Ireland. These are Social Analysis in the Light of the Gospel (1983) and Ireland Today: Reflecting in the Light of the Gospel (1985) (2). The latter contains a detailed social analysis of Irish society at that time and would be very useful as an example of the kind of thing looked for in the syllabus, although it would have to be up-dated considerably in its reference to empirical observations and measurements. This chapter draws extensively from these three books in looking at part 1.1, although I have avoided frequent references in order to shorten the number of footnotes.


    Social analysis involves examining economic, political, cultural and social structures to gain a more complete understanding of social situations. The aim is to investigate the way things are and to ask why they are so. One explores issues, and, more importantly, one tries to get behind the issues to understand their causes. Holland and Henriot explain the importance here of moving from the anecdotal to the analytical: We must move from issues[ ... ] to explanations of why things are the way they are. To stop with anecdotes, to concentrate only on issues, obscures the comprehensive systemic picture. If the picture is obscured, one becomes trapped in immediate ad hoc solutions (3). Second level students, and indeed many other people, express their views on issues such as the place of travellers in Irish society or the role of the Gardai by way of stories or examples (sometimes at second or third hand). Social analysis, however, goes deeper than recounting stories of injustice. A clear focus on social analysis as a precise kind of investigation will help us to avoid mere conversation or casual discussion, mere sharing of ignorance.


    What is meant by structures? The structures metaphor refers to socially organised ways of behaving or being in relationship, the systems that shape the way we live in community with others. These include institutions, behaviour patterns, organisations (on the more objective side) and common values, prejudices and belief systems (on the more subjective side). Structures are relatively stable, permanent and common, rather than temporary, ad hoc, random or individual.

    Four types
    Structures become more concrete when examined under the four headings given in the syllabus (4):

    economic structures
    political structures
    cultural structures
    social structures
    Each of the four types of structure is treated separately below. After an initial definition, various typical questions are listed to show how one can analyse society under each particular heading. These questions are not answered here; they are merely typical guides to what the specific structure refers to in concrete detail, mainly in the national context. It is not expected that all the questions will be answered whilst studying this syllabus. After each type of structure is defined and outlined by questions, some related matters are discussed, including some cross-curricular possibilities. When all four types of structure have been examined, some final remarks conclude the first half of this chapter , how there are different levels of structures and analysis, how the four structures are interconnected and related, and how a balance between Right and Left approaches is important for accurate analysis.

    The four structures and four associated issues
    The syllabus mentions looking at the four types of structure with four issues in mind: the availability and allocation of resources, the determining of power, the shaping of relationships and the according of meaning to people within specific contexts.. Holland/Henriot and Healy/Reynolds link each type of structure with an issue as follows:
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Issues of Justice and Peace (Teachers Text)

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