|Christ died so we could write articles on|
As first expounded by the Roman Catholics, it was an application of Christian moral ideas to the social problems of the day. The RomanCatholics argued that neither liberalism nor communism had any proper moral foundation and were thus undermining the social fabric. Liberalism was criticized for giving rise to too much interpersonal competition, communism for "setting brother against brother" by preaching "class struggle." A social order based on Christian morals was suggested as an alternative, involving the recognition of rights and duties for both workers and business owners, a living wage for workers, care for the poor, and, of course, a continued large role for the Catholic Church.
The same sort of ideas were taken up by Protestants in modified form; particularly subscribing to them were the evangelicals of the day, such as the Methodists, who believed that if Christians would knock it off with all the sin, a Golden Age would come about. This formulation became soundly post-millennial (thus anticipating the eschatology of the Dominionists) and eventually became known as the Social Gospel; among the policies of this movement were compulsory public education, aggressive inculcation of "good morals" in the young, and prohibition of liquor.
The Social Gospel reached its peak in the early 20th century and from that point increasingly secularized until it had very little to distinguish it from other forms of socialism, with the exception that Social Gospel promoters occasionally tack a "God is" in front of the usual talking points, or a "because that's what Jesus said" behind them. This lends them a holier-than-thou ring, not altogether dissimilar to what the religious right did with Ronald Reagan's economic policies, except that the Social Gospel promoters do not usually take such an hysterical tone, since Jesus actually did say many of the things in question.
In the early 20th century, the idea of social justice was taken up very visibly by Rev. Charles Coughlin, the noted Nazi sympathizer and "radio priest," who favored populist and distributist economic policies and opposed communism, airing his views in a periodical entitled Social Justice. After World War II, the traditional Catholic formulation of social justice came to be associated with fascism, particularly with the "clerical fascism" of such nations as Engelbert Dollfuss's Austria, Francisco Franco's Spain and António de Oliveira Salazar's Portugal. As a result, this formulation became somewhat discredited in mainstream political thought.
More recently, the Catholic ideas have been worked over into the Catholic variant of Marxism, liberation theology, which intensifies the criticisms of capitalism and mutes the criticisms of communism.
"Social justice" is one of those warm-and-fuzzy terms, like "family values," that people are loath to criticize. Hence, in the present day the term is heavily employed as a political buzzword, so that it is sometimes rather difficult to determine what someone actually means when they say it. An example is its use by a significant number of left-wing and/or skeptic bloggers, especially on Tumblr. Most are sane, but a number have Jacobin tendencies and lash out at anyone who doesn't follow their particular interpretation of social justice. Much like the ecology section at most large bookstores, it becomes somewhat of a challenge to dig through and find the sane, well-informed stuff.
Social justice is much criticized as a religious notion with no basis in reality. Even from the religious standpoint, the Christians who treat poverty as a "social injustice" to be eliminated are arguably rather at odds with Jesus, who said, "For the poor always ye have with you."
The Austrian school economist, Friedrich von Hayek, objected to it as "nonsense, like the term 'a moral stone'", and noted that because "social injustice" does not require any human action to bring about, the rule of law would need to be done away with for any attempt at the implementation of "social justice."
Others, while perhaps not objecting to the abstract concept of social justice, object to the way in which the term is currently employed by those who insist that social justice must be implemented by the advancement of a certain political program. Besides the use by fascists and communists, for example, social justice is a plank in green parties the world over.
Many churches still use the term in a (relatively) apolitical way. This caused a bit of a furor when Glenn Beck, displaying his usual powers of perception and confusing this usage with Coughlin's and the Marxists', warned his audience to run from any church using the term, such churches obviously being Communist, Nazi dens of heresy that should be reported to the authorities. Beck caught significant heat from Christians for his statement.