So said the abolitionist Theodore Parker in the run up to the Civil War, thereafter adapted by Martin Luther King and Barack Obama, among others, to provide encouragement, patience, an inspiration in the US’ ongoing struggle with racism. They are fine words and a noble sentiment, but there is little evidence that the universe cares about (or even knows about) the idea of justice or morality.
Parker and King were deeply steeped in Christian thought and scripture, but there is nothing of God, Jesus, or the Gospels in this phrasing. Rather it is a secularization of the traditional Christian theology in which long-suffering humans are assured that their pains and sacrifices will be redeemed in the end. When Jesus reappears for the Second Coming, surely justice and morality will guide Him in His judgment of men.
When, just a few years earlier, Marx characterized religion as the “opiate of the masses,” he was critiquing this effort (not just of Christianity) to assuage the pain of everyday lives in the world of the 19C. From his perspective, it was a distraction from the condition of the downtrodden working people of the world so that they wouldn’t see their true condition and rise up in revolution (as Marx’s view of history saw as inevitable). Marx went on to propose another utopian scheme (commonly called communism) which proved (relatively quickly (~140 years)) to be more challenging to implement in the real world than he had hoped. As practiced by communist regimes in the 20 and 21C, Marxism was deployed as an opiate itself; a justification for sacrifice for the advance of socialism. We’re still waiting.
Another variant on this theme can be seen in the idea of a continuing and fundamental “progress” which came to maturity in the aftermath of the Enlightenment (Condorcet, 1795) and which animated much of European “civilization” across the “long-19C” until it fell off the cliff in WWI. While the aim of this “progress” was not some fixed event as the Christian version would have it, directionally, they were similar, However, the universe knows as little of “progress” as it does of justice, as both WWI and recent bumps in the world have shown.
Indeed, my biggest problem with the whole concept is not the tenuousness of “progress” or the ambiguity of “justice,” but rather placing the “universe” (or its more terrestrial manifestation: Western Civilization) as the motive force for either. Placing humans as the recipients and beneficiaries of this cosmological condition not only does us a disservice, but contributes to a passivity that is more than sufficiently prevalent in our species.
I have a debate with a friend about whether the human condition is improvable (i.e., whether “human nature” is immutable). He doesn’t think so. I, on the other hand, see (or desperately want to see) slight improvement over time. I just think that any such “progress” is not so much a matter of a few decades, but rather millennia. Perhaps I’m deceiving myself; let me know when we get to 3023, we may have enough of a track record by then to tell.
Those who urge a long-term confidence in progress/justice do well to urge us to not get too caught up in the bumps and slides of everyday life (sometimes, it’s one step forward and two back); counseling (at least implicitly) that we can overcome set-backs and regain our course. The other problem with relying on a long-term perspective (i.e. cosmological time-frames) is that the emergence of justice may run into the wall of technological catastrophe (environmental, nuclear, or otherwise). Stated differently, we may get bounced too far off course to regain the curve of our “arc” and recover (and it will be up to the cockroaches as the successors to humanity to devise their own version of justice).
There’s no reason not to wish/hope/believe in the inspiration of Parker, King, and Obama, but there’s also no reason to sit around and wait for the universe to take care things on its own; sometimes, too, we need to actively step up and ensure we don’t go over a cliff in the meantime while keeping our eyes on the prize.