Is there an ideal that makes everything fair, righting the wrongs and rewarding the just? Such an ideal, if it existed, might be called justice. Then again, an ideal is only an ideal; and as an ideal, it can never be actualized.

The idea of justice may be a phantom, but its still reassuring when life seems most unfair. Many of us believe that nothing breaks without justice to repair it, if not in this world then in another world. Justice is the eternal glue, so to speak. It binds all actions to consequences and all humanity to an overarching absolute. It offers us Heaven and it threatens us with Hell.

Of course, we at the Church That Is No Church refuse to threaten anyone with eternal damnation, whatever that might be. Thats the good thing. The bad thing is that we also refuse to promise Heaven for those who act upon our suggestions. Since none of us have been to Heaven, none of us can speak from experience on the matter; and since we refuse to make promises we might not be able to keep, we steer clear of such empty assurances.

For many, there is no justice without a system of divine rewards and punishments. For some, justice does not need God, although it still needs right-minded people adept at dispensing it. While many believe themselves to be right-minded people capable of distinguishing right from wrong, such right-minded people may, in fact, be few and far between.

The state is the largest and most powerful agent for justice, its existence premised on the very need to preserve and exact justice; as if there could be no justice without the state to make it possible.

By promising to provide justice, the state justifies its existence. A state unable to preserve the idea of justice finds itself increasingly difficult to sustain itself on promised ideals alone and must resort to force. The greater the force used upon a populace, the less justice the government relies on justice to keep people in check.

Since any state seeks self-preservation, state interests naturally diverge from the interests of its residents; and so whats fair to the state may not always be whats fair to everyone else. It would be difficult, indeed, to provide an outcome fair to all people; although, chance are, it will seem fair to those who determine the policy of the state.

Self-interest not only requires justice, it informs it. As such, justice loses its absolute infallibility, replaced, rather, by the expediency of the moment and the need to account for competing interests.

Justice is only as fair as it advances self-interest. And as long as self-interest takes many forms, so must justice. The more we benefit from it, the more just it becomes, until only those with the most to gain by it ever believe justice is possible.

So it is that justice is of little value without providing a benefit. As an idea alone, its as good as no justice at all. As a means of achieving a result, its highly useful.

The idea of justice unadultered by self-interest, however, is just another promise that cant be kept. Its the way of all ideals, which only sound good until they cease to perform as we intend them to perform.

The only way to achieve justice is to forego considerations of self-interest. Assuming that the purpose of justice is to advance self-interest, the absence of self-interest will also dispense with the need for justice. Its only because of the unfair consequences of mismatched interests that anyone believes in a justice to correct the imbalance.

In short, an unfair world requires justice but is unable to secure it, by nature of that unfairness. As such, self-interest renders justice impossible. Conversely, the less we pursue self-interest, the closer we can approximate ideals of fairness and justice.

We can now define justice not as fairness but, rather, as the failed attempt to achieve fairness. Justice is also the promise of fairness where self-interest prevents fairness for all. Justice, nonetheless, remains an ideal, and so it shall remain until we realize that ideas of justice will never make life more fair.

This isnt a problem for those satisfied by the idea of fairness alone. For those of us who expect more than an idea, fairness must be sought. After all, it will never be given. This doesnt mean, of course, that it should be taken. Fortunately, it doesnt have to be taken. Were all endowed with an understanding and capacity for fairness. It just means expecting less from others and more from ourselves.

The moment we choose fairness for all, the promise of justice will be fulfilled. The time to choose it is now and to consign all promises to the dustbin of failed notions.

There is no empowerment in believing the promises, only in dispensing with he need for them.