"If it turns out that early faith commitments constitute the unexpressed but indispensable basis of Rawls's thought, then one may wonder whether there are other grounds on which those of different faiths, or no faith at all, can affirm the validity of his conception of justice as fairness."
"Rawls famously, and controversially, rejected merit as a basis for distribution. Not only are our natural endowments unearned and beyond our control; so too is their development and use: "Even the willingness to make an effort, to try, and so to be deserving in the ordinary sense is itself dependent on happy family and social circumstances." Cohen and Nagel find a theological version of this thought in the senior thesis. "There is no merit before God," Rawls wrote, "Nor should there be merit before him. True community does not count the merits of its members. Merit is a concept rooted in sin, and well disposed of." And more: "The human person, once perceiving that the Revelation of the Word is a condemnation of the self, casts away all thoughts of his own merit."
Now it is possible to argue that we are all equally meritless sinners in the eyes of God (although it is hardly the case that all religions and theologies concur on this point). But does moral equality before God imply equality of merit before our fellow men? Should a God's-eye point of view structure human relations here on earth? In the world as we experience it, some people work harder to develop and exercise their gifts than others, some people are more responsible than others, and some people contribute more to the general welfare than others. If we think of ourselves as contributing nothing to these results, for good or ill, then the core of human liberty and personhood vanishes. To live human lives, we must assume that we are more than dependent variables, more than the passive outcome of external forces, whether material, social, or divine.
"Rawls defines sin as the "repudiation of community," because the essence of sin--pride--distorts human relationships. There's something to this, of course, but it represents a truncated understanding of pride--and of sin itself. What about the story of Babel, where a united humanity seeks to usurp the place of God? What about Milton's Satan?"