from a conversation on Criminal Justice: tone, violence, hermeneutics

I recently picked up two books at a thriftshop for fifty cents each. Both books are from the nineties, so probably not really up-to-date.  However, they looked like good sourcebooks and good ways to help me think about the issues. One book was Biomedical Ethics: Opposing Viewpoints. The other was Criminal Injustice: Confronting the Prison Crisis.
      Here are some thoughts I had on the books, mostly Criminal Injustice, which I felt appropriate to share here.

(Presentation)

Well, the Biomedical Ethics: Opposing Views, is very promising. I think I will learn a lot. I already have. But the Criminal Injustice book is not very promising. Or not exactly. It is still a good source, but its purpose is not to be as convincing as the opposing viewpoints book (which offers each view on its best merits), nor is it to even have a simple “rational” layout as most academic anthologies typically gravitate towards. It is still useful as a sourcebook, and may prove very enlightening.

(Tone and Narrative)

Having a common perspective (not my own) does not throw into doubt everything that is in Criminal Justice – only certain conclusions and certain ways of reaching them. Or more than conclusions or even ways of reaching them, it throws the tone in doubt. And perhaps tone is most important because of how it reflects the narrative behind the argument.

(Revolution?)

To be more precise, while citing sources and making arguments, and having taught me some things already, Criminal Injustice has a distinctive revolutionary tone and a tone of inciting – inciting at least passion if not also violence. While I am very passionate in my own way, much about my personality, my personal development, and my views about things lead me away from this type of passion.

(Violence)

I also think that violence as a foundation of culture and society (related to anthropologist Rene Girard’s version of mimetic rivalry) is a deeper problem than capitalism, communism or even feudalism – so a revolutionary tone which is not tempered in passion and tone by reason and a caution against violence does little to convince me.

(Marxism?)

Indeed, Marx seems to be the main voice of revolution in modern times. And to me he seems to have inherited his ameliorism fron Hegel, and outside of Hegel`s metaphysical grounds for eternal improvement (if he even has them or claims to) I can`t see how Marx or post-Marxism could improve it; concretely, then it seems unfounded to think there is some better epoch coming naturally on the heels of capitalism`s violent overthrow.
     [To whom it may concern, literally, I also got a copy of the Communist Manifesto and Other Revolutionary Writings for fifty cents, as yet uncracked; forgive me my ignorance.]

(Hermeneutics?)

This is disappointing. It does not boil down to waste (for me few books do – or few that I convince myself to buy, even for fifty cents). But it requires more filtering and interpretation; and of course partly I am simply reacting to Justice as it calls out to be pursued – it is natural in sin`s repression of goodness in humanity that we recoil from Justice and Wisdom when it calls to us. But a more tempered view could still have this call – and I picked up the book not thinking I would agree with the book but that it would be a source, that it would lead me to think more about issues of criminal injustice and make injustice harder to turn away from for me (even if I explicitly disagreed with much of the book). I think it can succeed in this.
     I guess I was just hoping that it would be easier to interpret and use and learn from; the revolutionary, inciting tone requires a more complex hermeneutic and framework of interpretation. (I do think that the biblical prophets sounded not unlike those crying out for justice like this; still, they did not sound revolutionary in the distinctively post-marxist way, implying violence and a soon-to-be secular utopia.)

     Hopefully you can see the tensions I am feeling in this.

     I got the book, Criminal Injustice, deliberately to face the tensions I knew would be there. A decade ago I would have been afraid to take a book like this seriously. Now I know that it must be taken seriously, but that taking it seriously is frankly more difficult than simply agreeing or disagreeing with it and, again, requires a more complex hermeneutic. Wisdom and justice must after all be trickier than being convinced or being dismissive. Now I must sift it – sift out violence and the sort of revolution which leads to more unjust violence, but keep the nuggets of true justice which threaten to tear down the worlds of injustice just by being shouted. As I used to say frequently, “everything that can be shaken will be shaken, until only what is unshakable remains.” As I like to say today, “it looks like the wheat and the weeds have grown up together in all of us.”
     Now how to get to sorting?
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Jesus Won’t Make You Not Lonely

Jesus won’t make you not lonely. He never offered to. That’s a false promise from your youth pastor or a kitschy blog post you read.

And yet He does promise to make you complete. Which, apparently, still means lonely. Because if the gospels are any indication, Jesus was plenty lonely. 

There was a time when He wasn’t. “And now, Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed.” (Jn. 17:5)

Jesus was and is God, even though He’s not the Father, or the Spirit, and in eternity past, they were complete together, and they weren’t lonely. 

And creating people such as ourselves had everything to do with multiplying their own mutual satisfaction into creatures that were not them. So there will be a day when we are like them in that we won’t be lonely. Every thing will be as satisfying as it ought to be. 

We won’t be God, but we’ll he like Him in all the right ways even as we’re unlike Him in almost every way, because we’ll be investing in each other without emotional deficits to fill.

Everything we’ll stand to gain from friendship will change because we’ll carry on with one another out of an over-abundance of satisfaction. We will not strip-mine one another for satisfaction.

But today we’re lonely. We wake up and the dread’s there, quiet or clamoring. This is what Jesus felt, too. And it wasn’t because He was single, which He probably was.

Say He’d married Mary Magdalene. After picking her up off the ground and dusting her off, He wraps His robe around her and walks to the courthouse asking for a Baptist preacher. James and John are witnesses to their union. Their mom, too, for good measure.

They have a courthouse wedding and build a life together. He’s a bottomless pit of patience and He helps out around the house. She cooks a mean fish and she knows things the other wives don’t know about, on account of her life of sin before she met Him. Pretty soon she’s teaching every wife in the neighborhood things they couldn’t have known and the husbands are grateful. Jesus is just happy He gets to be the guy who comes home to her every day.

It’s not an end to His loneliness, though. The dread’s still there. Maybe it was clamoring and now it’s quiet. But dread is dread and if it’s there it’s there. Any way we slice it, we’ve got a lonely God-man and that means our loneliness is as holy as His ever was because it’s part of the human experience, and the human experience is holy because the Triune God breathed life into it for His glory – even if the humans that experience  it are damnable. 

What isn’t so holy is what we do with our loneliness. One of the things that sets us apart is the desperation with which we endeavor to eat up the dread that haunts us. We won’t be subjected to it, and anything done in the name of shielding ourselves from its oppression is pardonable, or even praiseworthy, we say in our hearts. Remarkably, this does not appear to have been Jesus’s posture.

There’s always a multitude of angles to everything, and there’s plenty to be said about the how and why of Jesus’s sinlessness, but one angle is certainly this: sin is noise as much as it is anything else. Noise to drown out the cacaphony of dread. It doesn’t shrink our loneliness, but it does compete for our attention. It’s racket that muffles despair. Our career in sin is a humanitarian endeavor directed at ourselves. We’re nursing wounds.

Jesus, lonely and wounded like everyone else who’s ever lived, turned His dread into occaision for worship. He neither revolted against His loneliness nor resigned Himself to it. He sacrilized it. 

Amongst other things, being like Jesus means going and doing likewise – recognizing the sanctity of loneliness and protecting ourselves from the temptation to flee from it. The tyranny of trying to complete ourselves in other people is staggering, and the novelty of romance and sex and even platonic friendship turns on us when we heave the weight of our “wholeness” on it. To quote Derek Webb, “Jesus died a broke, thirty-three year old virgin for the sake of those of us with misplaced values.” Like Jesus, let the existential dread that accompanies being a human being on planet earth carry us to the altar to worship.