From the Editor—Friday Reflections

Judgement Daze

When Multiple Crises Brings Us to Our Knees

October 5, 2018

This Public Discourse article on Karamazov and Kavanaugh by Randall Smith is well worth your time. He touches upon an enduring feature of human society, the temptation to use the justice system to redress systemic issues and tensions within society. You might call such tensions, when they are strong enough, crises.

This dynamic surely has been in play in Chicago recently, focused on the trial of CPD Officer Jason Van Dyke for first degree murder in the death of Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times during an incident in which he, high on drugs, wielded a knife in October 2014. Van Dyke was prosecuted for first degree murder, and was found guilty this afternoon of second-degree murder.

Up until the verdict, the city sat on a knife's edge and it was a crisis. The word crisis derives from the Greek word to separate, as wheat from chaff, therefore to judge. A crisis arises when things must go one way or another, a decision must be made. But the question that each juror has to ask is not what will acquittal or conviction mean within the context of the current tensions or debates about policing but, is the defendant guilty or not guilty of the charges? Period.

Isn't the notion that the truth of a matter must be found and adjudicated one of the distinguishing marks of civilization? Without it, you have tribal warfare as a matter of lifestyle, the blood feud (read the Njal Saga) as a mutually conflicting exercise of virtue. Moderns say they respect the rule of law even when it is manmade and arbitrary (socially constructed?) such as zoning laws or speed limits, and more so when it is rooted in something higher, transcendent, "the moral law."

While the law may be clear, our lives and deeds are not so transparent. And we must judge. There are differing sides and forces, often leading to crises which must eventually be decided one way or the other.

Orthodox scholar, layman, and diplomat Charles Malik, in his Foreword to his Christ and Crisis, a collection of seven essays, discussed the word crisis and the sense of crisis in the world at the time (1962). His words apply as much today as then. An extended quote:

"Are you perplexed? Do you 'feel' the crisis? Do you 'feel' something profoundly wrong, both in your life and in the affairs of the world? Do you as it were 'hold your heart in your hand.' Fearing the almost the next moment something terrible is going to break out—both in you and in the world? Have you reached the point where you simply do not quite trust the processes of the world (including nature, science, economics, politics, and even the best good will), suspecting that there is in them a flaw somewhere, a false note, an immanent principle of darkness, destruction, and death vitiating everything at some stage (e.g., when a system you painstakingly built up collapses, or when a friendship you nursed with your heart and tears goes to pieces, or when you die)?"

Your response? Malik advises:

"If such is the state of your mind, both with respect to yourself and to the world, then what these meditations are suggesting is that, if you turn with all your heart to Jesus Christ, on your knees, in the Bible, in the communion of saints throughout history, in your moments of absolute contemplation, in the great tradition, and above all in the Church, it is more certain than any mathematical proof that he will show you, not only why the perplexity and the crisis and the wrong and the flaw and the awful uncertainty of the moment, but how to overcome, in him, all this havoc of the devil." (p. 2, Christ and Crisis, Acton Institute, 2015)

A big If: Malik says without it, "Nothing will be revealed to you." But if we have the mind of Christ, we have what we need in crises. And eventually, Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, "will come again with glory to judge. . . "

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,

James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

—James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.