The persecution of the not-yet

Regenerations/9 - Laws, just like clothes, often get tight and worn-out

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 27/09/2015

Logo rigenerazioni ridAll that does not regenerate, degenerates."

Edgar Morin, Education for the Future

There exists the justice of the already and the justice of the not-yet. Justice grows, evolves and devolves over time, according to the moral sense of the people, cultures and generations. The statement "It's not fair", repeated by individuals and communities, is the prime mover of any widening of horizons of justice, and thus, humanity.

Most people form their opinion of justice or injustice based on the difference between what they see and the justice already codified in the laws or customs of a people. The approval of justice and the blame of injustice are the basis for the construction of the justice of our lives.

A first persecution of those who practice justice comes from living with people who do not love justice and seek injustice - even when injustice comes from saying "just" and "unjust" to the wrong things. The market is full of these persecutions, when honest and upright entrepreneurs face a lot of suffering, from every point of view, only because they operate in industries where the sense of justice of others is completely domesticated in the accounts of profits. Honest businesses survive thanks to the honesty of their employees, customers, suppliers and competitors. The dishonesty and injustice of their interlocutors is polluting their air and their land, and the fruits do not come. The greatest virtue required of just entrepreneurs has always been to be able to resist when they are near unjust people and institutions. These are genuine cases of persecution, and those who resist and don't give in should be called "blessed".

The experience of justice and injustice, then, in addition to informing our behaviour can lead us to take action to reduce or eliminate the injustice around us. This is where another form of persecution is experienced. The history and the present of humanity show us a crowd of those who are persecuted because they see injustice perpetrated on other people or the world. As with mercy, what drives us to react against the injustices we observe is not primarily the desire for altruism or philanthropy. It is something much more radical that moves in our guts, which initially looks more like eros than a gift. Later, and only after this first feeling, intelligence and rationality are activated, as the servants of the indignant heart. Inside persecution for justice we find ourselves following disdain, obeying a logic that is different from that of the cost-benefit calculation.

The first impulse that makes us react against injustice is therefore a true and deep pain. We feel bad, we feel moral and sometimes physical pain, and, sometimes, we get into motion. Without going through pain for a world that seems unfair no sense of justice will be born. It is a pain that can arise even when the object of injustice are not human beings but animals, the earth, water or nature, because the pain of the injustice of the world is the greatest pure human pain. As long as there are people who cultivate a sense of moral justice, and as long as humans have an inner life that makes them able to feel this special type of moral suffering, we won't resign ourselves to the injustices that can be fought to reduce them, even though we will be persecuted by those who get benefits from those unjust behaviours.

But there is, in fact, a third type of persecution (and certainly others, too). It is the persecution for the justice of the not-yet.

There are people who have the gift of seeing, suffering and fighting for a type of justice that is not yet recognized as such by the society in which they live. They do not just denounce the violations of justice recognized by their generation. They do this, too, but they have also received the gift of the "heart's eyes" that allow them to see and search for a justice that laws and collective consciousness are slow to recognize. But they actually see it, suffer over it and act. They suffer because of instances of injustice that are not felt to be such by others, because they are considered normal by tradition, life and even the nature of things. They feel it in their flesh that there is injustice in the world that's hidden behind what the law does not prohibit or even encourages, and so the process of complaints and liberation starts, followed inevitably by persecution. They find themselves as people who are against the laws, not only those made to defend unfair low interests, but also those made in the name of justice. Although the laws, like shoes and clothes, often become tight and worn-out and must be changed, otherwise they damage and no longer cover us.

Seekers of the justice of the not-yet provide a continuation of the prophetic function throughout history. Prophets receive vision that is able to see injustices where others still see justice, and to call unjust what others call just, to feel a suffering that society does not understand, to fight for things that seem unnecessary or even harmful to others, to recognize rights and duties before they appear at all as such. Persecution for the justice of the already is capable of arousing the empathy and compassion of many fellow citizens who are humane and just. Persecution for justice of the not-yet, however, takes place in solitude, which is a specific feature of this different type of justice. Nobody makes night or torchlight marches, or hunger strikes for the first battles for justice that is still invisible. Prophets are always lonely.

Justice of the not-yet is fundamental to the moral development of the peoples, just as prophets are fundamental. Behind every law that is recognized and protected today, there is someone who yesterday suffered for its absence, someone who was indignant and was feeling bad for that injustice that was not yet considered as such. From that pain of the soul a collective action was launched, and the persecutions followed. On the land of the just anyone, like the ancient (and new) Mercedarian fathers, hear a call to do the "vow of redemption" to free the slaves of the justice of the already by taking their place.

This is how the moral sense of everyone grows and the boundaries of justice are moved forward. Every now and then we should remind our children and ourselves of the stories and the great amount of pain hidden behind certain articles of our laws. Collective memory also has a function of keeping our moral sense alive and alert, and when it fades, communities start moving backwards, defeating the pain of the martyrs for justice and offending their blood poured. Whenever the story recedes into the ground of justice - we have seen it many times, and we still see it - first there is an elimination of the "gap" between the facts we observe and our moral sense. It becomes normal to fire someone for his "race", falsify corporate balance sheets, and erect walls where the parents had given their lives to overthrow them (the walls - concrete, barbed wire or looks - are all the same.

Therefore, the first thing that those who love justice have to do is cultivate and nurture the moral sense in children and young adults. Starting from school, where reducing history, literature, poetry in the name of "useful" techniques means decreasing the sense of justice and the ability of resistance to injustice in the next generation - in "technical" schools and universities we must increase the presence of humanities, if we hope for justice in the economy and in construction techniques of "cars".

But there's more to it. The persecution of the prophets does not come just from the unjust and wicked. It also comes from those of the "justice of the already". Often seekers of justice already become the persecutors of those who represent the justice of the not-yet". The scribes and Pharisees, Job's friends, the Sanhedrin, were generally people and institutions who believed and defended the justice of their time: "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees...". Different types of righteousness, and the second is the persecutor of the first.

The lack of understanding on the part of good and righteous members of their own community is typical of every prophetic experience. Fractures and sometimes real persecutions are created within the same "people of the righteous," because the justice of the not-yet seems unfair, naive, unwise and detrimental to those seeking the justice of the already. This specific persecution, this "friendly fire", is among the greatest sufferings of the seekers of the justice of the not-yet, but it is an inevitable suffering in the advancement of justice on earth.

Sometimes the righteous ones of the already, in a decisive meeting with the righteous of the not-yet, fail to realize that their righteousness must be open to a "beyond" in order not to become unjust. That is why Saul, a persecutor acting in the name of his justice according to law, becomes Paul the persecuted for a new justice. We understand that our righteousness must die to be reborn, it must rejuvenate. Donating one's mantle, forgiving seven times, going a mile with a brother is no longer enough. We feel that we are not righteous if we do not give our tunic, too, if we do not do the second mile as well, if forgiveness does not become infinite, for all, forever. Our justice gets older, it dies many times, and many times it has to rise and then relearn to die again.

The Gospel unites the beatitude of those persecuted for justice to that of the poor: both already have "The Kingdom of Heaven". There is a friendship, a brotherhood between the poor and those persecuted for righteousness. Both are poor, both are persecuted for righteousness. Those seeking justice if they were not already poor they become so as a result of persecution. And poverty is also persecution arising from the denial of justice, whether that of the already or that of the not yet.

There is a shortage of the justice of the already in our days, but more than that, we lack the justice of the not-yet. The prophets are too few. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

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