The Michael Brown case in Ferguson, MO
The Eric Garner case in Staten Island, NY
The Tamir Rice case in Cleveland, OH
In two cases, grand juries did not issue indictments against the police officers. We are still waiting on the third.
People are angry. Some of them justifiably. They are taking to the streets; to the schools; to colleges and universities; and other arenas to voice their displeasure with the system and call for change and justice.
As the Occupy Movement I think has discovered, so will these: no real change will be forthcoming. There will be no justice.
Why do I say such a thing?
It's not because I am a pessimist. It's not necessarily because I am a realist. It's because I don't think we have a shared agreement of what justice is. We are a nation that is floating and adrift because we no longer have shared understandings about what words mean. We have lost any sense of transcendent meaning. We have no idea what Justice--with a capital J--means. We have lost any sense of what is ultimately right and what is ultimately wrong, and you cannot have Justice without knowing what is right and what is wrong.
We live in a society where we parse words and sayings, take them out of context, and mold them and shape them to suit our own understandings and definitions. We twist things to suit our own particular motivations and agendas. In doing so, we can excuse certain behaviors and actions that blatantly contradict the law.
For instance, the U.S. Constitution Bill of Rights is explicit in Amendment 4:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Try to cite it as you go through an airport. Is it "reasonable" to search every single person who boards a plane? Think about it. If you question being searched, you will be detained--possibly arrested, certainly inconvenienced.
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
For the better part of the history of our nation, this was an assurance that folks could own fire arms without any infringement. Not so today. Not in the least.
In both of these cases, Constitutional scholars disagree vehemently as to how these texts should be interpreted. They parse and define words to suit their own particular points of view, and leave many scratching their heads as to how such interpretations are arrived at.
How does such a thing happen?
In a word: postmodernism. Rooted and grounded in Nietzsche's philosophy (reason taken to its ultimate, logical conclusion), postmodernity has removed any sort of transcendent, overarching narrative which joins any culture or people together. It removed any shared definition of words and stories. Everything now hinges upon perspective. You see something from one particular point of view. I see it from another, and who is to say who is correct? Who is to say whose interpretation is true? If you even think to know the Truth, then you are arrogant and wishful.
This train of thought has seeped into our culture and infected it. Yes, I used the term infected purposely for perspectivism leads down a dark road--a very dark one. For there can be no agreed upon definition of good. There can be no agreed upon definition of evil. There can be no agreed upon definition of justice. Ultimately, it is the ones who are in power who call the shots and define the terms as they see fit. And if you wish to rise up, you may. However, make sure you are strong enough and powerful enough to overthrow those in power. For in the end, only might makes right.
You might think me jesting in such commentary, but allow me to take us to Ferguson, MO for just a moment and to the aftermath of the grand jury's decision. Let us visit the riots and looting and burning of local businesses.
Who of us if walking into one of these stores broke windows and doors and took merchandise would not be guilty of burglary? Who of us would not stand accused and arrested if caught? Many would consider our actions wrong for they violate the law.
But were there those excusing such behavior? Were there those defending those who did such things appealing to extraneous circumstances? Yes. So that which is wrong wasn't necessarily as wrong as once thought because of the reasons behind the looting and rioting and burning.
Right isn't necessarily right.
Wrong isn't necessarily wrong.
It just depends upon where you sit and from what perspective you view the events.
And yet, there is the cry for justice? Will the shop owners get justice? Or is justice the crowd's burning of those shops? Tell me. Please. Inquiring minds want to know.
Until we can begin to arrive at a place where we share definitions...
Until we can arrive at a place where we have an understanding of right and wrong...
Until we can arrive at a place where we have an agreed understanding of justice...
Your protests are meaningless!! They will not change anything!!!
But it is not enough simply to point out that which is wrong. Alternatives must be offered. I point toward C.S. Lewis as a starting place.
C.S. Lewis in his book the Abolition of Man includes the following allegory about his own journey to Christianity. During that journey Lewis was "captured" by the Spirit of the Age. Here is what Lewis writes:
Every day a jailor brought the prisoners their food, and as he laid down the dishes he would say a word to them. If their meal was flesh, he would remind them that they were eating corpses, or give them some account of the slaughtering: or, if it was the inwards of some beast, he would read them a lecture in anatomy and show the likeness of the mess to the same parts in themselves...Or if the meal were eggs, he would recall to them that they were eating the menstruum of a verminous fowl, and crack a few jokes with the female prisoner. So he went on day by day. Then I dreamed that one day there was nothing but milk for them, and the jailor said as he put down the pipkin:
'Our relations with the cow are not delicate--as you can easily see if you imagine eating any of her other secretions.'
Now John had been in the pit a shorter time than any of the others: and at these words something seemed to snap in his head and he gave a great sigh and suddenly spoke out in a loud, clear voice:
'Thank heaven! Now at last I know that you are talking nonsense.'
'What do you mean?' said the jailor, wheeling round upon him.
'You are trying to pretend that unlike things are like. You are trying to make us think that milk is the same sort of thing as sweat or dung.'
'And pray, what difference is there except by custom?'
'Are you a liar or a fool, that you see no difference between that which Nature casts out as refuse and that which she stores up as food?'
'So Nature is a person, then, with purposes and consciousness,' said the jailor with a sneer. 'In fact, a Landlady. No doubt it comforts you to imagine you can believe that sort of thing;' and he turned to leave the prison with his nose in the air.
'I know nothing about that,' shouted John after him. 'I am talking of what happens. Milk does feed calves and dung does not.'
Are we willing to point out the lies and the foolishness of those who want to lead us down paths of relativism? Are we willing to challenge those who say there is no transcendence? Are we willing to say unequivocally, "There is such a thing as Justice! There is such a thing as Truth!"
Of course, you might say, "Isn't this an arrogant sort of approach? Are you telling me that you have the Truth?"
No. I don't. But I think the late Dallas Willard was onto something when he said, "Truth in belief and idea is, in a certain respect, similar to the sighting mechanism on a gun or rocket: if correctly used it enables us to hit what we hope to. But in truth's case we need not see what we are aiming at. Truth and the meaning upon which it rests takes care of the aim itself."
I am not certain we relish a search for Truth. I am not certain we are willing to argue it passionately and vehemently anymore. In the name of tolerance, we have pushed the quest for Truth to the back burners and decided should accept the idea of truths. It won't work. Not now. Not in the long run. Without any semblance of Truth, we will never have Justice. Remember that as you protest.