Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

The Little Things: Deconstructing Christian Doctrine and Theorizing a Loving Justice

Academic journal article Journal of Theoretical & Philosophical Criminology

The Little Things: Deconstructing Christian Doctrine and Theorizing a Loving Justice

Article excerpt

"Some believe that it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love."

-J.R.R. Tolkien


Those who know me well will be surprised by this statement: I was cleaning the other day. I was cleaning the other day, and I found a sock. It was a tiny sock, impossibly tiny to wear for any person I know currently. Incongruous as it lay seemingly fresh against a rumpled old Led Zeppelin tshirt, it sported delicate pink, yellow, and green stripes, a frilly lace band around the opening, and a tiny silk pink flower stitched to the side. I recognized it immediately, of course. It belonged to my daughter, and it enjoyed frequent use on her tiny feet when she was a young toddler just learning to use them. Powerful recollections welled like surf, but took a more generalized form; smells, energy, affect. A lump formed in my throat underneath a melancholy smile. Our daughter is almost twelve years old now; she is growing up into a beautiful, strong, compassionate, wise young woman.

When our daughter was a tiny girl, care was taken to make sure her room was kept well, that her clothes were washed and put away for her. That sock along with its companion often were reclaimed from the dryer and folded late at night. Sometimes I would creep into her bedroom, a grey specter with a laundry basket, and place her newly cleaned clothes in drawers as she slept. In the morning as I helped her get dressed, I would retrieve those socks to put on feet which so closely resembled mine in miniature.

We have been misled it would seem. We have been encouraged to seek justice in big things; big acts, big places, big power; justice we are told is gargantuan, lumbering, total, sometimes brutal, but always big and always from above. Justice, we are told, necessarily requires top-down authority, the power of coercion, the rarified nobility of fluted columns, the elevation of the judge's bench. Borrowing Jeremy Bentham's colorful turn of phrase, the idea that justice is big, forceful, and hierarchical is "nonsense upon stilts." Were she alive today, Michael's grandmother would call it "canal water." Gibberish, bunk, hooey, hokum, moonshine, hogwash, drivel, poppycock, malarkey. And then some.

Our purpose in this essay is to put the lie to golem big justice as it wanders oaflike around the American hinterlands, that only through the powerful, the downward, and grandiose is truest justice possible, that there is some economy of scale with justice. We seek to retune our attention to where truest justice truly resides. Justice does not come from the tip of a spear or the barrel of a gun, neither does it issue forth from the Leviathan, nor can it be bought in bulk, nor does it descend from another plane of being, and nor does it store well. Instead, justice is something altogether different from what we have come to understand, and yet it is something intimately familiar. Truest justice dwells in tiny acts of kindness, of listening, of seeing another for their beauty. Justice is what happens when one person commits to being present for a person in need. Real justice is granular, tiny, modest, quiet, humble, and gentle. In this essay, we will explore an example of justice in Jude°Christian doctrine that is generally well known, but is both an illustration of, and very likely a key contributor to, contemporary broken and unsustainable views of justice. We will then offer a revised (in truth, probably the intended) version of that example of justice that is both consonant with existing doctrine and yet also liberates humans from an abusive relationship with God.

Our overarching contention is that justice is love, meaning "the artlike, individualized, unconditional, aware, and end-less praxis whereby a human or organization mindfully, assertively, and continuously labors for the actualization of another human being as an end in herself, without thought of return, without reliance upon authority, without fear, or possibility of cessation" (DeValve, 2015: 103). …

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