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4. The Christian synthesis of the cross
In this reflection I will indicate with the word “Christian” not the baptized person, but the one who, independently of having known Jesus Christ, carries out behaviors that appear to conform to the logic of the cross, which we will try to understand below. From this point of view, Falcone and Borsellino, Jesus, Gandhi, Socrates and many others come to be “Christians”. Our purpose here is to try to understand something of this logic, which is appreciated as different from common thinking.
In the logic of the cross, existence is lived as a struggle against evil; aspects of life such as serenity, relaxation, the pleasure of not working on holidays, of being able to do good even without suffering, are certainly appreciated, but the reference point, which gives the fundamental sense, with which to understand these things, is anyway fight. In this way of seeing things, relativism on good and evil is overcome by an attitude of uninterrupted openness and dialogue. The Christian does not struggle for his idea of good, but is always ready to seek together with others the sense of good. There could also be those who deny the existence of evil, but this vision can be accused of a metaphysical claim. The hermeneutics of existence as a struggle against evil does not arise as a metaphysical reading, since it is not based on definitions but on research. However, this research does not paralyze the struggle, because it does not absolutize itself, that is, it does not require doing nothing until a definition of what is good has been found, but it refers in semi-stable way to the temporary ideas of good that are shared in the present.
Once these premises have been clarified, we ask ourselves: in what sense is the Christian’s death defeat and in what sense is victory?
It is defeat because the Christian dies; this death can also be understood in a broad sense: even the loss of five minutes, dedicated to the service of the neighbour, is a small death, because it is anyway a piece of our life that is spent on something; a part of life that, for a first immediate consideration, is lost. In this sense, evil won, defeated the Christian, because it managed to deprive him of a piece of life, which according to other logics would have yielded more if used differently; even more if it took away his entire life. Another important aspect, which can highlight death as a defeat, is the consideration of others: an action can be lost not only as time spent, but also because it may not have contributed at all to building a positive image of the author at the society in which he lives. On the contrary, even the opposite can occur: a gesture of love, due to the various mechanisms of logic and misunderstandings that can occur in the world, can turn into a cause of shame, of disapproval in the community. Let’s take an example to make things easier. Let’s suppose a train is about to run over a person, whom we will call victim; suppose that in the vicinity there is a Christian who decides to throw himself against the victim, so as to push her out of the trajectory of the train and save her; in this way, however, it is he who ends up under the train. Let us imagine that there is also a spectator, who from his point of view cannot see the victim who was about to be hit, but can instead see that, in the trajectory towards which the Christian threw himself, there is a coin. The victim is then saved, but after a couple of days he dies, for other reasons. The viewer writes an article in the newspaper and says: a Christian has shown himself so fond of money that to get a coin he ended up under a train. We can imagine a lot of examples like this, but life itself often puts us in front of similar episodes of unjust defamation that the existence in itself procures for the Christian.
It is more difficult, but not impossible, to understand in what sense the death of the Christian can be considered a victory. We cannot refer to the reputation of a martyr, and therefore to the memory, to the publicity, to having been an example to others, since, based on what we have said in the previous point, fame is not guaranteed, on the contrary, it is often the life in itself that gives us unjust slander, sometimes even without anyone’s fault.
A first easily understandable sense of victory consists in the fact that the Christian, at least on that occasion of crossing the cross, did not do an evil thing: the Christian, whether known or unknown, honored or defamed, in any case did not do evil. However, this sense of victory cannot but appear scarce, or even completely useless, because humanly we fail to understand what the resulting good is, once life succeeds in turning its meaning upside down, transforming an action into a opportunity for total misunderstanding and even defamation. We cannot even appeal to a fanciful hope, in the sense that sooner or later it will come out that that action was good, since the history of the world makes it easy for us to think of so many people whose accomplished good remained totally unknown. We cannot even refer to the indirect consequences of good, because man is not reliable, his gratitude is not guaranteed and therefore unfortunately he is also able to transform good into evil. Despite all these oppositions, which life is able to carry out against a done good deed, however, there remains the perception that not having committed evil, even if totally unknown, or misunderstood, is still a crumb, a speck of dust, a drop into an ocean, which in any case can no longer be destroyed, erased. Be that as it may, anyway it was a good thing, it was a gesture that saved a person’s life; in this sense, this grain is able to maintain its indestructible consistency even in the hypothesis of the bad intentions that may have lodged in the mind of that Christian; the Christian in fact is a sinner, but we perceive that anyway that gesture was a good thing, at least according to how we today, temporarily, can get an idea of what good is.
Another grain of victory in dying as Christians is the fact that, if physical death actually occurred, the Christian can no longer do evil; from this point of view, evil can no longer do anything against him, since he can no longer try it. This too is certainly an infinitesimal grain, a very thin consolation, but, like the previous grain, this too is indestructible, even in its smallness.
A third grain is the awareness that the Christian can have. He, even in the midst of his weaknesses, ambiguities, temptations, sins, may decide to appreciate the provisional objectivity of that gesture, precisely in the two aspects seen above of indestructible grains of victory. That is, just like we can appreciate those two grains, certainly that Christian himself we brought as an example is able to appreciate them. So that gesture that I have exemplified does apply not so much because we are understanding those grains of victory, but because, before us, he who made the gesture showed that he understood them. In other words, the train victim could also have been saved by a stone that rolled there by accident and pushed her off the rails, but we understand that it’s not the same thing. The difference lies precisely in the fact that, if we are succeeding now in understanding those two grains, we cannot deny that that Christian as well was capable of understanding them; therefore, his capacity for awareness constitutes a third grain of indestructible victory. It is not even necessary that he actually thought of all the things we are reflecting on right now: certainly, in so many emergencies life doesn’t gives time to do it; what matters is that he was not a stone that rolled there by chance, but a person able to be aware, to sense.
This capacity for awareness constitutes a healing, an overcoming of the limits of conscience of the Christian, because it is able to make him improve. He, during his action, as already mentioned, could carry with him wrong intentions, ignorance, superstitions, even fanaticism. However, the practical objectivity of that action is able to gradually lead him towards a global and continuous improvement of his awareness and also of his whole being. In other words, every action we take has an influence on ourselves. For example, one who, through the spirit of imitation, begins to adopt a coarse language, is, in time, moving towards a mentality of superficiality and contempt for things that have value. In the same way, one who for any reason undertakes a path of following good, will inevitably receive, as a consequence, an influence of growth on his being. For this reason, the Christian’s action is able to nullify his sinfulness, as it shows him capable of growing. If one is on a path of growth, he is already in the utmost perfection; therefore his errors, his sins, have no longer any importance, any value that can claim a minimum of consideration. Also in this case it is a fourth infinitesimal grain, but indestructible: that is, it is a small gesture, which however influences in a non-cancelable way his personality, even if he were an inveterate sinner.
A fifth grain is that of the ability to convince and attract that this gesture has. After taking into account the capacity of the world to produce and be evil, its ability to transform any good into evil, the fact that our very being is part of this world with these negative characteristics, the behavior of the Christian is the only choice capable of ensuring a practically objective good (at least in the provisional sense in which today we can understand the word “good”), capable of resisting the attacks of the world. This ability to resist corresponds to the different aspects of indestructibility that I highlighted above, regarding the grains of victory. In other words: given the wickedness of the world, it is not possible to think of ways of responding to this world that are more effective than this; such effectiveness is able to attract the hearts of people.
A sixth grain of victory of the Christian gesture is constituted by his capacity to give concreteness to human hope. Hope is an aspect of existence, without which it is not humanly possible to live, even at the cost of inventing it. Therefore, every man of this world finds in himself this need that he cannot do without, a need so urgent and inalienable that it is often satisfied even with consciously artificial surrogates, in order to find satisfaction, relief. Now, wanting to establish that all hope is in vain would mean entering into metaphysics, in the same way as mechanists. What to do then with this hope, or desire for hope, that every man needs to satisfy? The Christian gesture makes the object of this hope present in the world. It will undoubtedly be a grain of presence, something infinitesimal, but even here we find ourselves faced with a concreteness capable of overcoming any other concreteness that we can imagine; it is therefore a grain that for the sixth time is able to arouse the sensation of maximum materiality, of indestructibility; once the gesture is completed, it will no longer be possible to deny that, however it may be, for that moment the object of all supreme hope, that is good, has taken up residence in this world.
It doesn’t however follow that for this reason the Christian will obsessively pursue tension and his own death: it would be like trying to commit suicide. Instead, thanks to his action, he is able to appreciate and enjoy every beauty of the world. Even if he knows that the world is polluted by its own constitutive destructiveness, even if he knows that he is fighting for goals that seem ultimately infinite and unattainable, yet that tiny concretization of a hope makes him aware that these goals have the capacity to become present. This is why his capacity for joy is not a flash in the pan, they are not flares of enthusiasm that last a day. The indestructibility of those grains is able to educate him to live with the optimism of an adult person, one who knows how to bring hope into the world, one who sees more than others see; he knows that this hope is greater than him, since lately he himself is unable to define it; he knows that it is not possible to establish how the perfect world should be structured, the ideal society; for this reason he knows that no form of politics can be adopted as the ultimate, ideal reference; it cannot because it would mean neglecting, ignoring the constitutive malice of the world and therefore also of all the people of this world, including himself; and yet, once he has experienced the concretization of hope, nothing can destroy this fundamental joy that sustains him, even when he finds himself in tears and no longer sees any support. Note the difference of this concept, compared to the famous story of the footprints in the sand: the story of the footprints arises from the point of view of the final victory understood as the triumph of the good in which the defeats no longer exist: “You only saw a couple of footprints because I had taken you in my arms”; instead, what we are explaining is able to make itself appreciated even before the good triumphs, precisely during the defeat. The Christian aware of these dynamics will love his defeat, because he knows that the meanings of victory are already there, during the defeat and not only in a further moment of triumph of good. The next moment of triumph will be a celebration of what happened, a highlighting the true meaning of what happened, but the whole, the essence, takes place at the very moment of defeat. This is obviously not masochism, because the Christian’s love for his own defeat means searching for it not as a final goal, but as an essential step to overcome evil. The Christian hates his defeat more than anyone else, he is afraid of it, yet he loves it, because he has understood that this passage can make him the winner of evil without appeal.
So far we have only considered those grains that can withstand the world’s attacks the hardest; if we keep in mind that actually the world is not exactly evil and destructiveness one hundred percent, the Christian’s gesture will come to be even more appreciable.
We must still note that the hardness of our grains does not mean ability to impose itself on reason; they impose themselves as happened facts, as undeniable provocations, but it doesn’t follow that they are able to force the mind to a rational adhesion, as when it is shown, for example, that two and two make four. In other words, it is not possible to demonstrate in a stringent way the existence of good, nor what it consists of, nor that good wins. If a person wants to adhere to the logic of defeat, he will have to do it as his act of courage, as recognition of a good that gives itself to him, as a use of all his human faculties, not limiting himself therefore to using only reason, but in any case must necessarily be a free choice; the Christian can never say he relies on stringent, rational demonstrations. He must also contain a measure of listening to the human, so that it does not turn into alienation.
What relationship can be identified between the logic of walking, dating back to the time of Heraclitus, and the logic of defeat? A relationship can be identified in the fact that in the logic of walking the true goal is not the goals to be achieved, but precisely keeping on the move. The goals serve to give oneself directions to walk. Several people find a difficulty in the fact that it is frustrating to realize that so many goals seem to move away as long as we move forward. It can be kept in mind that those who walk are already in perfection, even if they have not yet achieved anything, and perhaps even in the future they will never achieve anything: what’s important is being in the activity of trying to make progress. The cross is the same thing: in the cross everything seems having failed, yet the Christian perseveres in his struggle, because he saw that there is no other better way. This fact is also expressed by the parable of the talents: it does not matter if one received two talents and gained two more, another one five and gained five more; what matters is having traded. In this sense, those who have fought, although history may have canceled them and therefore no one will ever know them, in any case lived, walked, and therefore their action remains an indelible and indisputably beneficial fact. Thus we can understand the meaning of the saying of Jesus “do not let your right hand know what your left does”.
The logic of indestructible granules can result as a metaphysical logic, which means that it claims to be able to establish objective and indestructible truths, which rhymes with unquestionable. But we must keep in mind that the logic of the cross is not based on theorems or reasoning patterns, but is only an invitation; it knows that it cannot prove himself and therefore is an invitation to make a free choice. It is therefore an invitation to acknowledge the value of certain facts, not basing on some reasoning or philosophy, but on the basis of our own decision to take responsibility for making choices, which will never be sufficiently sustainable by theorems or ideologies. In this sense, the very term “logic” must not be misleading: the logic of the cross is a type of logic that is humanly not logical; it is a way of reasoning that actually is not based on reasoning, but on free choices, it is based on the decision to see things in a different way, which is impossible to justify with human reasoning.
On the contrary, the idea that everyone in the world can consider good and evil in completely different ways, and therefore a real dialogue on the criteria is not possible, can be considered metaphysical. It is a metaphysical idea if it is taken as a justification for not taking the responsibility of making creative choices, going against the tide, against any negative reading of reality, such as the interpretation that the mafia does (the world is evil and therefore I behave in evil ways) or what the indifferent do (good and bad do not differ and therefore everyone does what he likes).
On this line we could still observe that conclusively the struggle against evil people in power does not make much sense, because, since the world exists, the progress of so many, I would even say all, revolutions, born to dismiss the bad ones in power, later showed that the new rulers are never better than the deposed ones. This is what Israel had already understood, when it had placed its hopes in some just king, but soon realized that a truly just king does not exist and will never exist. The ideal had been King David, but soon it was seen that David was not at all better than the others: he too resorted to his dishonest intrigues. Therefore the expectation of a Messiah was born: we need a new David that is finally the good king, different from the other kings. But how will the new David be better than the other kings? The answer, according to the Christian faith, came a few centuries later, from Jesus; this is why Jesus will be called “son of David”: Jesus is finally the good king able to realize the ideal of kings that no human king can ever realize; he can because he is not a man like the others: he is a man but he is also God himself.
Undoubtedly the struggle against the bad and the injustices brings its results; we cannot deny that today we live in a world that is in many ways better than others of the past and present: at least in Italy, for example, we do not have torture, there are scientific achievements that have increased our well-being, there is a certain degree of democracy, etc. This assessment of our world as better than others can be taken, however, only if we keep it within the limits of a strong insecurity on this way of thinking, a strong willingness to self-criticism. It is now largely acquired that this way of thinking (which can be traced back to Auguste Comte, Montpellier, France, 1798 – Paris 1857) is wrong. The idea of having reached a better situation than that of other worlds of the past and the present is the one that has led and continues to lead many civilizations to consider themselves justified in imposing by violence their civilization, their own democracy, to other people. It is the idea that had as a result the frightening oppressions of Spain over America discovered by Christopher Columbus, led America to launch its intelligent bombs to export Western democracy to Afghanistan and Iraq. Therefore, an idea of good is needed, in order to have goals for one’s own paths, but this idea must be continually subjected to self-criticism and listening to those who think differently, so that it does not turn into dogmatism ready to consider itself authorized to impose itself on others even by resorting to violence.
A final reflection. Faced with difficulties, it is natural that the first task is to solve them; however, there are such problems that in all probability cannot be solved in short. Let’s imagine, for example, who has a tumor that makes him with two months of life left: it will certainly be right to resort to some treatment; but, while knowing that the road remains that one, how will it be better to use those last two months of life? The logic becomes this one: when a road becomes obligatory and we know where it will pass and where it will end, we might as well dedicate ourselves to the only possibility that is still available to us: the way to cross it. There is difference between crossing in a state of useless desperation and attempting attitudes that better exploit the human riches we are capable of. The problem is that a situation of difficulty, suffering, also implies a diminished psychological capacity: in the midst of sufferings that sadden, depress, affect the intimate of the person, we are certainly not in the best conditions to free the best of our human riches. Consequently, faced with the possibility of a forced path that exhausts the best of our human resources, the work to be done becomes preparation, that is, to ensure that our human riches, the best of us, can come out on their own, during difficulties, without needing to call for a mental effort; this will be possible to the extent that expressing the best of ourselves will have been previously cultivated as a habit. Then the crossing of suffering can become an occasion by which to communicate to ourselves and to others the trust in the existence of a hope greater than ourselves. It seems to me that Jesus managed to communicate this through the way he crossed his cross; it is as if he said: I am suffering so much that I no longer feel in control of my thoughts, but the path of growth that I traveled throughout my life now allows me to communicate to you my adherence to a hope greater than myself, although at this moment I cannot understand it myself; the path I covered leads me to this optimistic trust, even amidst the infinite despondency that destroys me, faced with the awareness of being on the verge of being killed.