Greater Than Guilt

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This section contains all of Luigino Bruni's editorials of the series entitled "Greater Than Guilt" dedicated to the Book of Samuel and published in Avvenire from 21 January 2018


An immense purity is what remains in the end

Greater Than Guilt/31 - You can be "king" if you don't stop being a son

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 19/08/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 31 rid«Io non vivo in me ma fuori
Io sono manchevole io faccio
continuamente errori
Non so perché forse non più degli altri
Ma a me pare di farne di più…
Oh fuori ci sono gli alberi
Ci sono gli uccelli e i fiori..»

Nicola Gardini, Io non vivo in me ma fuori

“Now these are the last words of David: »...The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; / his word is on my tongue. ... [he] has said to me: When one rules justly over men, / ruling in the fear of God, / he dawns on them like the morning light, / like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, / like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth«” (2 Samuel 23:1-4). Although David will still speak in the Bible (in the First Book of Kings), for the Books of Samuel these are "David's last words"; they are like a testament. Here King David speaks as a prophet, as one who has received a new language to announce (in his case even sing) the word of YHWH - and he will finish the book as a priest. The author knows that we too, having reached the end of his life, can testify that David did speak some different and higher words than his or our own. He spoke them by mixing them up with words that were low, lower and more cowardly than ours; but in David God spoke precisely from the wounds of his ambivalent humanity.

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He isn’t only the God of the strong

Greater than Guilt/30 - The last chapter often brings about a different time

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 12/08/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 30 rid“Moses then saw how God wrote the word ‘long-suffering’ in the Torah, and asked: »Does this mean that Thou hast patience with the pious?« But God answered: »Nay, with sinners also am I long-suffering.« »What!« exclaimed Moses, »Let the sinners perish!« God said no more.”

Louis Ginzberg, The Legends of the Jews (English translation by Paul Radin)

Even in the greatest stories, there comes a last chapter. Sometimes it is the most beautiful one, but it is always the distillate of the whole of life. But while in novels the good reader knows how to identify the moment when the story line suffers the last twist and is about to end, when we try to read the book that we are writing, we are almost never able to grasp the moment of the beginning of decline, and change. That’s because we simply love life and its words too much, and because we love illusions too much. And that’s why the last page often takes us by surprise, because we have been unable to insert it in the last chapter, which would have given it rhythm and meaning. We lose the plot of the story, and sometimes we get lost.

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The Mother’s Gesture Is Like Leaven

Greater than Guilt/29 - Always reminding us that every son is a son of all

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 05/08/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 29 rid“In Heaven she is sure to find your mother again, and she is also sure to find your other grandmother. Donna Maria Vincenza assured me that if the Eternal Father does not take you directly under his protection, the three of them will raise such protests that Paradise will become a true hell...

Ignazio Silone, Il seme sotto la neve (Seed Beneath the Snow - rough translation)

Many pathologies of the Judeo-Christian religions and of the Western civilization which originated from them are a direct consequence of the marriage created between faith and economy. The understanding of sin as debt is at the origin and heart of biblical humanism, which has determined a mercantile vision of religion and salvation. And when the debit-credit logic extends from earth to heaven, a perhaps more abstract organization of our financial capitalism takes shape.

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The Word of Peace Is Feminine

Greater than Guilt/28 - It would be nice to see history through mothers'eyes

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 29/07/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 28 ridThe grand-vizir himself was the father of two daughters, of whom the elder was called Scheherazade, and the younger Dinarzade. (...) One day, when the grand-vizir was talking to his eldest daughter, who was his delight and pride, Scheherazade said to him, “Father, ...I am determined to stop this barbarous practice of the Sultan's, and to deliver the girls and mothers from the awful fate that hangs over them.”

The Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights Entertainments, English version by Andrew Lang)

Words can kill, but they can also ward off death. The first enemy of Tanathos is Logos. As long as we still have something to tell, we can postpone death’s arrival by a day, and, perhaps, when she arrives because we've finished our story, we'll find that we still have a story to tell, and it is the one for her.

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God Stands by the Victims

Greater than Guilt/27 - Let’s learn to find God where he isn’t supposed to be

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 22/07/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 27“I will not urge thee, - no nor, if thou yet shouldst have the mind, wouldst thou be welcome as a worker with me. Nay, be what thou wilt; but I will bury him... But if thou wilt, be guilty of dishonouring laws which the gods have stablished in honour.”

Sophocles , Antigone (English translation by R. C. Jebb)

The story that Samuel's books tell us is a succession of murders, fratricides, incest, rapes and brutal violence. YHWH, the protagonist of many biblical pages, here seems to stand away from the fray, observing the spectacle of death offered to him by people. Yet the Bible, in all its books, continues to speak to us about God, containing his words and his Word. But where? And how?

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Let’s Save Every Suspended Son

Greater than Guilt/26 - The Bible is a moral exercise to become more human

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 15/07/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 26 rid“Plato would be the one to abolish the cries of famous people and to make them the subject of common men and women, so that those whom we say we train for the defence of the country may disdain behaving in a manner similar to them".

Matteo Nucci, Le lacrime degli eroi (Heroes’ Tears)

We, men and women, love many things, but above all we love our children. That is why true reconciliation between a parent and a child is among the most sublime joys on earth, perhaps the greatest. The parable of the "prodigal son" is among the most beautiful and well-known parables of the Gospels, also because it speaks of a son returning home and of reconciliation. But when we step out of Luke's parable and write the flesh-and-blood parables of our lives, we realize that the children who have returned almost always leave again. They return to the pig sheds, they squander their share of inheritance again, and sometimes they return to take even the rest that is not their "due” part. The joy of families and communities often has to be found and enjoyed in the period of time that passes between a return and a re-departure, in the space that lies between the "kiss of the father" and the "kiss of Judas".

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Peace is the Intelligence of Mothers

Greater Than Guilt/25 - Every fratricide story is, unfortunately, real

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 08/07/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 25 rid“Ulysses, noble son of Laertes, stop this warful strife, or Jove will be angry with you.” Thus spoke Minerva, and Ulysses obeyed her gladly.

Homer, Odyssey; Conclusion (English translation by Samuel Butler)

When we go through deep and complex crises, meeting with someone who shows us another perspective can be a decisive event. Someone who makes us climb a hill to look up from above at our besieged city, and from there discover escape routes that we could not see when we were still immersed in fighting. In the Bible those who offer these different perspectives are mainly prophets and women. There is, in fact, an analogy between prophecy and female genius. Both are concrete, they activate processes, they speak with words and the body and by an invincible instinct they always choose life and believe in it and celebrate it to the last breath. Prophets and mothers host and generate a living word that they do not control; they offer their body to it so that the word-son becomes flesh, without becoming its masters.

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The Infinite Heart of Women

Greater than Guilt/24 - Real love does not resort to violence but stays around

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 01/07/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 24 crop rid“Verily, a polluted stream is man.  One must be a sea, to receive a polluted stream without becoming impure.”

Friedrich Nietzsche Thus Spake Zarathustra (English translation by Thomas Common)

It isn’t only a genetic and then an economic heritage that we leave to our children. Our virtues and sins also become their inheritance. They are transmitted through our children’s eyes, with which they first look at us and then imitate us - a son of smokers is twice as likely to become a smoker than a son of non-smokers. Our relational lifestyle, the virtues and vices of our family, our generosity and avarice form a cultural and moral DNA that we pass on to our children, almost always without the benefit of inventory. And even when they manage to become better than our sins (and, thank God, sometimes they do), our ethical heritage always and very much conditions them. When we decide to give in to the temptations that await us readily at the crossroads of life, we are accumulating the first dowry that we will leave to our children and to the world of tomorrow.

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The Register of Invisible Pain

Greater than Guilt/23 - Human History is Not God’s Toy

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 24/06/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 23 rid“ we but teach
Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return
To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice
Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice
To our own lips.”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth

To be innocent it is not enough not to be seen. The great ancient civilizations generated their laws and ethical norms under the gaze of their highest eyes. Today, enchanted by the ethics of the contract, we have given up this gaze "from above", replacing it with millions of eyes that continuously control and spy on us "from below". But when we introduce non-human eyes that are lower than ours into our world, they are either the eyes of idols or those of our artefacts, which do not know how to show us the angels and paradise. That higher and different gaze said, among other things, that the evil and sins we commit do operate even when they remain secret.

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The Letter Not to Be Read

Greater than Guilt/22 - Faces to be recognized and providential ignorance

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 17/06/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 22 rid“Emma let the paper fall. Her first sentiment was indisposition in her stomach and knees; then she felt blind guilt, unreality, cold, fear; then she wanted it to be the next day already. She understood right afterward that this wish was useless because her father’s death was the only thing that had happened in the world and that would keep happening without end.”

J.L. Borges Emma Zunz (English translation by Hadi Deeb)

The name of the other is always a plural and symphonic word. To recognize a person, therefore, we must see and welcome their rich multiplicity. The first injury inflicted on the victim is the denial of at least one face of their personality. We see Myriam arriving from the sea with a veil on her head and we call her "Muslim". We do not see that she has a boyfriend, that she is a nurse, that she is a vegetarian, a pacifist, that she paints in her free time and loves poetry. Thus we begin to dishonour her dignity; we do not get to know her because we do not recognize her. Then we see Giovanna wearing a different veil, and we call her a "nun". We don’t care that she is a Bible scholar and that before entering the convent she was a professor of history, or that she plays the piano very well and is the president of an NGO. And so we only see the nun and stop her from telling us that she is also a woman. Every time a person is reduced to a single dimension we are entering into a story of violence.

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Christians, that is, men and women, brothers and sisters

Greater than Guilt/21 - No rhetoric stands: every war is fratricide

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 10/06/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 21 rid“Rabbi Pinhas said: ‘Whoever says that the words of the Torah are one thing and the words of the world another, must be regarded as a man who denies God’”.

Martin Buber Tales of the Hasidim (English translation by Olga Marx)

When I was a boy, in my village to say a human person, we said “cristiano” (actually: cristià in the Ascoli dialect), that is, Christian. For a long time I thought that "Christians" was the name of human beings. I didn't feel it was a religious word, and most of my people used it without knowing that this very common term came from religion. Christians were men, Christians were women.

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The Wonderful Laicity of God

Greater than Guilt/20 - Biblical humanism is an endless education for liberty

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 03/06/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 20 rid“If your heart does not wish to give in If it feels no passion, if it does not want to suffer Without making plans about what will follow My heart can love for the both of us”

Luisa Sobral, Amar pelos dois (English version by Igor Caldeira)

When we try to respond to a vocation, our existence moves between the memory of a great liberation and the waiting for the fulfilment of a great promise, between memory and hope. Everything takes place between these two banks of the river, and the great task of living is to learn to stay in the ford, without succumbing to the temptation of nostalgia for the bank from which we come or to the one telling us that the landing place was only a mirage. You don’t get overwhelmed by the water and dragged away by the current until you cling to the invisible rope that binds the Red Sea to the Jordan. Also because the closer we get to the other shore, the thinner the piece of string we are holding on to becomes in our hand.

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The Different Decorum of Women

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 27/05/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 19 rid“It was by the grace of God, not on account of his merits, that Noah found shelter in the ark before the overwhelming force of the waters. Although he was better than his contemporaries, he was yet not worthy of having wonders done for his sake.”

Louis Ginzberg The Legends of the Jews (English translation by Henrietta Szold)

It was religion that invented the homo oeconomicus, long before economy reinvented it. The first trading partner for people was God, because the economy in the markets was an extension of the economy in the religious sphere. The first currency that humanity knew was goats, sheep, lambs, sometimes even children and virgins, with whom men paid their gods, usually to put them in debt or, sometimes, to reduce the original debt they felt were overwhelming their communities.

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Memorial Stones for the Innocent

Greater than Guilt/18 - The executioners humiliate their victims by denying them the dignity of their name

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 20/05/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 18 rid“This I-Thou relation consists of placing oneself before an outside being, i.e. one who is radically other, and in recognizing that being as such. This recognition of alterity does not consist in forming an idea of alterity. (...) It is not a question of thinking the other person, or of thinking him or her as other - but of addressing that person as a Thou.

Emanuel Lévinas Proper Names (English translation by Michael B. Smith)

Dialogue is the thread that weaves our good and fruitful social relationships. Listening and saying, silence and words, phrases and gestures are the grammar of the reciprocal crossing (dia) of the word (logos). Dialogue is letting ourselves be traversed by the other while asking their permission to be traversed by our word. Crossing is a verb of motion that evokes time and space, places, names, flesh; it is always a creation of something new.

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The honour of the rejected

Greater than Guilt/17 - In the end, Saul’s ways are dusty, just like ours

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 13/05/2018

samuele 17 210x300Saul:
“Oh my children!...
I was a father. - See thyself alone,
Oh king; of thy so many friends and servants
Not one remains. - Inexorable God, 
Is thy retributory wrath appeased?”

Vittorio Alfieri, Saul (English translation by Charles Lloyd)

In every authentic reading, the reader has an active and creative part to play. He is not a spectator of the stories he reads, but a co-screenwriter and actor of them. In the special form of reading we call biblical reading, therefore, the one who reads receives the mysterious but real faculty to transform the characters into people, who, like all living people, grow, change, move and make some unexpected encounters. So it happens that biblical people begin to interact among themselves, to compose relational plots that are different from those thought and desired by their first author. And so the necromancer of En-dor becomes a friend of the father of the prodigal son, Jeremiah discovers himself as David's brother, and Saul becomes Job's travel companion in his misfortune, as he also ends up on the pile of manure, by a God who wants (Saul) or allows for (Job) their misfortune. Struck by divine punishment that’s greater than their (possible) sin, Both Saul and Job are wrapped in the silence of a mute God, who has no words of life for them - perhaps because, quite simply, he is waiting for ours.

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The Holy Words of the Rejected

Greater than Guilt/16 - Compassion may explode inside every life. And so may the good

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 06/05/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 16 rid“The Baal Shem said to one of his disciples: »The lowest of the low you can think of, is dearer to me than your only son is to you.«”

Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim (English translation by Olga Marx)

Augurs, magicians and soothsayers are a recurrent note in the Bible. They embody a form of false prophecy that was widespread in antiquity and hard fought by the prophets, which represented a constant and very seductive temptation for Israel (to which it has often succumbed). They were the expression of an archaic popular religiosity that has never disappeared, and feeds a thriving business in our days, too. Biblical faith is not threatened by atheism, but by the replacement of YHWH with natural and simpler gods - yesterday and today, in faith and in life, where the eternal temptation is to convince ourselves that we are something smaller and more banal than the complex and beautiful reality we actually are.

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The Art of Embrace is Infinite

Greater than Guilt/15 - The art of life can be learnt by tasting the small instants of peace

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 29/04/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 15 rid“God is, in a sense, the other, par excellence, the other as other, the absolutely other - and nonetheless my standing with this God depends only on myself. The instrument of forgiveness is in my hands. On the other hand, my neighbor, my brother, infinitely less other than the absolutely other, is in a certain way more other than God: to obtain his forgiveness ... I must succeed in appeasing him. What if he refuses? As soon as two are involved, everything is in danger. The other can refuse forgiveness and leave me forever unpardoned."

Emanuel Levinas, Nine Talmudic Readings (English translation by Annette Aronowicz)

Every day millions of people do and say bad things and, shortly after or shortly before that, they say and do good things in all honesty. Because the human condition is simply the interweaving of evil and goodness. The Bible knows this ambivalent mystery of the person – perhaps the greatest mystery – very well. We can become intrigued or lost, we may lose the golden thread of life, but until our last breath we are still capable of goodness, because we are made in the image and likeness of an endless dance of mutual love, which no sin can stop. Cain killed his brother Abel, but he did not kill the Adam, the first (and last) man. And while Cain continues to kill Abel, the Adam continues, stubbornly, to resurrect him, every day. No wickedness of the fratricide within us is capable of destroying that original imprint of good engraved deeper into our being. In this sense, evil can be trivial, good can never. Evil has its own resilience, which can also be very big, but it is always smaller than the resilience of good. And it is this good that resists stubbornly to make us more beautiful than our many faults. That’s where the radical anthropological optimism of the Bible lies, which has saved the West after and amidst its most heinous sins – and which continues to save us.

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The Wise Hurrying of Women

Greater than guilt/14 - Re-sewing, re-healing, acting in haste brings about peace

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 22/04/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 14 rid“Goods are now to be seen as the medium, less objects of desire than threads of a veil that disguises the social relations under it. Attention is directed to the flow of exchanges the goods only marking out the pattern.”

Mary Douglas, The World of Goods: Towards an Anthropology of Consumption

Gift is a great word, and therefore it is an ambivalent one. Because if it weren't ambivalent it wouldn't be great, just as love, religion, community, life and death are great and ambivalent. The "capacity to give and receive gifts" is a possible definition of human nature, because gift says freedom, autonomy, dignity, beauty. Gifts received and given mark the decisive stages in our lives and in the lives of those we love, from the first gift of life to the last, when we give that first gift back a hundredfold, and it will be perhaps only at that moment that we understand all its value - and also the value and meaning of that last gift we are making.

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The Weak Force that Saves Us

Greater than Guilt/13 - Do not to kill, but save the name and cut the edge of the robe

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 15/04/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 13 rid«Caro male,
non ti chiedo ragioni
è questa la legge dell’ospitalità…
ti do riparo
proprio a te che mi scoperchi.
Non ti voglio bene male
ti so sapiente ti tengo d’occhio
e nido sono
di te che mi assapori
e poi sputi il nocciolo

Chandra Livia Candiani, Fatti vivo

There are many forms of conflict. Each era adds new ones, leaving those inherited unchanged. The Bible also knows several cases. The conflict between Cain and Abel, where a vertical frustration (between Cain and God who rejected his offerings) becomes horizontal violence (against Abel). The conflict between Joseph and his older brothers, where envy leads to the elimination of the envied one, sold to camel drivers on their way to Egypt. Or that between Abraham and his nephew Lot, due to the abundance of resources in a common space that is too small, which is solved by separation, thanks to Abraham’s generosity who leaves Lot the choice of land ("Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left”; Genesis 13:9).

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Mixed communities can generate

Greater than Guilt/12 - The art of life can be learnt by starting the journey

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 08/04/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 12 rid“Even as a boy I sometimes looked up with endless sympathy and respect into a half-withered female face on which it was written, as it were: life and reality have given me a drubbing. (...) And if we live, there’s something wondrous about it. Call it God or human nature or what you will, but there’s a certain something that I can’t define in a system, even though it’s very much alive and real, and you see, for me it’s God or just as good as God.”

Vincent Van GoghLetters, 193 (English translation by Diane Webb, John Rudge and Lynne Richards)

When a vocation is real and grows well, the "hosanna" of the crowd is always followed by the time of passion. It is always a crucial period, when the design and the task for that person begin to reveal themselves more clearly, because the dark background of events highlights the bright contours. So David, after his first success at court and in Saul’s heart, after his victory against Goliath, the women's song of glory ("Saul has struck down his thousands, / and David his ten thousands") now finds himself forced to flee and hide, because Saul wants to kill him. So the text now shows him to be a fugitive and a nomad wandering from city to city, his life in continuous danger, himself being homeless, vulnerable and poor. Like Abraham, like Moses, like Mary and Joseph. He too was a wandering Aramean, he too was in search of benevolence and hospitality; like us, like everyone else, who from the day we came to light became beggars for a good hand to welcome us and host us, never stopping to look for it, until the end.

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A friend’s promise is a real one

Greater than Guilt/11 - Love is one, but loves are many: eros, philia, agape...

di Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 01/04/2018

Piu grandi della colpa 11 B ridPeter..., do you love [agape] me...?” - “Yes, Lord; ... I love [philia] you.”
(...) “Peter..., do you love [agape] me?” - “Yes, Lord; ... I love [philia] you.”
(...) “Peter..., do you love [agape] me?

The Gospel According to John 21:15-17

Love is one, but there are many loves. We love many people and many things, and we are loved by many, in different ways. We love our parents, children, girlfriends and wives, brothers and sisters, teachers, grandparents and cousins, poets and artists. And we love our friends a lot, too. Human love is not limited to human beings. It reaches the animals, touches the whole of nature, even God. To say love, the Greek world had two main words, eros and philia, which did not exhaust its many forms, but offered a semantic register that was richer than ours to decline this fundamental word of life. A lexicon that was able to distinguish the 'I love you' said to the beloved woman from the 'I love you’ said to a friend, and at the same time recognize that the latter was neither inferior nor less true than the former.

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