No, I am not going to argue that there is some silver-lining to racism. There isn't. But one thing I know for sure, even if I say it with the trepidation of someone who should probably keep is mouth shut more often on such things, is that movements for change can’t subsist on indignation alone. Activists and supporters of just causes need good news and small victories to fuel their movements just as much as they need to reality checks and hard truths.
So all that said, here is what I see as the lotus flower growing out of the dung heap that is our race relations in this country right now, something that is a completely new development in the history of our species, one of the most extraordinary signs of progress than no one who observed our first few hundred thousand years should’ve had any reason to expect, and really think about this before you dismiss it: most people don’t agree with the racists.
Yeah, I know. Cue the trombone sounds. How anti-climactic and ineffectual can you get? The most notable sign of human progress that any of us can point to right now is that most people disagree with something? How toothless does that sound?
But tolerate my attempt to put this in perspective for a moment: 99.99% of people who ever lived did agree with the racists. By that, I mean they all agreed that ours, whoever we happen to be was the superior race, tribe, clan, or culture. I’ll just use the word tribalism as shorthand for this sentiment. Tribalism is the oldest human story there is. Maybe the ancient Moabites had their rebellious teens who tried to shock their parents by telling them how great the Ammonites were, but as a rule, everyone believed in the superiority of a certain tribe, and that certain tribe happened to be everyone’s own.
Before I get any angry emails, let me make a strong disclaimer that none of this justifies the sort of hatred we’re seeing on the news currently. Nor am I totally dense to the fact that one can “disagree” with the fundamental premise of racial prejudice all one likes while being perfectly complicit with systemic forms of racism that are often more harmful. And I’ll defer to the great leaders of color, who have said repeatedly that justice delayed is justice denied and that the crimes of distant history don’t justify the crimes of today.
But what traction does the right side of history have if we can't even acknowledge, let alone celebrate, the fact that for the first time on the grand scale of human history, most of us are agreed that this tribalism is a problem? For the first time, Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer and their hug-deprived clones are the exception, not the rule. What if we all stopped trembling before them as if they are some terrifying novelty but instead laughed at them as a brief and doomed regression in our humanity. In fact, from a true Christian perspective, that’s precisely what they are.
Biblically, the way to humanity is actually quite a bit simpler and more intuitive than you might think.
Put simply: We become more human by embracing more humans.
The kingdom of God that Jesus preached about is nothing more than the radical expansion of the tribe that we call our own “to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
And we no longer just have to posit this radical interconnectedness as a theological nicety. It coincides with what we’re learning about the natural world.
I’m no physicist and have no idea whether string theory, or particle theory, or some new theory that no one has yet heard of will stand the test of time as the best possible explanation for all that is. But what seems consistent, regardless of where a given physicist falls in this debate, is that they all seem to be searching for a way to describe the observable fact that the fabric of the universe is far more tightly interwoven than Newtonian physics would’ve ever supposed. We are not just individual chunks of atoms floating around on our own and occasionally colliding.
In fact, it seems more and more likely, whether you’re talking about matter, anti-matter, dark matter, or the sitcom “Family Matters,” that it is impossible to push a single cog or lever in our entire cosmos without somehow minutely impacting every other one. Even dimensions of reality which we intuitively think of as being a-material, like time, space, and light, appear now to exist on the same contiguous rope of existence with tennis balls and toaster ovens, if only we could untangle the giant cosmic knot enough to see it.
The white supremacists are only kidding themselves by positing a universe where the fate of one group can be totally severed from that of all others.
In Romans 5:12-21, Paul talks about the old Adam and the new man, Christ. Note how peculiar this is when compared to the popular theology of our nominally Christian culture. Jesus is not recognized as the Christ because there is something more godlike about him than us. He is the Christ because there is something about him more humanlike than us. Or rather he is already what we are becoming.
The author of Ephesians talks about leaving behind the “old self” and becoming the “new” (Eph. 4:22-24). How do we identify the difference between the two? The old self is full of bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander and malice; the new self with kindness, tenderheartedness and forgiveness (Eph. 4:31-32).
So between the cold, hard, explicit racists and the rest of us who are at least trying to do better than quite literally all of our ancestors did, the question is not which side will win. From the perspective of the faithful, that’s already been decided. The question is: who is regressing toward inhumanity, and who is moving on.
Cheers and Peace,