Confessions of a White Man or, What I’ve learned from White America


Photo: David Broome Upi

Photo: David Broome Upi

Full disclosure and just to get this out of the way:

1) I am not accusing all white people of being racist. What I’m saying is that it’s far more prevalent than people realize or are willing to admit. 

2) I currently live in the South, but in an area that has a huge “immigrant” population of people from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other North/Northeastern states, so take that for what you will. 

3) I understand the difference between someone making a joke (that’s a whole other debate entirely) and someone being serious. This is dedicated solely to those who are seriously racist, although they may not recognize it.

4) I’m merely attempting to point out the prejudice that I see within language and action. I also know that I’m not perfect and have my own biases to overcome; part of writing this is my attempt to overcome them. 

Dear non-white Americans (and non-Americans),

 

I want to let you in on a little secret; white people say some pretty racist things when you’re not around. Not all white people mind you, there are quite a few that honestly are not racist (at least not obviously so). There are many who are genuinely appalled when there is mistreatment of “minorities” anywhere, or when blatant racism happens to appear. Yet, there are others who aren’t so quick to come against racist actions. Yes, they quietly “tolerate” all these non-whites encroaching upon their existence and certainly don’t want to see violence done against non-whites, but they really don’t like you. I know this because I’m white and being white means other white people feel completely free to say whatever they’re thinking to me. After all, I’m safe, right?

I’ve had the following said to me in just the past three months:

“Well, I can’t really blame Donald Sterling for what he said, it was his right to say it.”

“I’d like to move out towards Montana, where people are more like you and me, you know what I mean?”

“Well, they’re just different, you know?”

“Figures that there’s rioting after they kill another n*gger.”

Now again, and I cannot stress this enough, there have been white people who have said the exact opposite of the above. They’ve shown genuine outrage towards the blatantly racist ongoings in this country, but more often than not there’s always a wink and a nudge when talking about non-whites when it’s just white people around. To be honest, I’m disgusted by it. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and most of my friends will tell you that it’s painfully obvious. But the fact is it still happens around me and, shamefully I admit, I don’t think I do enough to stop it. Especially when it was said to me as I was a bartender, because I was more concerned about my tips and job (which I most certainly would have lost if I spoke up) than I was about doing the right thing (admittedly shameful and wrong on my part).

Of course, what’s the harm? If some white people hold a racist view, but never act it out, then who really cares? It’s not as though racial prejudice is getting anyone killed anymore, right? Well, see, that’s the problem; the racist attitudes that occur in private are inherently manifested in public, causing massive problems and even death (especially among young black men).

Think about Mike Brown and the witness (Dorian Johnson) to his murder. Two young black men stopped by a police officer. Why? Perhaps he was looking for a suspect and saw two black men, who just always conveniently fit the description of someone who’s wanted. The witness was so afraid of the police that he moved out of his apartment, and for good cause. As we’ve already seen, the Ferguson police aren’t afraid of roughing up journalists and violating First Amendment rights, so why would they be afraid of a little retribution? They’ve shown absolute tyranny in how they’ve handled the community.

Yet, within the white community, the riots are looked upon as opportunistic and self-destructive. We look at the riots and go, “Well no wonder the police are acting this way!” We show absolutely no sympathy for the vast majority of protestors who have remained peaceful, yet have been met with teargas and rubber bullets. Why? Because let’s be honest; if one black man acts up, we green light the mistreatment of the entire race. For whatever reason, no one points out the fact that the community has suffered under the oppression of poverty, under a brutal police force, under false charges, random stops, random searches, mistreatment, and absolutely no relief from this treatment. The last time an authoritative government attempted to implement martial law on a bunch of white people, to impoverish them via taxation, to fire indiscriminately into a crowd, to brutalize, search, and seize white people’s property, a Revolution occurred and the United States was born. Continue reading

Human Dignity vs. Minimum Wage or, Where the Right Goes Wrong


DSC02097Matt Walsh, the male Ann Coulter for the right (and he’s on the same path), is back at it again, creating a straw man and then hacking it to pieces. This time around, he’s picking on Walmart employees that don’t enjoy the wages and treatment, saying they should be thankful to have a job and that if they just worked a bit harder, they’d all get promotions. In this conservative utopia where hard work is always justly rewarded, everyone becomes the manager, everyone works their way up to the top, and everyone becomes rich who deserves to be rich. Sadly, however, Matt Walsh (and conservatives in general) ignore the importance of human dignity within the wage debate (not that liberals do any better; they demonize and dehumanize the rich, whereas the conservatives demonize and dehumanize the poor).

From a purely practical standpoint, basic psychology tells us that if we treat someone as less than human then that person will act as less than human. One wonders why in the Roman Empire there were so precious few slave revolts until one realizes that beating slaves and treating them as less than human led them to believe they were less than human. The same rings true within the American south, where slaves didn’t revolt even when they made up a majority. Typically, when humans are exploited, they begin to think of themselves as “lesser than” and act accordingly. It should serve as no surprise, then, that when you put a minimum investment into a person you get a minimum return.

The better I’m treated, the less I have to worry about bills, the more incentive there is to earn higher pay for working harder, the likelier I am to be a better worker. The promise of an eventual promotion that may or may not come is merely dangling a carrot in front of the horse, getting him to run harder without the promise of ever actually eating the carrot. “If you work hard, then perhaps someday you too could become an executive in this corporation!” This, of course, is assuming that you’re able to keep a roof over your head, pay for electricity and water, and then afford the necessary education to get promoted. More than likely, however, even the hardest working Walmart employee (or any other big retail chain) will find herself stuck within store management, typically after years of hard work.

See, for all the love between Christianity and American conservatives, we would do well to remember that the two are not the same. Modern conservatism, or neo-conservativism is actually Darwinian and materialistic in its outlook on life. Modern conservatism, at least economic conservatism, is nothing more than the bastard child of Ayn Rand, the ugly offspring of objectivism. Within this philosophy the individual reigns supreme, even over the family unit. The essential core is that if a man wants to be rich, he has to be willing to outwork and undercut anyone around him, even if it’s his wife and kids. The end objective of existence is for the individual to realize himself. Such a teaching stands in stark contrast to Christianity, which teaches that the individual is nothing without the community, that a man must sacrifice himself to his family’s needs, and the objective of existence is to become like God.

Thus, the minimum wage debate is an interesting one in which we have conservatives, many of whom want to “take back” a “Christian America,” arguing for pragmatic utilitarianism, one of the most anti-Christian philosophies out there. “I’ll pay you for what I think you’re worth, depending on what you bring me.” Such a thought process inherently views the laborer not as a person, but as a commodity. The laborer is then viewed as nothing more than livestock, produce, or whatever it is the company happens to sell. While the labor itself is a commodity, the laborer is not; he is a human being and worthy of dignity and respect. The Christian view, then, is that the commodity of labor is to be treated fairly to the laborer because he is made in the image of God. Continue reading

Loving God but Hating His Image, or How Our Attitude Toward Illegal Immigrants is Reprehensible


childimmigrantpic

Photo Courtesy of Voice of America

This article is not about how the U.S. should handle the massive influx of children illegally crossing the boarder.  I do not pretend to understand all of the variables involved in this complex issue and it is not my intention to argue in favor of any particular form of legislation or promote any one solution.  In fact, I’m not interested in politics at all (at least within the context of what I’m about to say).  This article is about our attitude toward thousands of impoverished at-risk youth living in conditions so bad they’re willing to risk their lives just to make it to our boarder.  More specifically, it’s about Christians who allegedly love God yet make disparaging, heartless, and down right selfish comments about illegal immigrants.  It’s about those who claim to know the Lord but, through their actions (or lack thereof) and attitudes hate His divine image. 

Let us begin with a self examination.  Do you find yourself looking down on those who illegally cross our boarders?  Do you find them an inconvenience or a nuisance?  Do you resent them?  Do you find yourself indifferent to their plight?  Do you feel they are underserving of your charity?  Are you angry or embittered by their presence?  Do they annoy you?  Do you believe their plight is no business of yours? . . . If you answered yes to any of these questions it’s important for you to realize these feelings stand in complete opposition to the Gospel.  They are selfish, prideful, heartless feelings.  They are, in short, sinful attitudes unbefitting a follower of Christ (oh yes, I went there).

Let’s review three crucial points of theology to help us understand why:


 (1) Man Is Made in the Image of God

Christians believe every man, woman, and child has objective value, dignity, and worth because everyone–no matter their age, race, culture, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation–is made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-28; Wisdom 2:23).

(2) We are Commanded to Love our Neighbor

Christ states that the first and greatest commandment is to Love God, “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37).  Interestingly, our Lord follows this by stating that the second commandment is like the first: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.‘  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:39-40).  Why is loving our neighbor with all of our might like loving God with all of our being?  Because man is made in the image of God.  Therefore, anyone who truly loves God will truly love His image and likeness.  This is why Jesus also taught that to discard, belittle, or ignore those in need is to discard, belittle and ignore Him.

(3) If We Don’t Love our Neighbor, We Don’t Know God

The Bible teaches it is impossible to know God–to have saving faith or a personal relationship with Him–and harbor ill-will or hate in our heart toward our neighbor (I John 2: 9-11; 4: 20-21).  St. James, echoing the teaching of our Lord, states that a faith without love (i.e., works) is dead (Matt. 7:17-23; 25:31-46; James 2:14-26).


Take a moment and seriously dwell upon these truths.  In fact, take time to look up the passages I’ve cited and let them sink in.  Then, ask yourself if your attitude toward illegal immigrants (not the impersonal concept “illegal immigration” but the actual people: the helpless children, the father’s desperate to be with their families, the women fleeing sex traffickers . . . ) is truly a Christian one.  Forget your political affiliation, forget your nationality, forget your social status.  If you profess to be a Christian you claim, first and foremost, to be a citizen of the City of God; a part of the Kingdom of Heaven; a member of the Body of Christ.  Your deepest and truest loyalties transcend all worldly categories and all worldly affiliations.  Your chief duty is to love, to serve, and to lay down your life for your neighbor (including your enemies).  This is your chief duty precisely because the greatest commandment is to Love God; but it is impossible to truly love God and hate His image.

As I peruse Facebook statuses, read comments on news articles, and listen in on conversations, I grow disheartened.  I am appalled and embarrassed by the reprehensible attitudes of professed Christians toward illegal immigrants.  I feel disgusted by those who, in virtue of their attitudes, fail to empathize with or care for those suffering and in dire need of help; and I wonder how long we shall ignore the sound of their voices screaming for help?

My American brothers and sisters, please stop.  Stop speaking heartlessly; stop acting selfishly; stop worshiping your country; stop discriminating based on nationality; stop discarding, belittling, and ignoring your neighbors; stop your crummy attitudes.  My dear brothers and sisters, love your neighbor as you love yourself; for without love you are nothing.

 

 

Wilco’s “Theologians”


Originally posted on Five-Cent Synthesis:

I admit ignorance about Jeff Tweedy as a person, and only know him through his music. The long time frontman of Wilco has proved time and again to be musically curious while well moored in traditional folk, country and rock; a serious songwriter that occasionally has a touch of the chaotic. He also seems to have an eye on the divine, with songs spanning decades that at least tangentially muse upon the subject: Jesus Etc.Theologians, and I’ll Fight.

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Lip Service Is All You Ever Get From Me…


(Disclaimer: Elvis Costello likely would not support this post, but this song has a handy title. It’s a gem from 1978.)

One hears these days, more and more, pronouncements along these lines:

Religion is ok and everything, you know, it’s good for when you have problems and that sort of thing. But not when it permeates the rest of your life.

What drives this tepid endorsement? Can one be too Christian for his own good? It is actually a rather odd statement, because it seems religion is particularly not good at solving problems, if that is construed as giving you what you want. This attitude, which amounts to lip service, would seem to be a cocktail mixed from several prevalent spirits: an underlying theme that religion causes evil, a fear of being a “fundamentalist”, the acceptance of moral relativism, and the idea that religion curtails the individual’s freedom and pursuit of happiness. Starting in reverse order… Continue reading

For the Simple Life


IMG_0248The world is a thing of beauty

A big ball of blue in a vast sea of black

And on this ball we live

O how we live!

 

I watch the children play in the garden

Creating worlds ex nihilo

From nothing they craft a great adventure

The world their canvas

Their minds their brush

Too young to face corruption

To have lost the ideal

Still enough belief in reality

To believe dragons still roam the earth

 

We are destroying this world

With our regressive progress

“Science will save us!”

O the blind optimism of ignorant fools

“Science has damned us!” I yell

But I am the madman

And retreat back to the mountain top

 

In my solitude I find that beauty

Away from all of you

 

Sex, glory, power: The unholy trinity

We’ve sold beauty in all things

To obtain these trifles of vanity

We want sex without love

Glory without dignity

Power without self-control

A living without a life

We want, we want, we want!

But we will not give

 

Observe the clouds

O modern

They form and collapse

And give no worry

They birds sing and live

But we remain silent

 

In this silence let us find ourselves

Let us return to Reality

in earnest meditation

Clear our minds of our own pollution

Find beauty, and just live

Thinking With the Wrong Head or, Richard Dawkins on Altruism


As many of you are well aware, the existence of genuine love or altruism is often leveled against the naturalistic worldview as evidence of its implausibility.  But those who buy into such pathetic argumentation simply don’t understand the richness of the Darwinian perspective.   You may be surprised to learn that the New Atheists, especially Richard Dawkins, are actually romantics at heart.  I dare say that the conception of altruism explicated so eloquently in his acclaimed work The God Delusion would move even the hardest of hearts to start composing Shakespearean sonnets! 

Like many great romantics, Dawkins begins his discourse on love with a rousing passage on the ontological foundation of love itself:       
“The most obvious way in which genes ensure their own ‘selfish’ survival relative to other genes is by programming individual organism to be selfish.  There are indeed many circumstances in which survival of the individual organism will favour the survival of the genes that ride inside it.  But different circumstances favour different tactics.  There are circumstances – not particularly rare – in which genes ensure their own selfish survival by influencing organisms to behave altruistically.”
In this stirring piece of prose Dawkins skillfully uncovers the underlying foundations of naturalistic anthropology.  Through it we learn that man is but a passive composition of matter blown and tossed by the mindless and purposeless wind of biology (please note that you should ignore the teleological language he employees; words like “tactics” and the like).  We see that, at its core, altruism is rooted in pre-programmed instincts involuntarily thrust upon us by our “selfish” genes.  From this foundation he weaves a beautiful tapestry of possibilities–sure to make many a fair maiden’s heart pound with passion:     
“We now have four good Darwinian reasons for individuals to be altruistic, generous or ‘moral’ towards each other.  First, there is the special case of genetic kinship.  Second, there is reciprocation:  the repayment of favours given, and the giving of favours in ‘anticipation’ of payback.  Following on from this there is, third, the Darwinian benefit of acquiring a reputation for generosity and kindness.  And fourth . . . there is the particular additional benefit of conspicuous generosity as a way of buying unfakeably authentic advertising.”
In order to fully appreciate the profundity of the kaleidoscope of Darwinian explanations offered here we must pause to consider exactly what kind of love is being presented to us. 

The Four Loves

Classically speaking, there are four kinds of love.  The Greeks distinguished between the different forms of love using four distinct words: agápe, éros, philía, and storgē.  Dawkins’ elaboration on altruism seems to fall within the realm of éros, and storgē–the forms of love that come upon us in waves of emotion entirely outside of our control.  For we undergo these forms of love as mere passive receptors.  They are the product of a diverse range of factors including our environment and, yes, even our biology.  Storgē is quite simply the feeling of affection that we have for our kin—e.g., the “fluttery” warm feeling experienced by a mother holding her child—and éros is the feeling of desire—e.g., a wave of sexual longing, or craving a succulent piece of steak.  While, according to the classical understanding, we can make choices that intentionally direct our lives toward things that engender these types of love, they are ultimately brought on by forces outside of our volition.  Thus, they stand in marked contrast to agápe (self-giving love), and philía (friendship) which are rooted in the will.
 
But Richard Dawkins, in a stroke of poetic genius, turns away from the classical veiw and paints a picture of a world in which true agápe and philía are but an illusion.  For him altruism can only be explained in terms of éros, and storgē: 
         
“What natural selection favours is rules of thumb, which work in practice to promote the genes that built them.  Rules of thumb, by their nature, sometimes misfire.  In a bird’s brain, the rule ‘Look after small squawking things in your nest, and drop food into their red gapes’ typically has the effect of preserving the genes that built the rule, because the squawking, gaping objects in an adult bird’s nest are normally its own offspring  The rule misfires if another baby bird somehow gets into the nest . . .”
He goes on to explain:  
“I am suggesting that the same is true of the urge to kindness – to altruism, to generosity, to empathy, to pity.  In ancestral times, we had the opportunity to be altruistic only towards close kin and potential reciprocators.  Nowadays, that restriction is no longer there, but the rule of thumb persists.  Why would it not?  It is just like sexual desire.  We can no more help ourselves feeling pity when we see a weeping unfortunate (who is unrelated and unable to reciprocate) than we can help ourselves feeling lust for a member of the opposite sex (who may be infertile or otherwise unable to reproduce).  Both are misfirings, Darwinian mistakes:  blessed, precious mistakes.”
In other words, true acts of love are glorious (?) mistakes; accidental properties of nature brought about by instincts and passions mechanically instigated by our genes.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this moves me to tears every time I think about it.  If you don’t feel the same, stick with me and I think you’ll change your mind.    

The Blessedness of Darwinism

Contrary to what some might think it’s clear that Darwinism, with its robust foundation of unintentional self-edifying desire, warm fuzzy feelings, and brute instincts, is a powerful platform upon which to build and explain deep, meaningful, expressions of love.  Take, for example, the Catholic priest in North Africa who is currently harboring nearly 700 Muslims in his church.  He’s literally risking his own life to protect them from an extremist group attempting to eradicate the Muslim population in their country.  Thanks to Dawkins we now understand that he is not intentionally laying down his life for his fellow man because they are made in the image of God and therefore intrinsically valuable.  And he is surely not acting in accordance with the virtues of courage or fortitude.  Rather, and I say this in the most beautiful and uplifting way imaginable, he is undergoing an evolutionary misfire.  Just dwell on that notion for a moment.
You see, in a strange and (to use the adjectives so aptly employed by Dawkins) blessed and precious quirk of fate this priest is mistakenly extending charity to Muslims.  Mind you, this is ultimately a meaningless and quit unintentional happening in the life of the universe–and I really don’t have to explain to you how heartwarming that fact is—but we can all appreciate the beauty of this utterly futile event!
Herein lies the real magic of Darwinism.  No matter how meaningless our actions are, we can make them sound nice by attaching uplifting adjectives like “blessed” or “precious” to them.  This is especially helpful when considering a variety of seemingly “self-less” acts performed my people every day.  Consider the gentleman who cared for and eventually married his invalid fiancé.  We all know the real reason he tenderly cared for her, after she had that unfortunate fall and became paralyzed from the waist down, is because of an irresistible sexual impulse built into him by his “selfish” genes.  You see, his brain mistakenly thought he needed to preserve her to bear children and preserve his genetic code (and possibly do his laundry).  The folk way of viewing love might have mistaken his actions as being actual acts of self-giving and service; sacrifices he intentionally chose because he valued her and recognized her personhood.  The folk way would even have us thinking he was acting in accordance with the virtue of charity.  But, in truth, he was just thinking with “the wrong head”—as my grandfather’s drill sergeant might have described it.  Now this might sound crass but there is really no need to despair because if we close our eyes and click our heels . . . we’ll soon see that this evolutionary misfire is the stuff of poetry.