(Disclaimer: Let me say from the start, I’m an atheist . . . I consider the Bible a literary fraud and that the characters discussed below never existed.)
Based on a general reading of the Bible, especially the section labeled the Old Testament, the Hebrew god Yahweh (given the Christian title God from the LXX) is portraited as a debauched immoral character, often lacking any ethical conscious while theologically (not Biblically), the figure of Satan unjustly condemned.
To illustrate my point, I’ll breakdown the Bible’s own characterizations God and Satan so the reader can see for him or herself who is really morally debauched (I have left out the Book of Revelation due to the fact that the narratives in this Biblical Book have not taken place, being projected to some apocalyptic future which is theological speculation). Below, is a short list, though any student of the Bible who has a concordance or Bible dictionary will be able to find many more.
Murders men, women, children, babies and the unborn indiscriminately (The Flood of Noah: Genesis 7) God: Yes Satan: No
Commands the Israelites to rape, slaughter, steal / pillage and enslave men, women and children. (The attack on the Midianites in Numbers 31) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands sexual mutilation as a sign of an agreement (Exodus 4:24 – 26 = Genesis 17: 11 -14) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands rape of female children and babies. (Numbers 31: 18 “But all the young (טף) girls ( נשים) who have not known man by lying with him keep alive for yourselves.” God: Yes Satan: No
Loves precious metals over the lives of humanity. (Joshua 7: 15 & Joshua 7: 25) God: Yes Satan: No
Attacks and curses a talking snake for telling the truth then lies to Adam and Eve. (Genesis 3) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands individual human sacrifice. (The AkedahGenesis 22:1-2; The murder (sacrifice ?) of Jesus; See Gospels) God: Yes Satan: No
Demands the burning of entire cities (שָׂרַף בָּאֵשׁ” or “to burn with fire”) so he can enjoy smelling the smoke of human flesh. (Thus Joshua 6: 21 makes it a point to tell the Jewish reader of this epic that death was to be by “the edge of the sword” before the ritual / sacrificial burning in Joshua 6: 24 could take place.) God: Yes Satan: No
Is never presented in the Bible as a murderer. (Despite Jesus’ assertion in John 8: 44. In Job, (in Job 1: 6 ) tells us that fire fell from God and destroyed Jobs animals. In verse 19, wind causes the house to fall on Job’s young people and, just like the fire from Heaven, God controls all these acts of nature. While Job clearly states in 42: 11 thatit was God who did all the harm to Job, his wealth and his family: “Then came there to him all his brothers, and all his sisters, and all they that had been of his acquaintance before, and did eat bread with him in his house: and they bemoaned him,and comforted him over all the evil that the LORD had brought on him.” This is again backed up by Job’s statement in 1: 21: Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”) God: No Satan: Yes
Commands a following spirits (be they Angels or Demons) to carry out the mass murders in a nation. (The Passover: Exodus 12:29) God: Yes Satan: No
Will torture people forever in the name of love. (Mark 9: 44, 46, & 48) God: Yes Satan: No M. Lies to his own believers in order to kill off anyone stupid enough to to trust him. (The longer ending of the Gospel of Mark 16: 9 – 20). God: Yes Satan: No N. Presented generally in the Bible as a known lair and murderer. God: Yes Satan: No
I think that in order to show that a Biblical passage is immoral, you’ve got to engage in a thorough exegesis (interpretation) of the text revealing that all likely meanings are morally problematic.
It is worth noting that Harry did nothing of the sort: he rather assumed that his interpretations portraying God as deeply evil are the correct ones without explaining us how he got there.
I find his other examples (which I left in black) much more questionable.
For instance, I don’t believe that male circumcision is necessarily harmful. There are many ways of interpreting Genesis 3 and I see no reason to believe that the silliest meaning (involving a speaking snake being cursed) is the correct one.
I did not, however, chose to go into an endless dispute over the meaning of the passages I do not view as immoral.
Instead, I decided to point out the main flaw in Harry’s logics, namely his fundamentalist assumption that the Bible must be judged as an inerrant self-consistent Scripture rather than as a set of religious books written under various historical, cultural and theological contexts.
If we were born under the same circumstances, we’d certainly have thought and behaved like them.
I did mock some beliefs of ancient Greeks as I was an immature teenager. But since then I’ve fortunately grown up.
I find your response very odd.
First off, there is no proof that the Biblical history from Genesis to Solomon is pure fiction. William Propp’s commentaries on Exodus, along with the works of John Van Seters and TL Thompson on the Patriarchs with the fate of King David and Solomon sealed by the Tell Dan Inscription (reading it correctly using the supplied word dividers proves it does not mention “House of David”) has re-enforce the fact that (unlike an ancient Greek texts), the Hebrew alphabetic Semitic script is late; thus there is no trace of one Old Testament verse prior to 250 BCE.
Tom Stark is little more than a liberal Christian as both his writings and lectures reveal (after all, he still teaches at Emanuel School of Religion . . . ). If Stark comes down too hard on the Hebrew Bible, he’ll find that a secular job will be his only finical salvation. His Seminary clearly states: “Emmanuel Christian Seminary is affiliated with the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. These churches are known for their continued commitment to biblical preaching and teaching.”
Though Stark’s book was published in 2011, he fails (more likely, refuses) to cite Propp’s Anchor Bible Commentary on Exodus (final volume published, 2006) or any of TL Thompson’s or John Van Seter’s works from the 1970’s and 80’s. More importantly, while his book deals with human sacrifice in chapter 5, he seems to be totally unaware of Francesca Stavrakopoulou’s major 2002 Oxford dissertation: King Manasseh and Child Sacrifice: Biblical Distortions of Historical Realities, Walter de Grutyer, Berlin, 2004. I could go on, but I’ll let these books expose his real methodology . . . how to keep his God (with egg / evil on his face) looking good. Stark is a good P.R . man, but not good enough!
You stated, “I really think you’re giving atheism a bad name.” How would you know? From your comments on other blogs, and, like Thom Stark, you seem to be a liberal Christian. The last minister I talked to who was a member of Stark’s Churches of Christ was dogmatic in telling me that his church is the only true church founded by Jesus himself! Since Thom Stark links himself with this church on his book’s website ( http://humanfacesofgod.com/ ), he and Father Tom of the Greek Orthodox Church should fight it out for a cash first.
If you have a problem with my post, then, using the Biblical text, I would challenge you to point out where it’s wrong; after all, I simply based it on the Bible.
Finally, this blog is called Debunking Christianity for a reason. I rest my case.
Hey, thanks for your answer.
Sorry if I sounded rude.
My main problem with your writing is that you keep talking about THE God of the Bible which entails that the Biblical authors never contradict each other about the moral character of God.
For example, I consider it very far-fetched to pretend that vindictive psalms where the authors pray for the violent demise of the children of their foes are compatible with the command to love our enemies in the New Testament.
To the best of my knowledge, Christian fundamentalists and anti-theists are the only ones who make that claim.
Finally, I consider it very problematic to judge ancient people according to our modern criteria. As theologian Randal Rauser put it:
“I’m willing to concede that there are vestiges of tradition in the ancient Hebrew scriptures that take an affirmative position toward human sacrifice. Does it follow, as Loftus (a militant atheist leading the blog DebunkingChristianity) claims, that we can learn nothing from the cumulative Hebrew tradition as recorded in Scripture? Of course not. Indeed, the claim is completely ridiculous.
To see why, switch your focus from the ancient Hebrews to the ancient Greeks. Let’s take one Greek, the great Aristotle, as our example, and let’s just consider a couple of his beliefs from science, politics and ethics. To begin with, Aristotle believed that the human brain functioned to cool the blood, venting heat like the radiator in a car. Today we would consider this belief wildly false, even laughable. Second example, Aristotle also defended the use of slaves, describing them in his Politics as useful in the manner of domestic animals. This is a shockingly crude and immoral position. Does it follow that we should conclude we can learn nothing from Aristotle? Of course not. The very notion is absurd. What we do, instead, is judiciously read Aristotle, appropriating the wheat and sweeping away the chaff.
Sadly, it is common to find atheists like Loftus crudely dismissing the Hebrew tradition, even as they selectively read and appropriate the Hellenistic tradition. This is completely inconsistent and shows a deep bias against the Judeo-Christian tradition.”
Do Aristotle’s wrong beliefs about slavery mean he didn’t have deep moral insights in other respects?
Anti-theists engage in propaganda and emotional bullying with the hope of deconverting as many religious believers as they can. But if you manage to separate their real arguments from the hateful rhetoric enveloping them, they often prove to be incredibly weak.
I’ve already exposed one fundamental flaw of the New Atheism (also-called Anti-Theism): their failure to appreciate the fact that the entity they call Religion (with a capital R) is an incredibly diverse phenomenon.
NO, you should consider every specific denomination and compare its own performance and problems with respect to science,sexism, racism or homophobia.
It is silly to say to a liberal Methodist defending Gay marriage: “Get out of here hateful bigot!” just because he’s an American Christian, and American Christians have on average a low view of homosexuals.
(What follows is his post I quoted while emphasising certain sentences).
Jerry Coyne says I am wrong about creationism, misogyny and homophobia
Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True (both blog and book) didn’t like my recent posts about the link between creationism, sexism, and homophobia. In a recent post, he argues that I have made a logical fallacy and risk miring the battle against creationism in the ‘atheist wars’ over feminism.
Jerry introduced the post by saying some nice things about me, so I’ll return the compliment: I owe Jerry a great deal. Until I read his book, despite having not been to church in eight years I still thought it made sense to say “evolution is only a theory”. Although at that point I thought evolution was probably right, I had no idea how much evidence there is, nor why my understanding of the term ‘theory’ was wrong-headed. Thanks to him I entered the world of evolutionary science, and my life is the richer for it. And, as Jerry himself points out, he’s been a frequent supporter of my writing and I wouldn’t be as successful a blogger as I am without that patronage.
I sort of appreciate the sentiment of Jerry’s opening sentence—”It’s never a pleasure to criticize the views of someone I admire”—but actually I see no reason why this should be an unpleasant enterprise. One of the best things about my post-church life is that I now feel free to disagree with people without automatically making them my enemies. It’s also possible that I am mistaken about this, in which case I should be glad he’s pointed it out.
The title of Jerry’s post is “Does creationism matter more because it’s connected with misogyny and homophobia?” When you phrase the question like that, I struggle to see how the answer can be anything other than “yes”. Misogyny and homophobia, Jerry and I agree, are unqualified ills. If you take something that’s already bad and add misogyny and homophobia, you make it even worse. I didn’t say (and I do not believe) that if creationism were not homophobic or misogynistic there would be insufficient reason to oppose it. I did argue that the homophobia and misogyny that creationism involves are more pressing matters, and it seems Jerry agrees on this point. Near the end of the post, he writes “In fact, oppression of women and of gays are matters of greater import than is the teaching of creationism, and if I could wave a magic wand I’d make the first two disappear before the third”, which might leave some readers wondering where exactly he and I differ.
Jerry says I’ve made a logical fallacy, which is always a handy shortcut making your opponent look bad. If I’ve made a logical fallacy, I am objectively wrong. This is no mere difference of opinion, or difference of values, which might take longer to sort out or even be irreconcilable. I have made a fallacy, and I am a phallus.
Except that I don’t think I have. Jerry says it’s the underlying cause of all three that we need to oppose, and that was exactly my point in “Why creationism matters“. Possibly I didn’t make this sufficiently clear, in which case I’m glad for the opportunity to do so. We must be tough on creationism and tough on the causes of creationism. Jerry is right. Sort of.
The underlying cause of creationism, homophobia, and misogyny, says Jerry, is religion, and it is religion we must oppose. And here, I suspect, it is Jerry whose logic is flawed. Clearly, not all religion is all of these things, although much (perhaps most) of it is. Some religious people are among the most vocal opponents of creationism, and for some their faith is an extra reason to oppose the subjugation of women and gay people. Some of those people are among this blog’s most vocal supporters. So we’re going to need a different reason to oppose all religion, because this one is not fit for purpose.
Biblical literalism, on the other hand, is a root cause of all three of the problems at hand. The problem is the way creationists read the Bible. It promotes not just creationism, patriarchy, and gay-bashing, but also the denial of history, the enthusiastic acceptance of immorality, and an irrational rejection of opposing evidence. It is an intellectual black hole. But not all religion is Biblical literalism. I am (if you’ll forgive the term) agnostic on the question of whether the world would be better off if there were no religion at all. My hunch is that it probably would, but there isn’t enough data to be sure. Anyone who claims with certainty that religion must be annihilated for the good of humanity is taking a faith position. Which is somewhat ironic.
In my follow up post, “Creationism is inherently homophobic and misogynistic“, I made a somewhat stronger claim, but I still don’t think I made a logical fallacy. The argument here was this: the Biblical creation myths themselves contain verses which are anti-women and anti-gay. Now I’m not going to say there’s only one possible interpretation of those verses, because only fundamentalists think that way. But I did argue that if you interpret those verses using the same hermeneutic that creationists use to interpret the surrounding text, then you reach nasty conclusions. And I backed this up by empirically showing that those are, indeed, the very conclusions that creationists often come to.
The most trenchant criticism of that post, funnily enough, came from a Christian. Regular reader and commenter Kevin Long pointed out that I was expecting logical consistency from a group of people who have black belts in holding internally contradictory beliefs.
You’re thinking too logically here. Religion is not particularly logical. People are not particularly logical or theoretical about these things. People don’t usually haul out their beliefs and inspect them item by item. Most people are handed a set of beliefs early on in life, and then they just run with them, accepting the whole thing, but adapting bits when they need to. Most of these beliefs are rather fuzzy. Your gay Creationist friend is an example of that, and that type of thinking is, and has always been, the majority. This is actually an encouraging thing: people who are adaptable always outweigh people who are strictly inflexible.
That’s hardly a defence of creationism or of religion, but it does mean I could be more optimistic about the possibility of equality-affirming creationists. Of course, the problem, which Kevin’s post hints at, is that creationist beliefs actually rest on church traditions and authority, despite the fundamentalist insistence that they come purely from a plain reading of the Bible. Those church traditions are usually patriarchal and exclusionary. Kevin also pointed out that there are creationists who are not literalists with regard to other aspects of the Bible; my argument obviously wouldn’t hold in those cases. Our thread on the subject is worth a read.
I think the most important reason Jerry Coyne didn’t like my posts is that they failed the SJW sniff-test. And yes, at this point I must reveal (if it was not already clear) that I am one of those pesky feminist atheists threatening to divide the ‘movement’ with concerns over misogyny. Because what happens in this life matters more to me than what people think is going to happen after we die, I care more about equality, access to education, and social justice than I do about the nonexistence of gods.
Here follows my response to this post.
Simply amazing, Jonny!
If I didn’t fear to offend you, I’d be tempted to call you a prophet (in the noblest sense of the word).
There are so many true things you expressed here in such a stark and beautiful manner.
You (and Kevin) are entirely right that there is no consistent fundamentalist living under the sun.
Indeed, the Bible speaks with conflicting voices on many topics so that inerrantists have necessarily to distort some verses in order to take others at face value.
Their picking and choosing is (as you pointed out) strongly influenced by religious traditions and economical and social factors.
In the context of the American culture war, it is all too easy to use words in a fuzzy way without clearly laying out their meaning in order to make ideological points.
Over and over again, one can find people shouting: “Atheism has killed millions of people in the former Eastern block! Atheism is responsible for the Gulags!” and other loudly saying that “Religion is killing millions of people in the Middle East!”
For the sake of the argument, I will assume that atheism means the denial of God’s existence and religion any community based on supernatural beliefs (bypassing the difficulty of defining “natural” and “supernatural”).
If that’s the case, it is completely fallacious to say that atheism caused all the atrocities committed by these regimes in the past.
There’s absolutely no logical connection between denying God’s existence and thinking that such kinds of mass murders are morally warranted.
Countless atheists find these utterly abhorrent.
Likewise, it is completely fallacious to say that Religion causes misogyny and homophobia. There’s absolutely no logical connection between asserting “there is a supernatural realm” and “Gay people and women ought to be discriminated”. Countless religious folks find this utterly appalling.
While Jerry Coyne might be an incredibly brilliant scientist, he makes very blatant fallacies while wearing his armour of reckless culture warrior.
I appreciate your great modesty and the fact you care more about decency and love than about winning an argument.
I also think you’re entirely right to point out that the harmful moral beliefs of fundamentalists are worse than their teaching creation science.
Now I want to comment on the thought that the world would be better off without Religion .
I think it is a binary way to consider things.
As I wrote about Coyne’s initial defence of this idea:
“Basically his (implicit) reasoning was as follows:
1) It would be good to live in a world where creationism (and other anti-scientific beliefs) have wholly disappeared.
2) If ALL religions were to fade away, creationism would be no more.
3) Hence it is morally good to use our best techniques of psychological warfare to utterly destroy ALL religions.
Interestingly enough, French racists use exactly the same kind of reasoning:
1′) It would be good to live in a France where anti-white hatred no longer exists.
2′) If ALL blacks and Arabs were driven out of the land, anti-white hatred would be no more.
3′) Hence it is morally good to expel ALL blacks and Arabs from France.
Let us grant that both 1) and 1′) are true.
2) and 2′) are certainly technically true in both cases.
If ALL religions were to go away, there would be no longer any form of creationism, and if ALL blacks and Arabs no longer lived in France, anti-white hatred would be no more.
But it should be clear that a vital fact has been entirely left out of the picture in the second racist reasoning. There are countless blacks and Arabs (indeed the majority of them) who do not hate white folks and are completely respectful of French laws and customs.
It would be egregiously wrong to expel them as well for this would be a gruesome form of collective punishment.
Exactly the same thing can be said about Coyne’s reasoning.
There are countless moderate, progressive and even conservative religious believers who are not opposed to science and reason and who do not cause any harm to the society in which they live.
Advocating to systematically bully them out of their faith is equally egregious.“
(I can modify the example if you don’t deem it appropriate here. I do think it’s a good analogy which nicely illustrates the dangers of this type of reasoning).
I am convinced that the world would be better off if all fundamentalists who jettison their reason and moral intuitions for the sake of dogmas would give up their belief systems (and there are also many “secular” fundamentalists satisfying this definition).
But I see no reason to think that a thoroughly godless world would be better off than a world with religious people who are all driven by genuine love.
Let me end this long comment by saying one positive thing about Jerry: he has an adorable kitten he takes care of 🙂
Heroin addiction sent me to prison. White privilege got me out and to the Ivy League.
Second chances don’t come this easily to people of color.
Keri Blakinger, who spent more than two years in prison for drug possession, graduated from Cornell University after her release. (Courtesy of Keri Blakinger)
I was a senior at Cornell University when I was arrested for heroin possession. As an addict — a condition that began during a deep depression — I was muddling my way through classes and doing many things I would come to regret, including selling drugs to pay for my own habit. I even began dating a man with big-time drug connections that put me around large amounts of heroin. When police arrested me in 2010, I was carrying six ounces, an amount they valued at $50,000 — enough to put me in prison for up to 10 years. Cornell suspended me indefinitely and banned me from campus. I had descended from a Dean’s List student to a felon.
But instead of a decade behind bars and a life grasping for the puny opportunities America affords some ex-convicts, I got a second chance. In a plea deal, I received a sentence of 2½ years. After leaving prison, I soon got a job as a reporter at a local newspaper. Then Cornell allowed me to start taking classes again, and I graduated last month. What made my quick rebound possible?
It was prison that clued me in to just how much I benefit from systemic racism in our society. Until then, I hadn’t thought much about white privilege, which is exactly how privilege works – as a white person, I could ignore it. But sitting behind bars, I saw how privilege touches almost everything, especially the penal system.
It starts at the gate — or rather, who comes through the gate. When I moved into the state prison, the racial disparity was immediately obvious. I was surrounded disproportionately by people of color. While blacks represent just 13.2 percent of the New York State population, they are nearly half of the state’s prison population. Reasons for the disparities are clear: Nationally, blacks are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be searched, and, if arrested, likely to be sentenced to more time for the same crime. Although whites and blacks use drugs at about the same rate and although whites are more likely to sell them, black youth are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than are their white counterparts.
Once in prison, minorities are at an even greater disadvantage. Some corrections officers (though hardly all) were overtly racist. Some used racial slurs. One was rumored to sport a tattoo of a black baby in a noose. Even if the rumor wasn’t true, it says something about the prison’s racial climate that prisoners believed it conceivable enough to repeat.
In one case, I watched prison officials send a black inmate to solitary confinement for wearing her pajamas at 10 a.m. Apparently, there was a little-known rule prohibiting inmates from wearing pajamas after a certain hour, despite the fact that they looked nearly identical to regular state-issued clothes. I never even thought about when to change out of my pajamas, so I’m sure I wore them after the appointed hour, too. But nobody ever troubled me about it, let alone sent me to solitary. There were many times that black inmates were hassled for things that white inmates weren’t.
To be clear, it is not only minority inmates who could get sent to solitary for little to no reason. Whatever their race, inmates routinely get put in solitary for trivial rules violations such as having too many postage stamps, missing appointments, or talking back. Overall, though, black inmates are treated worse. In New York State, they make up 49 percent of the prison population but 59 percent of the solitary confinement population. And the superintendents who decide how long prisoners will spend in solitary are overwhelmingly white in my experience. I knew of only one African-American superintendent or deputy superintendent in the five female facilities that existed when I was locked up. (The New York Department of Corrections and Community Supervision says they have two black superintendents now).
Of course, race alone doesn’t explain my story. There were other factors that led to my reduced sentence and my return to Cornell. I was arrested in in Tompkins County, a liberal jurisdiction with long-standing commitment to alternatives to incarceration and progressive sentencing. (If I had been arrested in any of the surrounding counties, my sentence could have been three to four times as long.) In another stroke of luck, New York rolled back parts of the notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws the year before my arrest. Had I been prosecuted under those laws, I would have gotten 15 years to life.
Although Cornell has a process governing the readmission of suspended students, they never explained exactly what persuaded them to allow me to return. When I was arrested, officials told me that it is standard to suspend any student who is arrested, though the Campus Code of Conduct doesn’t specify that punishment. Readmission is allowed on a case-by-case basis. I gathered letters of recommendation from former professors, my parents and my parole officer and sent them to the judicial administrator. I provided samples of my freelance writing to show I was working to support myself. I answered a standard set of written questions about what I had learned, what I had done to change my path and what safeguards were in place to make sure I don’t recidivate. I had a 20-minute or so phone interview with the judicial administrator and then waited on pins and needles for a response. It came in the form of a brief e-mail: “I am pleased to report that you have been approved to finish your Cornell degree, starting in January 2014.”
It’s impossible to know if a black or brown student in the same circumstances would have been allowed back in. But I think it’s likely. Through its Prison Education Program at a maximum-security state facility, Cornell allows inmates to earn Cornell credits. Clearly, it is a school interested in second chances.
I regularly encounter people who deny that things like racism and privilege still exist, who believe that we are living in a post-racial world. And yes, I dream of a world in which every ex-con could enjoy the opportunities I have. But I saw firsthand how deep and structural biases shaped our criminal justice system. For some, the battle is about ending racism and privilege — behind bars or anywhere else. But for others, the battle is simply acknowledging that there is a battle at all.
The war on drug is an atrocity
The first thing I have to say is that the war on drug is a terrible moral atrocity. As I explained, I consider it deeply wicked to punish people for consuming drugs, most of them having, like Keri Blakinger, often started their consumption out of despair. I also do not believe that people dealing drugs for financing their own addiction should be punished if they’ve completely lost any control over their consumption. I think that a very good case can be made that countless addicts dealing drugs have got where they are through an unfortunate set of circumstances and unfavourable genetics.
Big dealers who do not take in the poison they sell ought to be punished extremely severely. Not their victims.
Now I want to go into the main topic of this post. There is absolutely no doubt that there is a differential treatment unjustly affecting African Americans. To quote the last sentence of Keri, it is undeniable that a considerable battle must be fought.
I beg to differ, however, with her views on the causes of this revolting state of affairs.
While she didn’t make it explicit, according to her things seem to be going like this (see the parts of her text I emphasised).
1) American society is incredibly harsh and unjust towards drug addicts.
2) Then “white privileges” step in. (Some) white junkies are helped just by virtue of their having the right skin colour. Black drug addicts do not take advantage of such acts of mercy.
While I’m open to being wrong on that, this seems to be the most straightforward way to read her.
With all due respect, I think she has it backward.
It might be that under rare circumstances, some people in the American judicial system decide to save a person otherwise doomed to a long stay in jail because they say to themselves “Oh! (S)he’s white! I wanna help her!“.
Likewise, it is quite possible that in some cases, people are helped because the officials like their physical appearances or voices.
I strongly doubt, however, that this is going to be a main factor in more than a few cases.
To my mind, the most likely explanation of the statistical disadvantage of black persons looks rather like this.
1′) While still being very unjust, the judicial system has become more merciful towards drug offenders, to some limited extent.
2′) African Americans do not take advantage of such opportunities because of lingering racist prejudices against them. A great number of law enforcement officials are still convinced they are far less to be trusted than their white counterparts.
In quite a few situations, I can very well imagine that white members of the judicial system are animated by egregiously hateful feelings against human beings having a black skin.
That my own explanation (namely that direct racism instead of “white privilege” is the culprit here) is much more likely to be true is well illustrated by the problem of discriminating policemen.
As she rightly wrote
“It starts at the gate — or rather, who comes through the gate. When I moved into the state prison, the racial disparity was immediately obvious. I was surrounded disproportionately by people of color. While blacks represent just 13.2 percent of the New York State population, they are nearly half of the state’s prison population. Reasons for the disparities are clear: Nationally, blacks are more likely to be pulled over, more likely to be searched, and, if arrested, likely to be sentenced to more time for the same crime. Although whites and blacks use drugs at about the same rate and although whites are more likely to sell them, black youth are 10 times more likely to be arrested for drug crimes than are their white counterparts.”
Of course, it’d be utterly absurd to think that days-in and days-out, policemen discover an equal number of white and black addicts and decide to leave most of the former alone because they’re white.
The true problem is that they are still persuaded that black people are inferior to white people and/or are driven by sheer racial hatred. Consequently, they’ll control disproportionately more black persons than white ones.
Does the difference really matter?
I guess that many liberals might react by saying:
“Yeah, I grant your point that these inequalities aren’t the results of a direct intention to privilege white people but stem from racist prejudices and racial hatred against black people. Still, what on earth does that change to this tragic injustice?”
Other might say that the distinction I raised is purely semantic.
If black folks are discriminated, it naturally follows that white people are privileged. Period.
My problem with that answer is that “anti-black racism” and “white privilege” do convey different meanings.
While the first involves racial prejudices and hatred against African Americans, the second suggests a conscious effort to favour a person having white colour.
As I explained in the case of the the policemen, it seems very likely that the former plays a much more important role than the latter.
Are poor whites to be punished?
Far from being a mere semantic choice, this concept of “white privileges” is very important to white liberals because it lies at the very foundation of their political worldview.
According to their deepest conviction, a white is always an oppressor and a black is always an oppressed, regardless of their relative well-being and plenty of other factors.
I mentioned elsewhere it is morally wrong to favour a rich woman over a poor man (or a rich African immigrant over a poor white) just because the latter didn’t have the chance to be born with the right genes.
Times and times again, I hear that the victims have to gladly accept that “positive” discrimination because they benefit of “white privileges” anyway.
As we saw previously, the problem is not that American officials do undeserved favours to white folks just because they’re white but rather that they’re much more severe and unjust towards African Americans because they believe them to be inferior.
It is cynical and inhuman to tell a homeless “white trash” that he cannot be aided because he belongs to the race of the oppressors. As I pointed out elsewhere, even more than 2500 years ago, an ancient Hebrew prophet preached against the notion that children have to pay for the sin of their parents.
How much more absurd is that to hold him accountable for misdeeds nobody among even his direct relatives committed?
Another thing I often hear is that there are worrisome statistical differences between whites and blacks in America in terms of successful careers, poverty, unwarranted incarcerations and so on.
(I agree this is a shame. )
They go on arguing that we must even out these statistics as soon as possible even if this means committing injustices towards members of the dominant group underway.
It is here I strongly disagree with the underlying philosophy.
Mean values, standard deviations and any other statistical values you can imagine are unable to feel anything.
The goal of any human system of morality should ultimately consider the well-beings of individuals who are capable of experiencing emotions such joy, pain, suffering and happiness.
Far from creating a society where race no longer plays any important role, affirmative action perpetuates such a state and hinders a real reconciliation between the white and black lower classes.
It is my opinion that many white workers whose economic condition is not too far removed from the economic condition of his black brother, will find it difficult to accept a “Negro Bill of Rights,” which seeks to give special consideration to the Negro in the context of unemployment, joblessness, etc. and does not take into sufficient account their plight (that of the white worker).
I believe we ideally need a race-neutral affirmative action which considers the relative well-being of the two candidates in question along their chances of getting hired elsewhere.
Racial peace can only be reached once we’ve given up collective punishment and the idea that children are responsible for the sins of those having the same skin colour or the same Y chromosome as they have.
“Here’s a fact, and I am sure the other people here will be mortified that I dare to talk about it. There are 7,000 diagnoses in this country every year for people who are HIV positive. It’s not a good place for any of them to be, I know.
“Sixty per cent of them are not British nationals. They can come into Britain from anywhere in the world and get diagnosed with HIV and get the retro-viral drugs that cost up to £25,000 per year per patient.
“I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to do is put the NHS there for British people and families, who in many cases have paid into the system for decades.”
While he skilfully shaped his utterances to make them sound more respectable, I think that the content remains absolutely shameful.
Think about it for a while. Banksters plunge countless lives into an unspeakable misery through their reckless actions and they don’t have to give anything away from their wealth.
There’s little doubt that some of the foreigners taking advantage of HIV-treatments are abusing the system.
But the harm they (indirectly) inflict to British households is negligible in comparison to that stemming from immoral millionaires and billionaires.
UKIP leader Nigel Farage has said his criticism of ‘HIV tourists’ is not at odds with a Christian attitude and that Christians should put their countrymen before immigrants …. Nigel Farage has said his comments about ‘HIV tourists’ are perfectly compatible with a religious outlook, claiming that it is “a sensible Christian thing to look after your family and your own community first”. …. But asked on Saturday whether his views were compatible with a Christian outlook, Mr Farage said: “What good Christian would say to an 85-year-old woman ‘you can’t have breast cancer treatment because we can’t afford it’, whilst at the same time shovelling a billion pounds on foreign aid, allowing people from all over the world to fly into Britain as health tourists get an HIV test and drugs over £20,000 a year?” ….
Speaking to Sky News he added: “It is a sensible Christian thing to look after your family and your own community first.” …. Mr Farage said that he regarded himself as a Christian, despite attending church only a “few times a year”, and insisted Britain should maintain its cultural position as a “Judeo-Christian” country.
Here’s my response to his rhetorical question I emphasised.
What good Christian would prevent the weakest members of his society from taking advantage of a decent healthcare just for allowing a bunch of greedy people to get even richer?
I don’t know Nigel Farage deeply enough for judging him as a moral person.
But I strongly doubt he’s a real committed follower of Jesus of Nazareth who kept preaching against failing to feed and help the poor.
The return of Robin Hood
Nigel Farage is an impostor. He steals the money of the poor to give it to the rich.
What modern Britain really needs is the Robin Hood of the legend.
I recently stumbled across a post written by a former Conservative Evangelical minister (who has turned into an anti-theist) where she exposes the alleged ways in which Religion (with a capital R) hijacks our inevitable human experience of pain.
A Sure Knowledge of Suffering.
She had just learned of the death of her one true love. Pirates, she was told. Specifically, the Dread Pirate Roberts–who, as we all know, does not ever take prisoners. Upon hearing the news, she retreated to her bedroom in shock for quite some time, and her parents gave her plenty of space in which to process her staggering grief. When she finally emerged from her room, her parents were worried–but also astonished at the changes in their daughter:
In point of fact, [Buttercup] had never looked as well. She had entered her room as just an impossibly lovely girl. The woman who emerged was a trifle thinner, a great deal wiser, an ocean sadder. This one understood the nature of pain, and beneath the glory of her features there was character, and a sure knowledge of suffering.
She was eighteen. She was the most beautiful woman in a hundred years. She didn’t seem to care.
Cover via Amazon
Buttercup’s journey to her #1 position as Most Beautiful Woman in the Whole World happens at the same time her budding romance with the Farm Boy, Westley, blossoms into love (this is from the book version of the story, which goes into way more detail about the protagonists–and I had better not be spoiling any of this for you). When the lovebirds declare their feelings for each other, William Goldman writes in The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure, she is “barely in the top twenty” of the most beautiful women in the world. After Westley leaves the farm to make his fortune, she starts to take better care of herself and leaps to fifteenth, and when a long letter from him arrives as he’s making his way to America, that letter alone sends her straight to eighth place from sheer joy. But that’s where she lingered until learning that he’d died.
A number of stories involve grief and loss as the forces that catapult an innocent, naive character into sudden adulthood. In The Princess Bride, when Buttercup faces suffering for the first time, she leaves her innocent youth behind and enters the full flower of adulthood–as well as a vast fraternity for which there is only one name:
Suffering is surely of the most uniquely human conditions there is. Our capacity for reflection and anticipation, our ability to both recognize the passage of time and to gaze ahead to the future, marks us as bound for pain. Merely to extend our affection to another being–be it a pet or a person–or to extend a great hope toward some goal means turning our ships down a fork in the river that leads to only one destination: the pain of loss.
Someone who has not suffered some great and staggering loss is somehow not complete quite yet. Those of us who are already members of the vast fraternity can admire that person’s youthful naivete–especially if there’s some glorious declaration of intent involved, which seems to come up often for some reason–but we know what’s coming and somehow wish we could both shield that person and make their passage through the frathouse doors a little easier. Until they are sitting in that house with an illicit beer in hand, we really don’t know exactly what to do with that person. We just know it’s coming, is all, even if we don’t know where from.
Suffering sometimes comes from our own misguided efforts or from deliberate unkindness on the part of others–or from the sheer inevitability of time–but often it seems like it’s just bad luck.
It is no surprise to me, therefore, that it seems like every religion tries to put human suffering into some kind of cosmic context (often, as those two links demonstrate, in total opposition to the explanations offered by other religions)–to explain what suffering is and what causes it, to tell people that there’s some purpose to it all, and to tell us how to stop it from coming to our door quite so often.
Religions do this because grief and loss are so universal and so constant in humans’ lives that we want some kind of control over it all. Explaining something implies understanding of it; understanding implies control. There’s a reason why bargaining is one of the significant stages in the processing of grief, after all. What religions are doing is simply trying to do the bargaining at a remove for us, and often before the grief event has even taken place.
But what are we to do when a Buddhist tells us that suffering happens because people get too stressed out by change and that there is no real self at all, and a Christian tells us that suffering happens because oh why yes we totally have selves and those selves are sinful little beasts without the cleansing of “Jesus”? They can’t both be right; those explanations (and many more besides) are diametrically opposed. They could, however, all be wrong.
When we mistakenly believe that our suffering has some supernatural purpose and cause, we start thinking we can influence the events that lead to our suffering.
As one example, let’s look at one of the most pernicious “bargains” Christianity offers. If we don’t tithe, we will suffer hugely, Christian leaders hint to us, and if we do then we’ll have so much fortune that our storehouses won’t be able to hold it all. Years out of Christianity, this kind of promise sounds to me like that nursery rhyme, “step on a crack, break your mother’s back,” especially after meeting all sorts of people who do and don’t tithe and noticing that there doesn’t seem to remarkable fortune happening to those who do, or misfortune happening to those who don’t. But I’ve noticed that Christians who stop tithing often feel really frightened at the thought that now they’re inviting suffering to their doors by their disobedience. They’ve been taught for years that they can control misfortune by tithing. They might know at some level that tithing has absolutely nothing to do with avoiding or inviting misfortune, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that they’re daring a god to strike them down by disobeying all these pastors’ directives about tithing.
That’s only one deal Christians get offered, though. I was taught a great number of ways to control the whole universe. Many of those ways centered around conforming to my onetime religion’s teachings about how women should act, dress, and speak. Stepping outside those bounds would invite all sorts of disasters. I’d meet terrible men; I’d be at much greater risk for abuse and assault; I’d ruin my entire life. If I conformed, by contrast, I’d meet “godly” men who’d treat me well and I’d be protected by angels from assault. And I dared not even consider non-Christian men as husbands–dear me, no! They’d drag down my faith and who even knows what disasters would hit my life for such glaring disobedience?
Christian rituals were also sold to me as ways to control fortune. I’m betting most ex-Christians have been through this scenario:
I slide behind the wheel of my ancient Cutlass, buckle in, and start the car. I’m down the driveway when I realize I forgot to pray! I panic–and I pause the car at the first opportunity so I can recite the magic spell: Jesus, please let me get to my destination safely and unharmed. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen. Soothed and feeling much safer, I continue on my way.
Even after leaving Christianity, I ended up in spiritual traditions that tried similarly to control suffering and misfortune. That was a really hard mindset to break. It was really hard to let go of the idea that our lives were orchestrated by some big planner and that everything that happened to us did so for a reason. I know that the intent of some of these religions and philosophies is to help reconcile adherents to suffering, but the implicit promise they made was that there were rules to the universe–and if I could only figure out what those rules were, I could get a free pass that other people didn’t get.
There’s another, more sinister reason why prosperity gospel is so popular in the United States–and seemingly only more popular during this period of financial crisis. It’s the same reason why Christians cling so hard to promises around tithing and “modesty.” Someone who is suffering gets seen in Christian culture as someone being spanked by “God” for some indiscretion or misdeed, while someone who is clearly healthy, wealthy, and flourishing gets seen as someone “blessed” by that same deity–with the implication that this “blessing” comes from obedience to the arcane rituals and demands of the religion. Some preachers even make that connection explicitly. It’s not hard at all for me–having come out of a religion that stresses this link between prosperity and one’s choices to obey or disobey religious demands–to see exactly why Christians nowadays tend to belong to the political party that is quickly becoming famous for hatred for and demonization of poor people. Obviously if someone isn’t “blessed” then it’s all that person’s fault. Somehow.
If someone suffers and there’s no reason at all for it–and even worse, nothing that person did or could have done to avoid it, or worst of all if that person was set up to fail by obviously non-supernatural forces–then the entire paradigm gets up-ended. Some people really need to see the world as ultimately fair and just. If one person faces suffering that couldn’t be avoided, then nothing stops anybody else from facing similar suffering.
I’d have saved myself a lot of time and trouble and energy if I’d known that some of our suffering can be understood and controlled, yes, but some of it simply cannot be. Some of it’s really random, and some isn’t stuff I can actually influence. And I think I kind of knew that to some extent. After all, in addition to praying whenever I got behind a steering wheel, I also made sure to drive responsibly and to keep my car maintenance up-to-date. But later I’d meet friends in other religions who used rituals instead of doing those things–and they wondered why they kept getting into accidents and having car breakdowns. Sometimes people didn’t have the money to maintain their vehicles and rituals were the only thing they could afford to do. Sometimes people were deluding themselves into thinking that rituals could take the place of careful driving. And in the case of misfortune that really couldn’t be controlled–or even predicted–these rituals were quite literally all that held out even the vague promise of help.
When I saw those friends making these mistakes in other religions, I couldn’t help but remember all the similar rituals I’d done as a Christian believing that they’d afford me protection from life’s bumps and dips: the tithing meant to invite financial prosperity and stave off economic disaster; the “modesty” dress meant to attract a “godly” husband and keep me safe; the house exorcisms meant to keep demons from entering my family home to cause strife; all the weird little rote prayers I recited to prevent car accidents and the like. One might say to some of these rituals, What’s the harm? But in most cases, these rituals took the place of more constructive efforts–and often cost a great deal of money or time that I could have used elsewhere. Indeed, the only folks who really profit from those rituals are the ones receiving the money and attention from all the frightened sheep falling for those scams, even after their peddlers have been debunked six ways from Sunday.
It’s a scary thing to imagine, though, isn’t it? That there isn’t some great plan nor a great planner in control of it all. That sometimes stuff just happens and we can’t understand why or stop it, and neither can anybody else. That sometimes it’s not some flaw in someone that caused a great misfortune, and nothing that person did to merit that suffering.
Suffering is part of being human. Every single one of us, if we extend ourselves at all, is going to suffer at some point. We’re going to lose a loved one, or face a natural disaster, or get really sick or injured, or become the victim of a random crime, or get caught up in some huge financial catastrophe. Part of our journey, as human beings, is figuring out how much of that we can influence and how much we can’t, and figuring out how to lessen the impact of as much of the random, unstoppable suffering as we can.
We’re not going to do any of that by repeating canned prayers or performing magic rituals, though. Those rituals might soothe us in the short term, but ultimately will not actually help us in a material way–unless we start selling books about it to trick the unwary into buying into false promises of safety, health, wealth, and fulfillment, anyway! As long as we believe that we have some magical way of propitiating whoever we (mistakenly) think is orchestrating the universe, we won’t be just wasting our time and money; we’ll be trying to remain children. I’m not saying we should adore feeling grief or pain (that’d be kind of weird), but rather that we should recognize that that suffering is part of the cycle of humanity, and ignoring the reality of suffering cuts us off from the full range of the human experience. Children think that someone bigger than them controls everything and can fix it all; adults know that even after preparation and planning, shit happens.
That is what Buttercup discovers, alone in her room with her grief: sometimes even the best plans go hideously, totally wrong and there really isn’t any way to understand it, predict it, or control it. Sometimes all you can do is accept the misfortune and move forward–and when you do, you find yourself entering that fraternity at last, and then you find yourself surrounded by a lot of other people who are also trying to move forward from their own suffering. You start thinking it was kind of silly to think you had this magic way of avoiding the suffering everybody else has to face, and you start thinking a lot more seriously about the very real ways that people can avoid trouble and repair the damage of inevitable misfortune. And then we can make the choice to extend ourselves anyway–to take the risk, to love, to try–having done everything we can to prepare and knowing that even so, the risk is worth the taking even if it ends disastrously.
If it does, too, then we won’t blame our lack of adherence to rituals but rather honestly examine if we made or missed some material mistake, and try to do better next time. But we can’t really learn until we can look honestly at just how the misfortune happened; we’ll only blame ourselves for having done something wrong and seek ever-grander rituals and shows of compliance with which to propitiate whoever we think is in charge.
That’s why you need to beware of anyone who tries to tell you that suffering can be avoided through the purchase of snake oil. These rituals and prayers and demands for compliance are just theological snake oil that is peddled to those who don’t know any better and will reach for any straw in desperation. As Westley later tells Buttercup, “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
I’m very glad to be out of a religion that tried to keep me a child endlessly trying to curry favor with a being who didn’t even exist in order to protect myself from inevitable misfortune and suffering–protection I never got even at my most obedient and compliant. I’ve discovered the sure knowledge of suffering, and while that discovery didn’t make me more beautiful, it did at least make me an adult and a full participant in the human experience, which I’d rather have anyway.
We’re going to talk this week about some more facets of suffering and protection, control and understanding, and you’re most certainly invited to be here for it. See y’all Wednesday!
Is right-wing Conservative Evangelicalism the whole Christendom?
I understand that the author has gravely suffered from Christian fundamentalism. I can certainly empathize.
I am dumbstruck, however, by the huge number of over-generalizations one can find in her text (quoted in italics).
“But what are we to do when a Buddhist tells us that suffering happens because people get too stressed out by change and that there is no real self at all, and a Christian tells us that suffering happens because oh why yes we totally have selves and those selves are sinful little beasts without the cleansing of “Jesus”?”
I can’t speak for Buddhists, but I know countless Christians who categorically reject this concept.
“As one example, let’s look at one of the most pernicious “bargains” Christianity offers. If we don’t tithe, we will suffer hugely, Christian leaders hint to us, and if we do then we’ll have so much fortune that our storehouses won’t be able to hold it all.”
I personally don’t know any Christians I’ve met in the real world who teach such a thing.
“Someone who is suffering gets seen in Christian culture as someone being spanked by “God” for some indiscretion or misdeed, while someone who is clearly healthy, wealthy, and flourishing gets seen as someone “blessed” by that same deity–with the implication that this “blessing” comes from obedience to the arcane rituals and demands of the religion.”
“It’s not hard at all for me–having come out of a religion that stresses this link between prosperity and one’s choices to obey or disobey religious demands–to see exactly why Christians nowadays tend to belong to the political party that is quickly becoming famous for hatred for and demonization of poor people.”
Nevertheless, it can be easily demonstrated that many other Christian traditions (especially in Europe) are horrified by this state of affairs.
To conclude, I’d say it’s perfectly fair for atheists to criticize religions (in the same way it is fair for religious people to criticize atheism) but it is vital to realize that both Atheism and Religion (along many other ideologies and worldviews) are incredibly DIVERSE.
Care should be taken to verify that one’s criticism applies to all members of the species.
Otherwise, one can all too easily end up preaching to the choir.
As a progressive believer, I don’t feel challenged at all by such kinds of posts. This just makes me laugh.
OK, I’m going to push back at you a bit here. Imagine for a minute that in the past minority peoples had been forced to live in trees while white people were able to live in homes on the ground. Living in trees meant that it took more time and energy just to get to work, stores, entertainment and the like as they were all situated on the ground and climbing up and down trees is a lot of work. It also meant that the people living in trees had a significantly higher rate of skin cancer as they were closer to the sun. And occasionally, a child or even a whole house would fall out of the tree and die/be destroyed. The people living in the trees would also be stigmatized because, living in trees, they developed various ways of dealing with life which were foreign and distasteful to the ground dwellers.
Now, imagine that after several generations, society decided that they would no longer force people to live in trees. They weren’t going to help the people living in trees find and afford new homes on the ground, mind you. It was just that now, if a tree dweller could find a way to be successful enough, and was adventurous enough, they could join the white people living on the ground and enjoy the advantages of not having to climb up and down trees every time they needed to go somewhere or have their children and property endangered by gravity. As you can imagine, the migration out of the trees would probably be slow. For some time into the future the tree dwellers would continue to struggle to do well enough in life to actually get out of the trees. And some of them, particularly the youth, were angry about the state of their and their family’s lives. Now, the people who had always lived on the ground had their own problems. After all, living in a tree is hardly the only obstacle one can face in life. So while they agreed that having forced people to live in trees had been a bad idea and was no longer acceptable, they had their own problems and got tired of the grousing of the tree dwellers. After all, it wasn’t their fault that some people lived in trees. They weren’t responsible for creating the situation.
Imagine if a tree dweller said to a ground dweller, “living in a tree is destroying me and I can’t seem to find a way out! There are just so many obstacles to overcome and it’s all I can do to keep my family fed and safe and make it through each day. I hate living in a tree. It’s unfair that my people are living in trees while other people have always been able to live on the ground.” Do you really think that the tree dweller would be demanding a confession of guilt from the ground dweller? Or do you think that the tree dweller wants the ground dweller to hear of their struggle and have empathy? In this situation, would asking the ground dwelling people to help the tree dwellers overcome the problems that came with living in trees be a matter of asking them to carry the guilt of their fore-bearers who had created the unfair, harmful situation? Of course not! This idea that white people are being asked to carry guilt for what their forefathers did is a creation of the white imagination and not reality. What minorities want is for white people to stop dismissing and discounting their struggles and simply offer the same sort of empathy and assistance that any decent human being ought to offer to another who is struggling. They would like some acknowledgment from white people that being born a “ground dweller”, so to speak, means that there are certain struggles that we generally don’t have to deal with. What is being asked for is NOT guilt. What is being asked for is basic empathy and a willingness to do what we are able to do to help the “tree dwellers” move past the challenges which were left by our forefathers. Claiming that it’s about imputing guilt is a convenient way to wave off any sense of responsibility for our fellow man.
I also want to push back regarding your interaction with your Moroccan co-worker. Now, I agree that any act of bullying or violence, for whatever reason, is unacceptable. I would guess that your co-worker teaches her own children not to engage in such behaviors as well. However, I would also guess that your co-worker has personally witnessed, in a way that you have not, people who did not have the strength of spirit to deal with the obstacles and challenges that being a minority person entails. Not everyone has the character or strength of a saint. In real life, people do get to a place of bitterness, anger and despair that leads them to lash out at others. Particularly others who are, in their eyes, identified with the people who benefit from the way things are. (And whose children will witness and may repeat the bitterness their parents carry.) These people obviously cannot be given free reign to act on their anger and hatred. But no doubt your Moroccan co-worker is keenly aware of what brings a person to the point of doing that. And while I am certain she does not approve of people lashing out violently, no matter how downtrodden and angry they are, she does understand why it happens in a way that a person who has not seen it happen up close and personal do not. (And I’m not even getting into the way that when a white person behaves terribly, it is often ascribed to mental illness or getting caught up in crowd. Meanwhile a person of color behaving terribly is usually attributed to their culture and seen as a reflection of their community.)
On the other hand, the people who created this situation were not doing so because they had been pushed to the point of being crushed by the circumstances they were facing in life. They were doing so in order to maintain power and order. They were doing so out of convenience or because they did not feel the people they were pushing into untenable circumstances deserved any better. They did so because they did not want to risk having to do with less so that others could have what they needed. IOW, what drove people to create the situation of inequality is not really comparable in any way to what drive a person living on the losing end of their actions to lash out. And no doubt, for your Moroccan co-worker to hear the two situations painted as equivalent is offensive. A poor person who steals from their employer is still stealing and ought not do so, but their actions are not morally comparable to a dictator that steals his nations’ resources for his own benefit and leaves the people desperate and impoverished. And that, I believe, is why your co-worker responded so negatively.
Also, one of the things that I have become aware of is that we white people have an expectation that minority people would be sympathetic to and concerned about our negative experiences when it comes to race while we ourselves are frequently dismissive and skeptical of their negative experiences. It’s a bit like a sighted person complaining about the cost of prescription glasses to a blind person who, after all, can get by with sunglasses which don’t cost nearly as much. It just shows a lack of awareness on our part. I apologize if this sounds dismissive to you, but let me give you an illustration of how this plays out in real life. Here in the USA the practice of setting aside jobs, college admissions or scholarships for people of color is hugely controversial. White conservatives in particular consider it to be the ultimate hypocrisy as they see it as a form of reverse racism and aren’t we supposed to be getting rid of racism? So, let’s just accept the sake of discussion that they are completely right about this. Affirmative action (as this practice is called) is racism against white people and ought not be allowed in a society which is committed to equality for all people. And let’s just say, for the sake of our discussion, that this sentiment is widely shared by people of color as well. Even with all this being the case, it is quite likely that a white person condemning affirmative action to a person of color will be met with anger and hostility. Why?
The thing is that affirmative action is a form of discrimination that literally affects maybe 10,000 white people every year. And that’s a generous guess. The real number is probably much less than that. On the other hand, here in the USA, we have a situation where approximately 13% of drug users and drug dealers are African American, yet 60% of drug prisoners are African American. And that affects hundreds of thousands of African Americans each year.
And not only is the actual number of people affected by this racist system far, far larger than the number of people affected by affirmative action, because such a small percent of Americans are African American (12-14%), nearly every African American is affected by this racist system in some way. Plus, white people who lose out on a job or college admission due to affirmative action then have to find another job or school. Black people who are jailed for drug offenses not only lose their freedom for years on end, once they are out, they are virtually unemployable, have a hard time finding housing, can’t vote and in many places are unable to get any welfare benefits or educational assistance.
The end result is that white people are really, really upset by the racism of affirmative action, which affects almost no body, isn’t life destroying and isn’t widespread, yet the much bigger and more destructive racism of our “justice” system is hardly on most white people’s radar. In fact, when the problem is raised, most white people reflexively blame black people for the problem. Thus even a person of color who disagrees with affirmative action is likely to have much sympathy for white people who are harmed by it.
When white people insist that the discrimination they experience is a really, really big deal while simultaneously refusing to pour just as much energy and resources into fighting the much more devastating discrimination experienced by people of color, it will rub people of color the wrong way. To say the least. When we then try to get them to join us in being outraged over discrimination experienced by white people, well, let’s just say that we white people are lucky that bazooka’s are illegal.
The thing with “PC” is that while it is often poorly and foolishly executed, at it’s heart it is simply an attempt to get white people to move past our programmed self-centered views and show some consideration for and awareness of how our words, actions and attitude affect and appear to people of color. That’s it. We struggle with it because we have this idea that while our forebearers obviously left a mess that continues to affect minorities, we believe that we ourselves are unaffected. And that’s just not so. That we experience demands that something be done to fix the mess left behind as charges of guilt and object to being asked to consider the perspectives of the “other” as unreasonable whitewashing is evidence of the way that this pernicious evil practiced by those who went before us has caused us harm that we must also struggle to overcome.
My answer follows.
Thanks for your long and thoughtful reply.
I really liked your metaphor about the tree-dwellers and ground-dwellers and think it is a great (albeit sad) description of the situation in America and other Western countries.
I think there are several things I’d like to say in response.
1) I used “racism” as a synonym for “racial hatred” as this use is widespread in Europe, at least among common people.
I didn’t mean institutionalized racism.
What I was saying is that anti-white hatred is as real as any other kind of racial hatred and that it must be as firmly opposed.
2) You say that white people are oblivious to the inequalities other races suffer from.
You further say that if a gruesome crime is committed by a “colored” individual, white folks tend to assume it is not just due to mental illness but to his being black.
I don’t know the situation in the US in 2015. If this is still the case, this is very saddening indeed.
In modern France, this attitude is no longer widespread among the younger generations.
The large majority certainly stands for equal rights regardless of skin color.
And if after a psychopathic crime someone were to say “You see! These Blacks are crazy!” he’d spawn disgust and disdain against him.
Unfortunately, this kind of attitude is still widespread towards Muslims, especially after the terrorist attacks against Charlie Hebdo. This is extremely unjust, preoccupying and revolting. Yet, this is not driven by feelings of racial superiority but by an ethnocentric conviction that our Western civilization is good whereas other cultures are savage and evil.
3) I completely agree there are laws in the US which are systematically very harmful to minorities.
Given all the financial interests related to this crusade, it’s perhaps never going to be abolished.
I find this monstrous and long for this evil to be undone.
I do believe, however, that my being white does not attribute me any kind of guilt, all the more so since I want it to cease as soon as possible.
I can’t honestly think of any kind of reasoning which would justify that alleged logical connection:
“Marc is white => Marc is partially responsible for the war on drugs destroying the lives of countless black persons”
I appreciate the fact you emphasized it’s not a question of feeling guilty but one of feeling empathy towards those who are still suffering from the consequences of past abuses.
I do agree it is our moral duty as Christians and as human beings to act in an empathic way towards them.
4) Your analogy about stealing is an interesting one.
I certainly accept the fact that the moral culpability of members of a poor (and formerly oppressed) ethnic minority who have to steal for surviving might be far lower than that of members of the dominant group engaging in the same type of activity.
However, this isn’t what I meant there.
I had in mind gratuitous crimes driven by sheer hatred.
As for example a gang of Arabs who wanted to rape a white woman after having screamed to the husband: “We’ll fuck your white whore!”.
It is my contention that from the standpoint of the victim and her suffering, this act is as heinous as the reverse situation where a white gang attempts to rape a black woman after having screamed “We’ll fuck your black whore!”
So, I think it’s perfectly in order to loudly say in the first case: “This is racial hatred. This is wrong. We need to reject that as well in order to build up a stable society. The past and present crimes of white institutions doesn’t justify in any way, shape or form this kind of heinous deeds.”
and I could draw on French-speaking black rappers making these points.
5) Let me give you a personal analogy to drive this point home.
It does not involve races but another situation of institutionalized ethnic discrimination.
I’m a Germanic Frenchman coming from a region which has been historically bilingual French-German (I speak roughly half of the time in French and half of the time in German to my father).
An intense propaganda has been carried out for convincing people that they ought to ONLY speak French to their children and that the languages spoken by their ancestors belong to the past.
Children speaking in dialect in the schoolyards were severely punished and oftentimes even beaten.
Any kind of administrative act and public meeting had to be performed in French.
People speaking in dialect or speaking in French with a strong accent were systematically mocked and even bullied by many (ethnic) French people.
Consequently, in my region, German has inexorably declined to such an extent that nowadays, people younger than I (I’m 30 years old) only speak French. It seems now doomed to disappear.
While modern Britain finances bilingual schools English/Welsh and does everything it can for allowing this language to survive, France of 2015 consistently refuses to compensate for the cultural genocides of the past by allowing bilingualism in private schools and administrations.
No, countless politicians hold fast to the dogma that French is the only tongue which ought to be used. Many of them still view dialects as a threat (which is disgustingly absurd since in many cases they’re spoken by less than 10% of the local population).
Now, does that situation mean that someone bullying a French person for defending French is less heinous than a French person bullying someone for defending a dialect?
It is true that in the second case, the misdeed is built upon a history of institutionalized discrimination.
Nevertheless, I firmly believe that both acts should be exposed and condemned.
I’m far from being a saint in that respect. A while ago, a Frenchman started an action against Anglicisms invading the French language.
This made me angry and I reacted with harsh words: “What? You destroyed the language of our ancestors and you dare to complain about your language being modified to a small extent by English influence?…”
He answered me that he’s for the preservation of all languages and has never endorsed French repression against dialects.
I then understood I had been unjust while attacking him and saying he was responsible for the destruction of our tongue just by virtue of his being French and loving the French language.
So I went to him and sincerely apologized.
While being an activist defending dialects and combating current French policies, I now openly condemn any hateful assertion about French people coming from my fellow Lorrains and Alsatians (i.e. the inhabitants of my homeland.)
6) To your mind, how does Jesus view the situation?
Suppose that a black and a white woman get (or got) gang-raped owing to their skin color.
Does he feel any less angry (or compassionate) in one case rather than in the other?
At the very least, I believe that His compassion is the same in both situations.
To conclude, I contend that:
a) racial hatred against white people truly exists and it has real physical consequences
b) acts driven by racial hatred should be called for what they are and firmly condemned no matter who the victims and perpetrators are
c) holding this position doesn’t amount to being a white supremacist.
I hope we can have a nice conversation despite our fundamental disagreements about this particular problem. In many of the things I went into, I was not necessarily criticizing your personal views but was making general points.
We should keep in mind that I can’t automatically translate the current situation in France to America and you can’t automatically assume to know how things in Western Continental Europe look like.
(That’s not an accusation, just a remark. )
There are many historical and cultural concepts which greatly differ (for instance, Arabs tend to be much more often victims of discrimination than Blacks in France).
I do believe we should all strive for a society where ethnicity no longer plays any role in terms of advantages and hurdles for living one’s life. I’m convinced this demands fighting impartially hate towards innocent people who never asked to be born with their skin color.
I think that issues concerning the shape reparations should take and positive discrimination are very complex ones and I have not (yet) any firm position in that respect.
It was about my pointing out that anti-white racism is real and should be combated as much as any other kind of racism.
While I don’t necessarily agree with everything she wrote, I find her thoughts really profound.
I have come to think that part of the reason we have failed in the Western world to handle the problem of race productively is because we don’t really understand the problem we are dealing with. We tend to think of racism as interpersonal animus motivated by an irrational dislike for certain races. So the answer must be to fight this interpersonal animus where ever it shows up. However, as we have seen, this isn’t all that effective.
The thing is that back when racism was motivated by this sort of irrational hostility towards a group of people based on race, people didn’t just walk around being nasty to certain groups. They actually set policy which had as its goal putting certain groups at a disadvantage and not allowing them to escape that disadvantage. Often this was done openly for the benefit of the dominant group. For example, it was quite common for discussions of employment to revolve around the need to protect jobs for white men, thus justifying discriminating against women and people of color. We tend to think that these discussions from the past aren’t particularly relevant to the present since we no longer engage in that sort of thinking. However, that doesn’t mean that the problems created by the past go away all by themselves. A good example of this is housing discrimination. After WWII, while white Americans were able to buy houses using the GI Bill, neighborhoods where African Americans were allowed to buy homes were excluded from eligibility for GI loans and other conventional forms of financing. When African Americans figured out ways to buy homes anyways, realtors and bankers engaged in shady practices which resulted in many African Americans losing their homes and those who didn’t were left with homes that were worth less than people had paid for them. Those who lost their homes or never could manage to get a house, were forced into unsafe, poorly serviced neighborhoods. And this is how we ended up with our crime ridden inner cities. We forced people to live there and then blamed them for not being able to overcome all the obstacles placed in their way. So that’s a problem which we created and which is still with us today. But because we think that racism is only about whether one particular person is nice to another particular person, we don’t really understand how unsafe minority communities are the result of racism, much less what to do about it. A lot of people don’t even understand why we might have an obligation to do something, in fact. So we don’t.
Then there’s the fact that people rarely dislike other groups of people for purely irrational reasons anymore. Generally, they have reasons they dislike other people. They don’t like the way they act, talk, dress, their attitudes, their morals, etc, etc, etc. So a lot of people feel like they are being forced to pretend that what they find unacceptable is not problematic for the sake of PC. However, what I have learned is that the things that people are most likely to point to as legitimate reasons for disapproving of another group of people was the direct result of a wrong done to them or their people and a set of insurmountable obstacles they were facing. For example, I have known some of these infamous black men who have children with multiple women, wind up in jail, etc, etc. Every single one of them suffered horrendous abuse growing up. (I am completely convinced that it should be possible to look at any pathologies present in any given African American family and trace them directly back to their people’s experiences during slavery. Women who were raped by their owners did not go on to have healthy relationships with other men. Men beaten by their owners and overseers did not go on to raise their children with patience and time-outs.) All of these men were raised without dads. (The US government went through a period where it would not provide assistance to families with a man in the home. So we’re not innocent in creating that situation.) All of them had witnessed terrible violence both inside and outside the home while growing up. They usually desperately want the love and approval of a woman, but have poor relationship skills and they are attracted to women with similar trauma histories who also have poor relationship skills. These men didn’t just wake up from comfortable lives one day and decide to act an ass. They needed help long before they got to the point of impregnating people and causing trouble. But we have nothing but contempt for these men.
At the end of the day, I think that we simply have not faced the depth of the damage done by our racist past. What we see as increasing levels of pathology, immorality and the like are actually the fruit of seeds planted in our societies long ago reaching harvest time. I think that once we understand the problems that way, we can start finding practical solutions that will make a real difference. But Americans are obscenely immature. Any solution that starts with having compassion on someone who they don’t think deserves compassion is a no-go. Poor Americans vote Republican because they believe in a world where good people get rewarded and bad people get punished. It’s a fantasy, but one that they put their trust in because, after all, they are good people. So if those who share their belief that good people should be rewarded are in charge, they will be rewarded. Or at least they will be able to take some satisfaction in knowing that the bad people (who just so happen to be disproportionately African American) get punished.
Anyhow, sorry this is super long, but it’s a complex topic and one that I’m convinced is generally poorly understood.
There is absolutely no doubt that the white dominant class in America committed atrocious crimes whose consequences can still be felt.
I certainly want justice to be achieved and the wounds of the past to be healed.
Interestingly enough, France has a similar history concerning the housing policy.
After World War II, French capitalists fostered a massive immigration of workers from their Arabic and black African colonies. They did that because this manpower could be paid much less than the salary they would have had to give to Europeans. They decided to put all of them into public housing apartments plagued by poverty and bad life standards.
It was sheer madness to have massively imported workers with a very different cultural background, concentrated them within poor suburbs with awful life conditions, discriminated them and then expected that everything would be just fine.
That said, I must also emphasize that I reject the idea of a collective culpability of the white race (if there really is such a thing in the first place).
I once discussed with a former colleague from Morocco and I told her:
“Racism hasn’t any color. The seeds of hatred, intolerance, bigotry and xenophobia can take root everywhere” and I then went on evoking the case of French children being bullied in schoolyards owing to their being white.
She became really angry.
“But haven’t you seen what France did to us? Aren’t you aware of all the horrors they inflicted to us during the colonial time?”
I wasn’t willing to engage an unproductive verbal fight and so I just left.
While she isn’t an evil person by any means, her words (reflecting what countless people think) are extremely offensive from a moral standpoint.
To see how, let us first consider what a Jewish prophet loudly proclaimed 1600 years ago.
This ancient text is extremely strong in that it went against the widespread concept that children of wicked people should be retributed for the misdeeds of their parents or that their current suffering was a divine punishment (a notion which can, incidentally, be found in other Biblical passages).
More than twenty centuries later, this very notion hasn’t been erased everywhere, alas.
The conversation I had with my former colleague is a sad example of this state of affairs.
If punishing children for the crimes of their parents is morally abhorrent, how much more horrendous is it to bully and hurt someone just because he or she has the same skin color as a group of oppressors.
It is depressing that if anyone dares to speak out about the reality of anti-whit racism, the Slaves of Political Correctness (SPC) shoot from the hip and become morally indignant.
I’m convinced that far from promoting peace, their fanatical denial of this phenomenon fosters a vicious circle of hatred.
Indeed, white folks who have been victim of such hateful acts are likely to join far-right groups after having been ignored or even ridiculed by all mainline politically correct parties.
I’m persuaded that a society where skin color no longer plays any role can only be created through a battle against every kind of hate regardless of its source and object.