Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

A Christian Alternative to (Christian) Racism and Antisemitism [*]

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

A Christian Alternative to (Christian) Racism and Antisemitism [*]

Article excerpt

PRECIS

This Is an effort to show that fundamental Christian principles repudiate racism and Antisemitism. Acknowledging that both attitudes have been part of Christian history and that the root of the Christian anti-Jewish sentiment is in the Gospels, this essay argues that these outlooks are contrary to the Christian vision that Jesus "re-presents," but does not exclusively constitute, the one God who Is the ground and end of all beings. To have faith In this God, as thus represented by Jesus, as the one in whom we all live and move and have our being is to be liberated from the idolatries of exclusivism and ethnocentrism.

The first and most obvious point to make about racism generally and about the specific form it takes in one's prejudicial attitudes and behavior toward African-Americans and Jews is that it is simply wrong: It is harmful, poisonous, and sinful. Caricatures and stereotyping derived from ignorance bred from fear of that which is different (xenophobia), the perpetuation of language that reinforces negative attitudes, half-truths and out-and-out lies, and the erection of and participation in social, economic, and political structures that exclude individuals from realizing their fullest potential because of membership in a group, even where it is not clearly illegal-are all immoral.

Having made this necessary first and obvious remark, I am also compelled by candor to confess how difficult it is to extricate oneself from deeply ingrained cultural biases, from habits of mind and language that provide easy and quick answers, and from structures that benefit oneself materially even as they deprive others of their liberties and the just rewards of their labor. Many persons have worked unceasingly for decades to bring about attitudinal and structural changes with few tangible results. Perhaps the clearest lesson to have been learned is that not only are most persons deeply resistant to change, blind to the merits of those who differ from them, and short-sighted concerning the great benefits that accrue to society by the redistribution of goods but also that the society's problems are so deep and complex as to yield no easy solutions.

Therefore, when I reflect on the difficulty of providing sound practical solutions to the problems of entrenched and frequently institutionalized racism, I become increasingly convinced of the necessity to return to first principles for critical examination. Of course, I am not insensitive to the charge that this can be just another dodge to avoid doing the obvious. Lessing had Nathan the Wise declare: "I would have you learn that pious ecstasies are easier far than righteous action. Slack and feeble souls, e'en when themselves unconscious of their case, are prone to godly raptures, if by these they may eschew the toil of doing good." [1] Yet, consider how often so-called practical people fail because they practice the errors that a previous generation took for common sense. Thus, if one is to be genuinely practical in the ordering of human affairs, one must constantly reexamine the fundamental ideas and ideals that lie at the base of the common human endeavor. In order to develop plans that have any chance of working one needs to derive the practical "ought" from a fundamental "is." One needs to get clear what ideas lie at the foundation of tradition and what are the historically relative, merely culturally conditioned accretions. To apply first principles to the ordering of right conduct in changing circumstances one must be as clear about the first principles as about the changing circumstances. George Mason applied this insight to the shaping of democracy in the Virginia Declaration of Rights when he wrote: "That no free Government, or the blessing of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles." [2]

The fundamental principles that I would have us examine as a basis for reordering human relations equably are Christian principles. …

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