Monday, January 21, 2013

Confronting the sin of racism

I don't usually dive into the topic of racism on this blog, and I've never particularly done so on the day set aside to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Part of that is because, like most people, I'm aware that Dr. King is still a subject of controversy 44 years after his assassination.  There are people who believe that he was the embodiment of good in the struggle for racial equality; there are people who believe he was a Communist bent on destroying America; and there are people who fall anywhere in between those two viewpoints.  I tend to think of him as a flawed hero of a movement that was right and just, an attempt to overcome the sin of racism in America.

Is racism a sin?  The Catechism says this:

1934 Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.

1935 The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it:

It should be evident that to treat another human being as inferior or unwelcome solely because of his racial origins or the color of his skin is to fail to treat him as another self, a neighbor.  Racism is sinful because by it we objectify a human person to be nothing more than what our stereotypes and prejudices tell us he is, and to dehumanize him whether by open and undeserved hostility or hidden and silent neglect or indifference.

I was a bit shocked reading some of the comments at Rod Dreher's blog on some discussions of race recently, especially when a commenter who says he is a Catholic can say something like this:
This is why I have been convinced, for quite some time, that the wrong side won the Civil War, and that the wrong side prevailed in the so-called “Civil Rights” conflicts. Human beings are not “equal”, and when a society tries to make them “equal”, they are then left not free. Apparently, this society made up its mind that Equal is better than Free. Except when it comes to the getting of Free Stuff.

Score another one for the misguided, wrong-headed, pernicious and fundamentally evil notion of Human “equality”. The acolytes of this concept have so, so very much to answer for, enough to condemn them to a very hot Place for a very, very long time.
I can't say enough how reprehensible and contrary to real Catholic teaching the above sentiment is.  It might be one thing to have sane, sensible discussions as to whether or not specific elements of some affirmative action policy or other are appropriate or go too far or are becoming counter-productive; it is another thing altogether to denounce the very notion of equality as "evil," as though our African-American brothers and sisters in Christ are by the very fact of their racial heritage unworthy to share a place at our tables, a pew in our churches, or a desk in the offices where we work.

It floors me to realize how much ugly racism can be spouted with a veneer of gentle civility by my Christian neighbors, but when I find such things emanating from my fellow Catholics I grow quite angry.  My fellow Catholics have the clear guidance of the Church on the issue of racism; they have no excuse.


Charlotte said...

I will be blogging soon a similar topic, from a different perspective.

That being said, the whole anti-Jew thing that surrounds the SSPX is deeply disturbing to me. It's the same, essentially, as the anti-black thing. And quite honestly, the person who left that comment that you quoted could very likely be an SSPX type anyway. I would not be surprised to find that white supremacists were hanging out in extreme far-right Catholic bubbles. Not surprised one bit.

When I say this I *AM NOT* painting all SSPXers and similar as one in the same when it comes to race. I'm just saying that they are part of that mix and I have to question what it is about extreme/radical traditional Catholicism that attracts those types.

By the way, the word captcha is very hard for me to read, I have to refresh it sometimes 6 or 7 times to get one I can understand. I really dislike it.

Red Cardigan said...

Sorry about the captcha! I have no control over it at all. Hmmm--at least, not that I know of. I'll look into it.

Rebecca in ID said...


Maureen said...

What a jackass.

Tony said...

The statement: "The wrong side won the civil war" seems to imply that our black brothers and sisters should have remained in slavery. This may not be what the commenter intended.

Lincoln's actions (whether you believe they were valid or not) were still unconstitutional and illegal. It was a direct attack on state's rights, and forbidden by the 10th amendment to the Constitution.

That having been said, each of us have different God-given talents. Some are more marketable than others. Some of us earn more than others. Some of us are more frugal with what we earn so we accumulate more. Some of us are just plain luckier than others.

The government seems to want to make us equal by taking away what some of us earned and giving it to some of us who have not earned it.

I think that is what the commenter is objecting to.

M. Jordan Lichens said...

When I actively blogged I had to devote time every day with deleting anti-semitic and racist comments. It came down to me having to post several warnings to readers that I would publish their email and IP addresses if they didn't stop.

Strange thing was, I never posted about race. The only thing I could think that would attract such vagrants was that I was critical of Israel and America's foreign policy and at the same time loving the Latin Mass and the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom. To this day, I remain disturbed.

Turmarion said...

Totally agreed, Erin. Since I've been in the blogosphere for the last few years, two things have struck me. One, some of the views expressed by Catholics--such as the one you note here. I've seen much worse, btw. I've seen some Traditionalists and extreme conservatives argue that slavery isn't intrinsically evil, that burning heretics was good in the context of the Middle Ages and in principle still could be, and that God's hatred of unregenerate humanity is the flip side of His love. Truly appalling.

The second thing is that there seem to be an awful lot people expressing views like those you drew attention to, and much worse, over at Rod's blog. Maybe it's just me, but there seem to be a lot more of them over there than on his older blogs.

It is sad, frustrating, and totally astounding to me that there are people, many of them supposedly Christians, running around with views like this in this day and age. The mind boggles.

Glaivester said...

Well, as far as equality goes, it depends on what you mean by it. Equal dignity, equal fundamental rights, sure. But I don't think that all abilities are spread out equally amongst all groups (whether we are talking race, sex, sexual orientation, etc.) and any attempts at confronting racism should deal with that.

As for Turmarion's comment "I've seen some Traditionalists and extreme conservatives argue that slavery isn't intrinsically evil," I guess my thought is that while perpetual multi-generational slavery is wrong, and racial slavery is wrong, and total chattel slavery is wrong, for much of human history some form of regulated slavery was probably the best option for society in dealing with problems such as captured prisoners, criminals, debtors.

I think the U.S. would have been better off without ever having had chattel slavery (indentured servitude, or enforced servitude as a punishment are a different matter), but I don't know that the ancient world would not have been even more brutal without some form of forced servitude (e.g. punishing crime by imprisonment is expensive, particularly when large numbers of people are just at subsistence; without enslaving a thief to pay off his debts to his victims the other option would likely be execution).

A lot of things that seem brutal to today's eyes were probably justified in a world where "economic downturn" or "going bankrupt" often involved people starving to death. We are fortunate to live in a wealthy enough time that we can choose to avoid these things.