Blaming and Healing

I bumped into the following video yesterday. The well-known commentator begins with the striking question, “Why do white people think they’re so much better than black people?” I recoiled at that thought and applauded her declaration that she “is not OK with it!” Very good. Who, conceivably, could be OK with it?

The video continues along these lines and tells the story of a committed mom defending the value of her adopted kids. Very good. There is a militant tone here, totally appropriate to the defense of children but, when the video was over, I felt unsettled and was not sure why. I watched the video a second time and noticed that, in explaining the origin of her passion, the commentator very reasonably began with her perceived need “to confront my own bias” but moved immediately and confidently to a very different assumption: that her bias was shared by many (most?) Americans, notably “white, straight, married, pastors and upper-middle-class” people, who “have the luxury of not having to care”.

Here I felt, if I may say so, manipulated. I believe that every child is precious, created with purpose and in the image of God. Many Americans share this belief and it provides the foundation for our law and conscience. We (along with many Americans who do not share that belief) cringe at the obvious absurdity of claims that our ethnicity has any connection to our value as people. None of us has the “luxury of not having to care”, and few people would consider such apathy a luxury.

I fear that the commentator’s assumption about her country shares the illogic of the problem she wants to address. Making broad generalizations about people we don’t know is tempting but it’s simply not truthful. And because they are frequently untrue, generalizations create or inflame feelings of injustice. And that — regardless of our intentions — is the path into conflict, not out of it.

It’s a Wonderful Accident

Mary and George are dancing. Their faces glow and their ears are full of music and shouting. They are inside of something fun and exciting, but they are outside of the joke. The shouting and laughter are not, as they suppose, for them. They cannot see what the people around them see, a gaping hole in the floor that will soon send them tumbling down into a pool of water. Mary and George are dancing at a great height and they do not yet know it.

That’s a scene from “It’s a Wonderful Life” and, if you know the movie, you’ll probably understand what I would like to say. I think our nation, like Mary and George, is dancing at a great height. What we consider the floor — our accustomed freedoms and prosperity and civility — is much higher and much weaker than we think.

For years, some have insisted that the phrase “all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” does not imply a creator. It was a hard argument to make, but it was the best they could do at the time. It was the best they could do while people remembered what actually happens in nations that forget the creator.

The idea of a creator made certain things reasonable, including the United States of America. It was reasonable for us to be free because every would-be ruler is only a flawed human being, just like us. It was reasonable to disagree with our neighbors in a civil manner because our neighbors were people of value, just like us. It was reasonable to have mercy on our enemies because they will someday stand before their creator, just like us. It was reasonable to fight for what is right because something was known to be right.

But things have changed. Many Americans have swapped the idea of a thoughtful creator for that of a thoughtless accident, and this has consequences, too. If there is no creator, then men are not created equal. If there is no creator, then men cannot be endowed by their creator with inalienable rights. If there is no Divine Providence, then “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” is just silly. In short, America’s Declaration of Independence — the stated purpose for America’s existence — has been discredited by much of America.

The idea that there is no creator makes a different set of things reasonable. It becomes reasonable to hate our enemies because they are not like us. It becomes reasonable to doubt that we are meaningful or properly made because there is no one to intend our existence. It becomes reasonable to break up a child and sell the pieces — even when the child feels the agony of its own dismemberment — because children have no inherent value. It becomes reasonable to do what we please with any power we can gather because one person’s rules are as good as another’s.

Rome did not fall in a day, nor do we, but you feel the tremors. Violence, in word and deed, replaces debate. Arguments are waged with wrath, and not reason. Our leaders pervert law and pervert truth. The ties that once bound us are daily cut. The floor is cracking, and we have far to fall. We dance, like Mary and George, accompanied by the normal roar of life, stepping ever nearer that final step.