Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”
— Romans 3:16-17
Outside ideologies and philosophies can inform us, but they should never be the masters of our political action.
— Justin Giboney
This article is one more in a series on the subject of racism and slavery in American history. Current events provoked these reflections. Thinking independently, fundamental to a Christian Mind, followed.
I founded this series with God as ultimate, that he is the only One who sees clearly and will bring about cosmic justice. Next to God, man is the most noble of beings. No other life form compares. Individual human beings are freighted with value beyond all the world.
It is that bad
My initial conclusion is this: God hates the sin of dehumanizing another. Why does he hate it? It is right that he takes offense. Because hatred for God’s image is hatred of God. To treat any image bearer with prejudice, contempt, or violence is to insult their Maker.
However, it is not enough to say it is bad. Right now, prominent voices scream that the darkness of slavery and white supremacy in the USA are unique in history. Such judgment is soaked in what is called presentism. That is the error of standing in ignorance of past events and cultures, and then judging them by our culture. Presentists presumes they are morally superior to all the dead. They believe that if they had been there, they would have done better because they are better. As Alan Jacobs puts it:
There is an increasing sense not just that the past is sadly in error, is superannuated and irrelevant and full of foul ideas that we’re well rid of, but that it actually defiles us—its presence makes us unclean.
This is self-deception. There is no evidence in our present behavior that merits this conclusion, especially with regard to dehumanizing. Rather, we have simply changed the objects of our scorn. In the case of slavery, racism, and brutalizing others, it is safe to say our nation’s history and present life shows we have no more or less character than millennia of those who went before us.
It is everywhere, at all times, in every person
Enslaving another human, and treating others like discard-able property, is as old as recorded history. Conquerors subjected the conquered to bondage. Those in power dominated and humiliated the underclass. Strong men were useful for work, strong women as sex objects. Boys and girls for sexual exploitation.
Beginning with the Babylonians, laws governed the treatment of slaves, the penalties for disobedience, and the consequences of helping free someone from slavery. One historian summarizes:
Make no mistake, though: slaves were always considered property to be traded, bought, and sold. For millennia, wherever people were buying and selling things, slave markets existed. “Slaves were the closest thing to a universal currency in trading centers,” observes Steven Johnson in his recent book about piracy, The Enemy of All Mankind. 
American slavery is one case among thousands. Granted, it was one of the more heinous expressions of this universal impulse to dominate another person. But it was not original in its cruelty. To view slavery and white supremacy in our own history, we must look at our own family tree. To make a point, this practice was so universal that it is not unreasonable to say that it is highly likely that every one of us is a descendant of slaves, slave traders, or slave owners. 
Think about that.
Now let’s think about what could possibly motivate one human to own and use another for their own purpose and pleasure.
You may have noticed I have lumped slavery and racism into a larger category. The general ethical category is malice. Malice is a desire to do harm to others. When we act in malice we cause pain and enjoy doing so. Malice is pervasive, especially in its more acceptable forms.
We start young. Just today I helped a parent who watched her 3 year old being mocked and excluded from a game by 5 year olds. What about how sometimes a child “plays” with a living thing by dismembering it, or a crowd of teenagers takes pleasure in excluding the “uncool” person from their circle? Or the politician’s advisors who plot the release of half-truths to smear their opponents and then rejoice at its effectiveness?
That is what malice looks like.
Malice malice everywhere
This is exactly what God says we should expect. Paul the Apostle writes:
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” (Titus 3:3 ESV)
Malice and envy, hateful and hating: these vices color the lifestyle of every living person in every culture of the globe. We are slaves of our inner desires. Those desires cause us to plan and enjoy harming others. It is our deepest nature to resent anyone who outshines us (envy). Consequently, we wish we could rid the world of the hassle and annoyance of other people (hate).
Surely this is exaggerated
Am I being cynical? If anything, I think I am making an understatement. Yes, image bearers are capable of remarkable acts of service. Granted, we may exercise self-control so that we do not express our malice in public. But when we drop our guard, enter into relationships that are intimate, or are in a place where no one else can see, we meet our inner hater. Listen to your thoughts and muttered words. Hear the antipathy. Whether in contemptuous words or gestures, or in violence – we are filled with malice.
OK, you say, but aren’t you distracting from the ssue before us: our history and present practice of racism? Not at all, I am just putting it in a larger picture. The Warmth of Other Suns is an accurate record of the malice of American white supremacy toward people of a different skin color. Various incidents of discrimination in our own day are more of the same. But unless I put these vile deeds in a larger context. I will mis-characterize them. Or worse yet, I will absolve myself of guilt for the exact same wrongs.
But why are we malicious?
I assert that we are all filled with antipathy to others. We ooze malice. But why is this so? I think the teaching of the Bible about evil and sin is the best explanation.
Let’s start with individuals, with you or me. The Bible says sin is not merely a behavior. It is a disposition, primarily opposition to God. Sin weighs the value of the true God and finds he is not worth our attention or trust. As a result, we defy God and despise God. “Get your laws off my body” is our life’s message to our Creator.
But why do we do this? We defy God because we would be as God. We are God imposters. Our hope is to be hailed as King or Queen of the realm. Imagining people hailing our greatness and bending to our power gives us pleasure. Everyone wants to be something like a rock star. That was the original temptation: “Get rid of this being called God, assert yourself, be independent, and you will be as god.”
Our forbears offer us tested insight. Great philosophers and theologians looked deeply into human motivations. What they perceived is the root of sin. In Latin they named it curvatus in se, i.e. everything in our lives turns in our ourselves. It is all about me. We expect everyone to serve us. Our life is about looking out for Number One — me.
Enough of my talking about me, what do you think of me? (Bette Midler, in Beaches)
No shared medals
How does this lead to malice? Simply out, we tolerate no competitors. The throne has room for one.
Let me use an illustration. The old Western movies almost always included these kinds of words between the bad guy and the sheriff:
There ain’t enough room in this town for the two of us.
I could not do a better job of distilling what each of us, left to ourselves, says to God. He is the problem. He needs to go away. We are the King of the Hill.
When you can’t get your hands on him
But that is easier said than done. He is invisible and inaccessible. This means we cannot get our hands around God’s neck. Nor are we able to banish him from his creation. But we can do the next best thing: we can destroy his image. His image is other people.
But that other person has the exact same purpose. You see, they too think they are god. Each believes that there is not enough room in our worlds for the two of us. One of us has to go.
This means that every person views everyone else as a threat to their kingdom.
Simply put, our driving ambition is to stand in the place of God and be worshiped by others. We brook no rivals. We oppose all who get in our way.
The deadly competition
There is only one rule in this deadly competition: do whatever you can to come out on top and also to appear virtuous. If you must kill, cover your tracks. No one wants to praise a murderer. Do it with your tongue or do it in private.
Surely, you say, this is going too far. Things are not all that bad. All we need to do is love each other. Isn’t that what Jesus said?
The sentimental God to the rescue
It is amusing to me that people who have not read the Bible are so certain that it is a book about love, filled with inspiring proverbs and moral platitudes. Au contraire. Few books are more bold in unmasking the darkness of our human story. The opening book contains account of murder, rape, incest, sexual perversion, deceit, revenge, greed, theft, sibling rivalry, lies and cover-up, and parental favoritism.
Case in point: The first son of the first parents of the human race killed his brother. There was no development of evil and hate. This family system did not develop over generations. There was no time to become oppressors and oppressed.
What was the offense? The younger brother did the unthinkable. He made the older brother look bad. That was unacceptable. So, Cain murdered Abel. He did not negotiate. He did not seek reconciliation. He did not forgive. He killed him dead.
The god players
Still not convinced?
A number of years ago I read a book by a case worker in a psychiatric institute. Each day he faced some of the more extreme instances of psychological illness. But over the years he observed one common theme: every one of the people he treated had a god complex. They were god-players. They always knew the truth and refused to learn, were always right and never apologized. Their image of themselves was as the one wronged, always being denied what they deserved.
Is there anything about that description that does not fit your own observations? Really. Read the news feeds. Watch your neighbors. Cutting closer to the bone – look at your own life. Are we not all primarily interested in ourselves?
Yes, I know we get in a lather about this or the other moral cause. Our bumpers are platforms for virtue signaling. These days it is justice, and equality. But set aside your virtue signaling. How are you doing at virtue living? Do the people you live with find you to be a paragon of selfless love, showing respect for everyone 24/7? How many black people do you count as friends? Would they say you treat them as though their life matters? I know greed is bad, but is it your pattern of life to live on as little as you can and to give away as much as you can?
Cosmic King of the Hill
As a child I used to play King of the Hill. There was a terrace in our back yard. Our neighborhood gang would stand at the bottom as the game began. One of us shouted, “Go!,” and we would run to the top, fighting with each other to be the only person standing at the peak. What followed was usually sweat, groans, shouts, wrestling, shoving, and finally exhaustion. At regular intervals the competition escalated, and a fight broke out.
That childhood game is a metaphor for all of life. We play King of the Hill and occasionally a real fight breaks out. It’s called war. Wars are fought with lawyers or weapons. Presently two political parties and their candidates are in a national war in which one or the other will be the victor. If you had not noticed, this is not a friendly competition.
As it was in the beginning is now . . .
Study history. This is as it has always been. Conqueror and conquered. Strong and weak. Powerful and helpless. Educated elites and ignorant masses. Wealthy and poor. The list is endless. We are all controlled by a will to power. Fight for equality? Hah! Not one of us could bear with equality. In the end, George Orwell put the truth in the mouths of us all:
Orwell wrote this as a comment on Stalin’s communist regime in the Soviet Union. In the name of equality, he ascended to absolute power, using that power to murder anyone who withstood him. We will reign. Our will shall be done. Our kingdom come. Everyone else will bow to me.
So how does this apply to racism?
Such combat to be King of the Hill demands conquest. But we insist that we must look good in the process. Who wants to be known as a vicious dictator? The one who wins the game must at least appear to keep the rules. Our imaginations work overtime to accomplish this. We have to find some way to justify our evil actions.
How do we do that? Simply put, we discern how the other people in the game deserve subjugation to me. One of the ruses we deploy is to see them as “different.” From this, we build a case that this difference makes us superior and them inferior, or makes us the victim entitled to revenge.
If we are male and they are female, we pity their weakness. If we are straight and they are gay, we consider them deviant. If they are the oppressors, we are the unjustly oppressed. Once we justify our cause, any action we take is defensible.
What the differences are does not matter; skin color, customs, culture, education, language, religion, nationality, sex, personal history, and social standing are all suitable means for comparing ourselves to them in our favor. Comparison is essential and we always come out on top.
Thus the language of white supremacy
Wilkerson cites the rationale of the white supremacist for Jim Crow. Quoting a man who became Governor of Mississippi in the early 1900’s:
“The only effect of Negro education,” he said, “is to spoil a good field hand and make an insolent cook.”
That drips with comparison, superiority and domination, doesn’t it? Or take this from the Vice-president of the Confederacy, justifying the reason for secession as a defense of:
“the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.”
To reiterate what I have said earlier: this is vile. It is also universal. But it is child’s play to substitute our preferred object of derision into the sentence. We all do this. For example, think of this sentence: “People who think like that do not deserve at seat at the table.” Sound familiar? It all sounds an awful lot like self-justification for acts of malice and cruelty based on comparison.
Plain and simple, and universal too
Practitioners of racism, white supremacy, and chattel slavery face the fierce opposition of God to the blasphemy and desecration of his image bearers. That is all. That is more than enough. Who can stand when he appears?
Christ calls me to give this candid assessment of the dark stain in our history. Were it around in my church today, he would call me to correct it to the fullest extent of God’s means in the church.
Scripture explains where it comes from. God looks beyond causes founded on race or culture or religion. If only we could identify the bad people. Then we could find a way to rid the world of them. But the line between the good and the evil runs through each of us. Every holy war ever fought with dirty hands.
The root of those expressions of dominance and contempt are everywhere in every person. When we take too narrow a view of history, we can think that this particular expression of evil is of its own kind, darker than all others before it.
The end to self-righteousness
Christianity offers a unique us moral clarity and a chastened humility. How can I be contemptuous of the contemptuous if I am as polluted with malice as they? Self-righteousness will bear the bad fruit of wrong-headed solutions.
Malice is a problem rooted more deeply in us than our DNA. Only a force greater than any human power can change that. That force is the exalted Jesus.
I have been an eyewitness to his power. Sinhalese and Tamil peoples, bred for hatred of each other, find unity in the power of Christ. Black militants and white supremacists find unity in Jesus. Adults who hated each other, admit their wrong, ask for forgiveness, and reconcile. A power comes upon them which breaks the force of malice.
Climbing to the bottom
Christianity is not at all about power and domination. God changes us inside out, not by coercion or threat. He wins us by the beauty of his love.
Christ Jesus played a “bottom of the hill” game. He said that he did not come to climb, but to stoop. Unlike us, he stooped all the way to a shameful death for the proud. This came at a price; he endured contempt from arrogant us, to rescue us from pride. Greatness in his kingdom is found in the one who follows him to serve as many as possible.
The Christian Mind and an independent voice
God’s people should be alert to the King of the Hill game, starting within the church. Overt malice is rare in the church. But not indifference. Indifference is just another form of malice.
Are we aware of people who are invisible? Marginalized? It could be someone living in near poverty for whom an additional expense of an event in not workable. Do we plan with them in mind? Or take the case of a single parent? Or a family with a disabled child?
This also speaks to our public voice. In our role as citizens, we should refuse to submit to the choices demanded by political parties. In a recent book, Compassion (&) Conviction, the authors say Christians are put into a bind when they are asked:
Do you advocate social justice or family values? Do you support women or are you against abortion? Do you love the poor or do you believe in personal responsibility?
Do you feel the bind? These are not either-or choices. But they are what politics demand of us. I have felt this double bind for years. I submitted my vote and voice to a political party. Worse than that, I allowed politics to shape my view of moral and justice issues. I made either/or choices. But that is unfaithful to God. God addresses these questions with a both/and.
Christians should say, “I support social justice, morality, and family values. I don’t affirm ungodly behavior, nor do I hate the individual; I affirm the human dignity of all people. I love and care for the poor, and I believe in personal responsibility.”
But what about systemic racism and structural evil?
My next post will address that topic. Once again, I think Scripture provides a clear view of how these develop.
 Jacobs, Alan. Breaking Bread with the Dead (p. 12). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Slavery is still rampant. For example, it is estimated that there are 4.5 million sex slaves in the world today. See https://bit.ly/31keGjR
 The Warmth of Other Suns (p. 51). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 The Warmth of Other Suns (p. 74). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Giboney, Justin. Compassion (&) Conviction (p. 38). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.
 Giboney, Justin. Compassion (&) Conviction (pp. 40-41). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.