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Why Does This Keep Happening? Part II

Years ago, when John Stossel was one of the hosts of the ABC news show 20/20, he did a eye-opening report about race.  Drawing upon scientific research, he argued that human beings—all of us—are inclined by nature to be “racist”.  This doesn’t mean we are consciously and overtly racist, but that we have a deep, built-in awareness of “difference”, of “otherness”.  We instinctively notice differences in others, one of which—especially since it’s so obvious—is race.

This is a product of natural selection.  It’s a survival instinct, a remnant from earlier periods when group identity could mean the difference between life and death.  In order to survive, we needed to form alliances with those who were like us.   Tragically, this makes us tribal by nature.  Tragically, this fills us with an “us versus them” mentality.  Tragically, this becomes disastrous for modern race relations.

Dramatically, Stossel showed how immediately and intuitively we notice all the ways someone we encounter for the first time is different from us.  Within seconds, mostly subconsciously, we put people into different categories according to these differences.  We don’t just do this along racial lines.  We are wired to identify and classify people according to all kinds of differences.  No matter what kind of group you put us in, we have a natural tendency to notice “otherness” and “tribalize” on the basis of it.

I can tell you from personal experience that if you put a group of white, male, Irish-American firefighters in a room together we will quickly break into cliques.  We will instinctively find a way to define one group over another—us versus them—whether that’s by whose more loyal, or who are the more aggressive firefighters, or some other “otherness” that distinguishes us.  As humans, we are simply wired to do this sort of thing. 

Last week, based on something Jesus says in John 9, I suggested that the reason incidents like the despicable murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer keep happening is because we are blind to our racial biases.  Stossel’s report seems to verify this.  At its root, what keeps happening is not simply a policing problem; it’s a societal problem, a human problem—most police officers are wonderful, heroic people, but they’re also affected by the same biases we all share. 

Last week I also suggested that what Jesus says in John 9 provides the way forward.  It’s so simple: admit we’re blind!  Admit we can’t see our biases.  Admit that we need healing.  Then, He promises, He will heal us.  He will enable us to see.    

By the way, Stossel came to a similar conclusion in his report.  The only way around this deeply imbedded tribal instinct is to acknowledge it; to admit the tendency and vigilantly monitor how it might be subconsciously affecting our attitudes and behaviors. 

One of the things I appreciate more and more about Christianity is how realistic it is.  It identifies the true state of the human condition, which is the only way to address and transform the human condition.  Traditionally, this is known as the doctrine of original sin—the radical inclination to self-absorption and self-preservation, which implies a blindness and indifference toward others—a teaching unique to Christianity. 

Faced with the tragic reality of racism, this spiritual brokenness at the core of the human heart is the only good explanation for why this keeps happening.  But it is also our only hope for changing the equation, for finding a way forward and healing the divisions.

Since I believe with all my heart that at its root this is a spiritual problem, acknowledging our inclination to be blind to other people and their experiences is critical to understanding how to solve it.  That’s why I believe Jesus is calling us to radical humility; not to spout simplistic slogans, or to think we have the answer, or to protest that we play no role in it, but in all humility to listen—to really listen, deeply—to one another and seek with all our heart to understand other people’s experiences. 

Next week I’ll share a powerful experience I had in the wake of Ferguson.  It opened my eyes to some of my racial biases, biases I was sure I didn’t have.  But the format of this discussion also allowed me to begin to overcome some of these biases—I’m sure I have many more.  It enabled me to really hear, at a deep level, other people’s experiences, and then experience the healing power of Christ transform my understanding.

So, what do you think of Stossel’s “thesis”?  I’d love to hear what you think!  You can go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and leave your comments there.  I continue to pray that we have the courage to admit our biases and the wisdom and humility to let Christ heal them.

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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