Fr. James (Slippery Jim) Martin S.J. has tweeted: “Racism is a sin.” Fr Martin is usually quite strong on the “Do Not Judge” theme, and doesn’t usually talk about sin very much. So in our decadent and indifferent age it’s refreshing to hear a priest discuss sin in the public square.
I agree with Fr Martin that racism is a sin, but it is worth examining this statement a bit further because racism, as such, has never featured in the classic lists of deadly sins, nor is it listed in the Ten Commandments. It does make it into the Catechism of the Catholic Church. (para. 1934-35)
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.
The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it:
Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.
By why is racism a sin? It’s a sin because it denies the essential dignity of the human person created in God’s image who therefore has equal dignity before God.
However, I think racism has a deeper and more insidious aspect which is rooted in pride. What are we doing when we are prejudiced against another person because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sex or social status? We’re not only putting that person down. We’re putting ourselves up at their expense. We’re saying, “I’m better than you.”
What is most disturbing is that this is the default setting of the human race. We instinctively assume that we are right. We are better. We are more righteous. We are superior. This pride is at the heart of racism and it is the most insidious of all sins because we are usually blind to it.
Furthermore, this assumed superiority is most often linked with the blame game. Not only am I better than you, not only am I and my tribe superior, but if there is a problem YOU must be the problem. Why? Simply because you are inferior. Thus the cynical cycle of scapegoating boils and coils on. Racism is only one step away from scapegoating and bloodshed.
So, while it is a good thing to call out racism, we should realize that racism is only one manifestation of a far deeper and more profound human condition. It is one snaky head of the Hydra. Remember that mythical beast? It was a terrible dragon with many heads. Cut one off and two more grow back in its place.
This deeper problem of pride manifests itself in many other ways. Whenever we judge another person and put ourselves up as we put them down we feed the Hydra beast. We do this through gossip, detraction, suspicion and blame.
Here is the final irony: because racism is the only sin left in our society it has itself become the tool of the Hydra Beast. Therefore, if you want to judge someone, put yourself up by putting them down, if you want to gather a self righteous mob, pander to the crowd and rise above it all as the great and righteous one, then you have the perfect tool: call the other person a racist.
It doesn’t matter if they really are a racist or not. With that term you can throw mud at anyone with whom you disagree. “Racist” can be used against someone who disapproves of your lifestyle. “Racist” can be used to smear someone who holds different political opinions. “Racist” can be used to persecute someone who follows a different religion. “Racist” can be used to attack someone with a conventional gender identity.
One can therefore be extremely “racist” by using the term “racist” in a meaningless way.
Racism is certainly a sin, but the fact of the matter is that in its typical hyperventilated use, it is really no more than a mask for the underlying philosophy of anarchy.
The racism accusation can be a mask for “I will do what I want and you may not judge me for it, and if you do you are racist.”
This is the slogan of the 1968 revolution: “It is forbidden to forbid.” This is the creed of Wicca: “Do what thou will.”
The self indulgent social justice warriors then use “racism” not only as their main weapon of attack, they also use it as the means of promoting themselves as victims. Does someone disapprove of your lifestyle or choices? Scream “racism!” and launch into your crybaby bully mode.
Everybody will back off for fear of being labeled “racist” and should anyone push back just yell “racist!” even louder.
The worst thing about this generalized and distorted use of the term “racism” is that it weakens the concept and waters it down to such an extent that real racism, religious prejudice, social injustice and inequality goes un noticed.
In other words, because of the abuse of the concept of racism….real racism thrives.
And this makes the Hydra very happy.