“One of us.” 1001 robots standing deathly still in a warehouse say at the same time. The scene is from I, Robot a film loosely based on Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics.” There is one particular robot in hiding within a group. The other 1000 know which one it is but are unable to directly answer the question, “Which one?” It is a creepy scene. The most creepy part is the apparent mindlessness of 1000 individual artificial intelligences.
I saw a photograph on the wall in the office of one of my church members. George W. Bush was billed on it as “one of us.” What on earth did that mean? What did the members of my congregation have in common with President Bush? Surely, it was not the fact they shared membership in The United Methodist Church? Do people choose leaders based on who they really have the most in common? Or is there an identity beyond common experience?
One Among Many
The white evangelicals who supported George W. Bush also supported John McCain. But they identified less with the candidate and more with the running mate in 2008. The slide downward only continued. There was no logic to it. But white evangelicals saw themselves in George W. Bush, Sarah Palin, and Donald Trump. What do they share in common? White evangelicals have conservative protestant connections with Palin and Bush. They also appreciate “the common touch” folksiness of the two. The previous two Democratic presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, exhibited these qualities. Ultimately they turned on Carter and did not like Clinton. Why? Because Carter and Clinton did not embrace the “whiteness” of white evangelicals.
The unity of whiteness is what drives white evangelicals. The doctrines of their faith is secondary. The teachings of Jesus are largely ignored while “upholding the Bible” is considered important. For many, whiteness and “biblical” Christianity are one and the same. Americanism, as defined by certain alt-right groups, is now part of the identity. The only reason is they uphold whiteness as an inherent virtue. But something else has happened. Something much worse has occurred. And it is being felt at all levels.
A libertarian friend was upset with me for calling Ludwig Von Mises a racist. I pointed out to her the introduction to his book on Socialism includes the phrase “as achieved by the white races.” What else should someone make of that? But my friend claimed to believe in the doctrine of Von Mises and other “Austrian School” economists. She presumed if I said they were racist, I was claiming she was too.
I was calling her something worse. She was short-sighted and bigoted in other ways. In her view, there were absolute economic laws that must be obeyed. Curiously, this viewpoint is only morally relative. And it is not a big leap from there to other forms of absolute laws which are only morally relative. As ethicist Mary Townsend observed from this approach Nazi’s are not bad. Even students who graduated from “classical Christian” charter schools hold to an ethic of “If I want to believe it, I will.” My friend cannot be racist simply because she denies being one.
Using another sci-fi movie Revenge of the Sith, Darth Vader (Anakin Skywalker) tells Obi-Wan “from my point of view it is the Jedi who are evil.” His former mentor replies, “Then you are truly lost.” But how can this be true? The Jedi are evil only because they do not give Anakin what he wants. Who can claim he is lost when he knows he is acting for his own good?
One With Us
Well, I can. The mindless drive to have what I want is wrong. It is not even animalistic. The desire comes from somewhere other than biology. Claiming I want something and that wanting it is morally right merely because I want it, is convoluted thinking. Most people recognize the problem when stated this way. Yet, claiming that I am not doing this is a lie.
Addicts ask, “why should I not do what I want? The only person who could be harmed is me.” They are wrong about this. But when someone is focused on their desires, it is hard to get them to see it. The same problem has come about with embracing whiteness but renaming it as Christian. The usual claim is “if Jesus was alive today, he would” support my cause. For Christians, Jesus is alive today. We should be able to do better than identify Jesus with whiteness and moral libertarianism.
Images and iconography that use a white Jesus to support causes or ideologies are idolatrous. And idolatry is more about self-centeredness than anything else. If the Son of God wanted to look like a Renaissance Italian, he would have been born then. Instead of being the body of Christ, the imagery is designed to make us think we are Christ. We are not.
Re-Opening the Church
Peter and Paul opened the church to everyone. They did not embrace their own ethnic identity to exclude anyone. In fact, they did not know they had an ethnic identity per se. It is time the European concept of race be put away from us. Re-opening the church means opening the hearts of its members to the different ways of different peoples. The churches of Galatia and Corinth were not the same as the congregations of Rome. It is time Christians accept the differences as Paul and the Jerusalem church did. No “One” among us need be devalued.