I was proud of our former president George W. Bush this week. He said the one thing white men almost never say, “We need to listen.” We don’t like to listen because we already have the answer. I’ve had some intense mystical experiences during this pandemic. I’ve written a lot of poetry and songs I thought I was supposed to share with the world. And I’ve been filled with rage when the world seemed to ignore the brilliance that I had to share. The scariest thing that I’ve discovered about myself is that I am Lucifer.
Let me explain what I mean by that. When I say it that way, I’m defining Lucifer as a way of being rather than a specific person. Lucifer is the angel who wants to be the light-bearer, the one who gives humanity the all-encompassing knowledge of good and evil that will finally explain everything perfectly so that everyone will live perfect, holy lives after that.
When I thought I could write a book that would save the world from toxic Christianity, I was playing the part of Lucifer. I was standing under the tree of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil from Genesis 3 and begging all of humanity to eat it so that they could be as smart as I am and so that I could experience the exhilaration of knowing that I had saved the world with my knowledge.
For a long time, I have been meditating on the nature of God’s truth as expressed in the two metaphors of light and wind. God’s truth is light that will not be seized (John 1:5) and wind that blows where it will (John 3:4). The truth’s sovereignty over us lies in our inability to own it and build giant towers to heaven (Genesis 11) with all the books we’ve written that interpret it perfectly and exhaustively.
The way that light and wind work is they are only themselves if they are utterly free. Air is not wind if someone has found a way to capture it and put it inside a box. Light is no longer light if I try to close my fist around it. It becomes darkness. The message I receive from this is that I can ruin truth if I appropriate it in a colonial, hegemonic way. I can point to truth; I can dance in its midst; but I cannot own it for myself.
Every Bible teacher who attempts to provide an exhaustive explanation for everything based on the Bible is Lucifer sitting under the tree of the fruit of knowledge of good and evil handing out fruit to engorge Adam and Eve Christian. What do people engorged on biblical knowledge do? They go out into all the world to civilize it through seizing other peoples’ lands and enslaving their inhabitants with the pretext that they have a mission from God to do so.
White supremacy is the assumption that European Christians have the duty and divine mandate to save the world with our knowledge. Manifest destiny is another way of putting it. To the degree that white men worship our knowledge and imagine it to be our gift to the world, we are Lucifer. How in the world did a whole race of people manage to use a religion of peace, joy, and love as our pretext for enslaving and conquering the rest of the world for half a millennium? That is how utterly we can pervert God’s truth by making it into the idol of our knowledge.
So what does repentance look like for white men? We need to do precisely what our former president is telling us to do. We need to listen. It doesn’t undo five hundred years of thinking so confidently that we had all the answers that we felt okay with pillaging, enslaving, and massacring the rest of the world. But it’s a start.