Playing the Race Card

(Retired Professor & Minister.) #1

I tried really hard to understand why anyone would think your position “racist”. I gave up. I just don’t get it.

The Bible speaks unambiguously about different groups of people defined by their heritage (and participants in special covenants with God.) Abraham’s descendants are distinguished from all others and Abraham was promised special favor for them. The Children of Israel were clearly called God’s chosen people. There are Jews and there are Gentiles. Was it “racist” for the Children of Israel to only marry those who also shared in the Sinaitic Covenant? Was it “racist” for Joshua’s army to conquer Canaan and destroy the tribes which opposed them? Was it “racist” for the Jews to distinguish between the circumcized and the uncircumcized?

There are also in the scriptures stark contrasts of blessing and lack of blessing. There are the sheep and the goats. There are the wheat and the tares. There is also Jacob being loved and Esau hated. Shocking?

Indeed, none of this is about race in the modern sense. At most, some distinctions are more like the past and now largely archaic definition of the word “race”: simply a “variety”, a classification of a group.

If Dr. Swamidas’ position is “racism”, then the Bible must surely be extremely “racist”. (Obviously, it is not.)

I remain flabbergasted that charges of racism ever came up. I suspect that there was a bandwagon hysteria which took hold as people were flailing about, trying to find a conveniently dismissive label to put on a idea that left them feeling shaken (because it so easily threatened their own viewpoint which they found comforting.) When a prominent “authority” assigns an outrageous label, many followers will tend to echo the pronouncement.

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The Fall of Nature
The Tripwire in April 2017
(S. Joshua Swamidass) #2

But then you do get it…

That is exactly what happened.

Eventually, most people backed off it.

The surprising thing is that one person from that original conversation maintains, to this very day, that my work is racist. That requires more insight than I have to explain.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) split this topic #3

A post was merged into an existing topic: Swamidass and BioLogos, April 2017

(Jon Garvey) #4

That is strange. The original knee-jerk accusation came, I suppose, from the role that non-Adamic man, developed from La Peyrere, played in the thinking of some of the first anthropologists who denied that some? all? non-white races were descended from Adam. Cue justication for slavery, colonization, genocide, in the name of Enlightenment Science.

But to apply that to Genealogical Adam is like refusing to believe in the tribes of Israel because of British Israelites. If it stems from denying that God would ever allow any human distinctions, ever, for any length of time (ie that for Adam to be specially called would have been racist even at the time) then it is profoundly ignorant of Scripture, as has already been pointed out: it was 1800 years before Abraham’s covenant was applied to Gentiles, so who’s going to criticise Christ for his delay?

I’ve never seen anyone actually justify the accusation, which makes it so much hot air (referred to the theory) and so much libel (referred to those proposing it). Since I too propose it, I don’t take kindly to being called racist either, so more than one apology is due.

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(Retired Professor & Minister.) #5

Essentially, the argument that “Your idea is racist and therefore you are racist” is a glaring logical fallacy which combines the Association Fallacy and Genetic Fallacy into one ugly accusation that doesn’t even make sense. (After all, even if someone thinks that the idea can be abused to justify racism, that says nothing about the merits of the original idea. It is almost as bad as “Gravity and relativity theory led to the atomic bomb, so Newton and Einstein were genocidal maniacs. And because the atomic bomb was dropped on the Asian Japanese by Caucasian Americans, those ideas are all racist as well!”)

(Guy Coe) #6

At the turn of the century (in 1900; not the most recent one), with Darwin’s “Origin” still well under review, there were champions of a “biblical” interpretation that categorized some “races” as “sub-human,” and had no more qualms with keeping them as slaves than of keeping donkeys, cows or pigs.

The only thing I can figure is that Venema knew of this, and decided to charge you with holding to just such a racist view, by mentally conflating your findings with the memory of this chapter in “biblical” interpretation.
Of course, that’s NOT at all what the Bible teaches, locating the “imago Dei” in all humans, regardless of physical or mental or ethnic or cultural differences (especially in light of the New Testament commentary on Jewish and universal prehistory).

Genesis 1:26-27 makes it clear that there’s no question of mistaking a human with a mere “brute.”
Personally I don’t see Neanderthals, e.g., as being in that category --and am much more cautious about categories, generally. I look for the substance of what’s under review.
That a “people before Adam” view was once used to justify racism doesn’t take into account the sheer biblical illogic of doing so.

Early on in Christianity’s histoey, the Roman Empire outlawed slavery, on the basis of a single monks’ very public protest in the midst of a series of circus games at the Colisseum in Rome. Jumping onto the infield floor, in between gladitorial bouts, he shouted, “How is it possible for one man to own another, when both of them possess a face, hands and heart gifted to them directly by God?”

The booing crowd were having none of it, and persuaded the Emperor, sitting in the Colisseum that day, to give the monk a death signal --which he did, and upon which the beasts were released, which instantly tore him to pieces.

The moral lesson, however, was not lost upon them. Their was a growing revulsion, leading to a public outcry, which ended up changing a paradigm and getting the senators to vote against chattel slavery in the Empire.

For a while, ancient Rome became more civil to the poor than America was in its early history. Sometimes history’s lessons are slow to be learned, especially across a variety of arenas and disciplines. That monk was inspired by a man little understood in today’s world, whom most of us admire greatly, and even call “Lord” in recognition of his brave and sacrificial role in changing the entire course of world history, reconciling us with God, and improving our moral sensitivity.

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) #7

That makes sense a knee jerk reaction. It does not make sense of why it is still maintained as a valid objection. That is more difficult to explain. We are far past knee jerk territory.

I wish it was that easy. Rather it was:

Critic1: I have large theological problems with naming other humans as “sub-humans.”

Critic2: I have real concerns about bringing forward the theology of polygenesis.

Dark Scientist: Um, this is not a racist proposal. This is not polygenesis. I am not naming people as “sub-humans.”

Critic1 and Critic2: We are not going to correct our scientific mistake because we just have large theological concerns about your work. I think you just do not understand the racist implications of polygenesis, and we will never be okay with naming people “sub-human.”

Dark Scientist: I’m offended that you are calling me racist. Why would you say that about me? Theological concerns, regardless, are no a valid reason to withhold accurate science from the public.

Critic1 and Critic2: We never you call you racist. I demand you apologize for calling us dishonest.

And then, of course, it all degrades there. They were simultaneously trying to:

  1. call my ideas racist (they were white “experts” on racism, and I just was theologically irresponsible and ignorant dark man), while at the same time…
  2. they had certainly not suggested I was a racist, how dare I lie about them like that. This was merely normal academic critique.

The only way this resolved was when I, in conversation with them, starting saying: “I object to the insistence in ignoring what I am saying to associate my position with racism.” Then, realizing there was no word parsing defense, most people gave up. Except one, who still maintains this objection.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #8

That was precisely their level of reasoning, and remains the reasoning of one of them. Please understand the disturbing reality this created for me.

For a moment, please pause and do not process this merely logically. Put yourself in my shoes if you can. Remember that these people are your friends. How would you feel? What would you do?

I was the only non-white person. They argument was, essentially, that I (the dark man) was irresponsibly ignorant about racism, posturing with anti-racist indignant. Were deeply offended when I expressed anger for having the race card played against me, offering a word parsing defense that they “never [precisely] called me racist.” This has the function of silencing and blaming the one dark person in the conversation for daring to present them with new information. I’m booted from the room, everyone insists that I apologize for saying they called me “racist.” I bite my tongue and apologize for hurting their feelings. Then they still decide to kick me out, saying that I am too disruptive and racially irresponsible to keep around. Silence.

That was my life 12 months ago. I am still recovering from it. I do forgive them, but it exposed me to racism more vividly than I’d ever expect at this stage of my life.

One one level, I am thankful. I’m glad I’m seeing the world more clearly. My wife and I had been thinking and praying about Ferguson since 2014. We are very near this place. I talk about race now, in almost all the public talks I give. I spent several months running a reading group on Martin Luther King Jr, learning what it might meant to love my enemies. As viscous as this was, it does not compare to what African Americans (AA) in St Louis deal with much more than I. I received just a small taste through this.

One thing is clear, I’m not going to be the same at the end of this. I am a different person.

(Guy Coe) #9

That’s a hard-won lesson. The biblical data on racism and slavery has had a variable history, and the kind of chattel slavery which occurred in the American south was far more brutal than slavery in more ancient times. Because of Israel’s laws of Sabbath and of Jubilee, it’s unlikely that most folks in ancient Israel spent their whole lives being fieldhand slaves before the law demanded their release, every 49th year.
These are the kinds of things too easily forgotten by a presentation of half truths in an article like this:

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(S. Joshua Swamidass) closed #10