Catholicism is the only hope. This is what I keep thinking, when I watch the news or look through my Twitter feed. In the midst of all this broiling racial antagonism, what we need is a coherent and persuasive account of human equality and the nature of justice.
In his book published earlier this year, Small Men on the Wrong Side Of History, Ed West puts forward an extremely plausible argument. He suggests that the socio-political arrangements that have prevailed in Western countries over the last couple of centuries – what you might loosely call “liberal pluralism” – are unnatural for humans, who are strongly inclined towards political intolerance. He goes on to say that such arrangements may be disappearing and eroding, as politics become more fractious.
We cannot find the basis for the brotherhood of mankind underneath the lens of the microscope or in the genetics laboratory. – Niall Gooch
I return often to this insight when looking at the febrile political atmosphere in Britain and the USA. The difficulty we face is that while we (correctly) proclaim our commitment to human equality, we have abandoned the Christian philosophical framework from which the very concept of human equality first emerged in our societies. Without Christian philosophical framework, “human equality” as a concept does not make sense.
This is why any claims about the biological and genetic basis of human difference – such as the observation that average IQ scores vary across racial groups – are so controversial. Most people will struggle to give a satisfactory explanation of what human equality means in a purely material universe (and where it comes from). They instead stake a great deal on human equality as an empirical fact that can be discovered and demonstrated through Science.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28
Of course, that human beings are subject to universal dignity, regardless of race, age, ability, and so on, is a moral premise and not a scientific one. We cannot find the basis for the brotherhood of mankind underneath the lens of the microscope or in the genetics laboratory. Where we do find it is in Christian theology: in the Incarnation of God as man and in the Imago Dei – the assertion that every single human being is created in the image of God and that as such he or she bears certain rights.
It is not that race does not exist, but rather that all of us of any and every race are united in our need for reconciliation with God. As Galatians 3:28 has it, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This is not to say (as some Christians do) that the lens of ethnicity should not be used in our analysis of social problems. Clearly, certain groups have suffered and continue to suffer from injustice more than others. There is danger in “colourblindness”, which cannot see the details of specific situations. It is no use asserting the ultimate theological irrelevance of ethnic categories if, for example, black people are being disproportionately ill-treated by the police.
What it does mean is that if our societies really want to move forward to a future where people of different races, genders and cultures can live on terms of genuine peace and friendship with each other, neither demanding nor receiving discriminatory treatment, then the Christian faith is the only solid ground for this vision.
What an opportunity for the Church.
Niall Gooch is a writer and regular Chapter House contributor.
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