Like most people who are not in denial or defending some vested interest, I see the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia that are endemic in much of American culture and blatantly rampant in some quarters of national leadership. And while I deplore them as much as anybody, I don’t believe these traits are chosen—they are not intentional or premeditated—as some would imply.
I see us beating each other up with accusations of these evil, even demonic, qualities; however, short of mental illness or demonic possession, I don’t believe anyone would, upon reflection, decide: “I’m going to be a racist.” In fact, most people deny they are racist. For the most part, I repeat, it's not intentional or premeditated.
More than individual traits, these character flaws are systemic. They are embedded in the human ethos and have been manifested in virtually every human culture at least since the emergence of the conquest cultures during the Bronze Age. The conquest cultures, with their characteristic myth of redemptive violence, were clearly articulated and described as early as the Babylonian creation myth (The Enuma Elish), which dates to the 12th and 13th centuries BCE.
Walter Wink describes that myth of redemptive violence, which he began to discern while watching the TV cartoons with his children during the 1960s. He writes:
“I began to examine the structure of cartoons, and found the same pattern repeated endlessly: an indestructible hero is doggedly opposed to an irreformable and equally indestructible villain. Nothing can kill the hero, though for the first three quarters of the show he (rarely she) suffers grievously and appears hopelessly doomed, until miraculously, the hero breaks free, vanquishes the villain, and restores order until the next episode. Nothing finally destroys the villain or prevents his or her reappearance, whether the villain is soundly trounced, jailed, drowned, or shot into outer space.”
In the Babylonian myth, creation itself is an act of violence, and that mythic structure spread from Ireland to China. Wink continues:
“Typically, a male war god residing in the sky fights a decisive battle with a female divine being, usually depicted as a monster or dragon, residing in the sea or abyss (the feminine element). Having vanquished the original enemy by war and murder, the victor fashions a cosmos from the monster’s corpse. Cosmic order requires the violent suppression of the feminine, and is mirrored in the social order by the subjection of women to men and people to ruler.”
If the Babylonian myth of creation describes a very early example of acculturated misogyny, the testimony of endemic racism dates at least a millennium earlier to the Hebrew Scriptures, where it emerges from the feud between Abraham’s jealous wife, Sarai and his concubine (Sarai’s handmaiden), Hagar. Ishmael, Hagar’s son and the source of Sarai’s jealousy, is banished with his mother, and became known as the father of the Arabic peoples. Ishmael hated Abraham and his tribe because of his banishment, which essentially cut him off from a rather affluent inheritance as Abraham’s first-born. That hatred became the basis of the relationship between the Israelites and the descendants of Ishmael (which continues today) and is an early depiction of acculturated racism.
In every manifestation of misogyny and racism, whether systemic and cultural or individual and personal, the root is an intolerance of differences—xenophobia. I submit that xenophobia is the foundation of virtually every human relations dysfunction, and I would emphasize the “phobia” part of that word.
In recent writings and addresses fear consistently is identified as a major factor behind the animosity that festers like an open wound and divides the American people.
The antidote to xenophobia, I submit, is that people simply become better acquainted. In training for pastoral care, a primary principle was (and still is) that between me and any other human there are infinitely more similarities than differences. But it’s human nature to focus on the differences. And that focus eventually leads to fear.
When people become better acquainted with each other, it’s common for them to discover those similarities—common interests and hopes and ideals—that become a basis for cooperative, peaceful relationships. I suggest that the same is true in group and community relationships.
What are your hopes? Your dreams? What do you want to accomplish? If you share your responses with me, I suspect we’ll discover that I have the same kinds of hopes and dreams and objectives, and the foundation will have been laid for the growth of trust and friendship.
Sound too good to be true? Too easy? I don’t know. Has it ever been tried? Really?
That’s the way it looks through the Flawed Glass that is my world view.
Together in the Walk,