Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Would Jesus Discriminate?

Several months ago, blue and white yard signs began to dot lawns and street corners all over Indianapolis bearing the words, “Would Jesus discriminate?”

Though I am aware that “discriminate” is a buzzword, I did not immediately think of it in this context. Immediately, visions of sheep and goats filled my mind, as well as wheat and chaff, publicans and Pharisees, the Final Judgement, heaven and hell (cf. Matt 25:32-33, 3: 12; Lk 3: 17, 18: 10-14). I thought, too, of Jesus dining with sinners (cf. Matt. 9:11). Yet even these sinners whom He came to call, He came to change. To sinners he says, “sin no more” (Jn 5:14, 8:11). For this reason He dines with them: to discriminate against their former way of life. Yes, I thought to myself, if anyone would discriminate it would be Jesus.

Soon, of course, it occurred to me that not only was this yard sign asking me a rhetorical question, but that its answer was meant to be “no.” Many of our age “put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). Discrimination, our buzz-catechism teaches, is the greatest of all sins – and surely Jesus is guilty of no sin. What point the authors of this sign were making, I wasn’t sure.

I was unsurprised to discover, upon exploring the website given on the yard sign, the following:

“Would Jesus discriminate? Instinctively, we all sense that the answer must be a resounding No! Yet we live in a time when many churches are leading the effort to deny gay and transgender people equal...” blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Hmm… “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Is 5:20). Instinctively, my answer is a resounding Yes!

Actually, I am fond of discrimination, a quality of any intelligent mind. An undiscriminating chef, for example, would put rats and rat feces in a stew when he ran out of chicken and peppercorns. An undiscriminating husband would sleep with his secretary when he was working late and couldn’t get home to his wife. The inability to discriminate is a mark of madness. The unwillingness to discriminate is a mark of evil.


Dave said...

Sadly, the word "discriminate" has lost much of its meaning in its current usage, just as other popular words like "diversity", "rights", and "values" (by the way, Peter Kreeft demolishes "values" in A Refutation of Moral Relativism), which is a useful but very uneven book).

If we mean by "don't discrimate" that we should treat all people like "beautiful children of the living God" (as Sam Brownback described Ted Kennedy and Hilary Clinton), then we are saying something very good. And despite the misuse of the word, I think there is some fragment of this in admonishments against discrimination.

You are right that the term is not used thoughtfully. Rather, it has become a substitute for thought, to communicate desire rather than knowledge.

By the way, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity (or do I say Pope Benedict's, even though it was written before his election?) talks about the shift in emphasis in Western Civilization from ens "what is" to factum "what has been done", and finally to faciendum"what must or should be done". The ancient and medieval desire to understand reality as a thing in itself gave way to the early modern emphasis on knowing about man and his history. And then, after Marx, even history has diminshed, so that what matters is only progress. I think we can understand the diversity sign from this viewpoint, as an attempt to take God out of His being and His history, and use Him for a social betterment program.

As Ratzinger points out, we learned something from the early modern fixation on factum and we can also learn something from faciendum (not that we could really escape our age anyway). After all, our God is a historical God, and He is also God of social justice. We cannot not forget ens, but we need not reject factum and faciendum.

All of which having said, it was still a stupid sign.

Dave said...

I should have added to each of those Latin terms, "verum est". Ratzinger was talking about how we approach knowledge, so:

Medieval: verum est ens "true is being".
Early modern: verum est factum "true is what has been done".
Contemporary: verum est faciendum "true is what should be done".

It's a great book, by the way. I've only just begun it, but already I can see that our pope is a wonderfully thoughtful man.

Anne said...

John - I found your blog through David's and look forward to learning much from you.

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