I was browsing through the news on the internet last week when I came across an article on the BBC NI news website that contained the following:
“A long-awaited draft paper setting out the strategy for racial equality in Northern Ireland has been obtained by BBC NI politics programme, The View.
It states that racism in NI was shaped by the Troubles and sectarianism.”
I know nothing about the report, who commissioned it or sat on it and I have no idea who wrote the report but I do know that the quotation above, if it is accurate, highlights in stark relief the difference between the secular and Christian viewpoints of the world and of the human person.
Let us look first at the Christian understanding of the world and the people who inhabit it.
According to the Church, God created the world and everything in it and since God is infinitely perfect everything he creates must also be perfect. But God made us to love him and if love is to be real it must be freely given and therefore God had to give mankind freewill so that we would freely choose to love him.
However, if someone is free then they have the right to say ‘No’ and this is exactly what our first parents, who go by the name of Adam and Eve, did; they disobeyed God and in some way put their own desires before God.
Now whether or not Adam and Eve actually existed is not that important. The important point is that God made mankind perfect and with freewill and we chose to put our own desires in front of God.
This choice had various effects on us one of which was that we lost the intimacy with God and basically were on our own in the world.
Separated from God, who is the source of all life, we became afraid.
This fear manifests itself in many ways but in the case in point where we are talking about racism, this fear fills us with self concern. Questions such as ‘what is going to happen to me if I don’t get enough money, if I don’t get a job, or if the value of my home goes down,’ take on a huge importance and as a result the fear begins to rule our lives.
For the Christian this is the source of racism and it is in every person on earth, white, black or yellow, because this separation from God, caused by the first sin of Adam and Eve has come down through the generations and infects us all.
So the Christian starts off from the position that every one of us is flawed and racism is a natural part of our makeup which can only be healed by a faith in the healing power of Jesus. When racism and sectarianism comes up in our lives as it surely will, we should ask God for help in coming to terms with it and in living in such a way that we do not practice racism.
Now let’s take a look at the secular view of the world; a person is totally different. For the secularist, the universe is as it is, was made by accident and is aimlessly going nowhere. The human person is born neither good nor bad but life and life’s experiences make us good or bad.
Now before you go saying that the Church says we are born bad let me state here that it does not. The Church states that the sin of Adam separates us from God and leaves us under the control of the world and our passions.
From the secularist standpoint if we can only know the reason why we are racist then the problem shall go away itself: if we all knew what made us the way we are we would all be perfect.
In the light of this, the reason for the racism in Ireland that we see now is the Troubles that went before it.
But where did the sectarianism, which is racism under another name, that led to the troubles, come from? Where does the racism that plagues such secular states as France, come from. They had no troubles or any such influence in their own land. Is it a hangover from their colonial days?
No one has studied racism more that the United States but it is still rampant there. It may be officially banned, the Klu Klux Klan may have diminished but there is still a strong undercurrent of racism in the US.
Nearer home, surely there is no more tolerant nation in the world than England yet as the rise of UKIP has shown, the English are obsessed with people from outside their land.
Where the secularist theory falls down is that if knowledge is the cure to racism then why is it still there.
The Christian explanation of the cause of racism, that it is in all of us, that it is a manifestation of our separation from God and that we have to deal with it every time it comes up in our lives, is a much better understanding of the problem.
The fact that we have to turn to God for help in dealing with racism is the part that the secularist cannot grasp. In his worldview he is in control and therefore he should be able to heal himself of this social ill.
When we examine this fear caused by self concern, (that I shall not have enough, that someone is going to take what is mine) and apply it to other problems in the world, you can see immediately that it all fits in.
Mankind is not bad; mankind is flawed. The church calls the flaw Original Sin and we cannot overcome the flaw without the help of God.
If you take the anti-God sentiment out of it and look at it logically this is the best understanding of racism that there is, and it gives us a real pathway to a solution.
The solution shall never come through secularist teaching.
One of the most remarkable characteristics of mankind is his arrogance. Look at the Middle East and all the fighting that is going on there, Assad killing his own people in thousands and the Sunni and Shiite Muslims killing each other over power and land.
What is this if not an extreme example of self concern run riot?
During World War I, France and Britain carved up the Middle East. Two men, François Georges-Picot and Sir Mark Sykes negotiated the arrangement and legend has it that at dinner one evening they took a map of the Middle East and drew a series of lines which marked out French and British influence. The European powers did the same in Africa.
But these randomly created countries are not and never have been based on the ‘nation state’ in the way that the idea has grown in Europe in these past thousand years. And the nation state is not all that old here either. Up until the 1860s Italy was a country of several kingdoms which were not united.
False countries do not last. The structure of society in the Middle East was originally based on religious groupings and tribes, the Sunnis of one tribe lived in one area and the Shiites lived in another. They traded and raided and did all the things that tribes do.
In fact they are still at it today only now they are much better armed. And what is at the root of the fighting; none other than our old friend; ‘self concern.’ What will happen to us if the Sunni take over? Or as Mr Assad is saying, “Who can I terrorize if I lose control of this country?”
Of all the people in the world, we should know the disaster that comes about when you give a falsely created majority dominance over the natives. Racism and sectarianism have to be maintained by a collection of lies and fables about ‘them.’
The self concern of Carson and his friends was that they would not have ascendency in the Free State. They dressed it up with stories about their Protestant identity; they still do!
And so we come back to the two proposed solutions, the one presented by the secularists and the one presented by the Church.
The integrated schools were supposed to be the answer; they have had forty years and we are worse than ever. The children at these schools in Belfast would riot against each other at night and come in and talk about it at school the next day.
‘Community Relations’ was another ‘get to know you’ answer: didn’t do a button of good. They have poured millions if not billions into community relations and still the hatred in this wee province is as bad as ever, if not getting worse: as the Catholics grow in prosperity and power the poor working class Protestants feel they are losing everything and sectarian tensions rise.
But the secular world has no other answer so it keeps throwing money at it. They are starting off from the wrong premise so they can never get it right but since they don’t believe in God, the Christian answer makes no sense to them.
The experience of the individual Christian dealing with racism or sectarianism inside themselves teaches us something about the practical nature of Christian teaching.
When these feelings arise in us, say when we see a group of Nigerian people in the street or supporters at an Orange march cursing the Pope and mocking our faith, we have to try to rise above the feelings and confront them and see them for what they really are: fear.
This is what we call ‘practicing our faith’ because every time these feelings come up we are supposed to practice trust in God and ask him to remove the fear that is at the root of racism and sectarianism.
Sometimes we get caught out and let ourselves be carried along by the emotion and come on, let’s face it, when we are in a group of our own, what better way to spend half an hour than feeling superior to those who take part in Orange marches, calling them names and mocking them.
We have all done it; we are back to the old Northern Ireland joke, ‘when does a Catholic become a Taig? When he leaves the room!’
Do you remember all during the troubles people would never ask the right question. The politicians and thinkers would never ask, ‘why did the Catholics rise up in rebellion and why were young Catholic lads prepared to die for a hopeless cause?’
Unemployment, poverty, bad housing and a host of other things were blamed but no one was prepared to ask the real hard questions?
The Catholic uprising of 1969 came about as a result of Unionist injustice. It is not until we have the honesty to say this that we are anywhere near beginning to even approach the basis of looking for a solution.
When this finally dawned on the politicians they had to organize the country in such a way that Unionists could never regain dominance again. And because of this we have some level of peace in the country.
It is the same with racism: until we come to see that racism and sectarianism are products of fear and self concern, and we come to see that we are all prey to these emotions, then we are like the ‘community relations’ women of the 1970s, going round in circles, talking to the nice middle class people and essentially talking around the issue.
The best example of this was the Peace People. They were so right; everyone wanted peace, but peace cannot be wished on a society. The building and maintaining of peace is hard work that calls for every one of us to examine our attitudes.
We don’t like doing this, particularly if we are of a secular mindset. The Christian mind knows that as a person I am flawed and I need the help of God in Jesus to change my heart and mind. The constant asking for this help will eventually change my attitude.
The secular mindset has no God and cannot conceive of asking for help from some spirit in the sky. Like the peace people they shall keep on talking and they shall scratch their head and wonder why in fifty years there will still be racists of all kinds and sectarianism will not have gone away.
You cannot wish sectarianism and racism away from a society and until each individual takes responsibility for his own change of heart with the help of God, then these problems shall be with us and we can all look forward to many more hate filled marching seasons, flag confrontations and God only knows what else fear filled people can conjure up.