Defending discrimination

“Give therefore your servant an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may discriminate between good and bad: for who is able to judge so great a people as yours?”

1 Kings 3:9

 

The word “discrimination” is kind of like a briefcase. It carries a meaning inside, as all words do. But it’s one of those words that we carry around with us often enough and rarely both to open. Instead, whenever the word might come up, we’re more likely to beat people over the head with it, never once considering that we could open unlatch the briefcase and think about what we’re actually talking about.

If you have ever been online before (as I will assume you have if you’re reading this), I’m rather confident that you have seen this actually happen. People accuse other people of discrimination, other people defends themselves from the charges, and within moments someone has a bruise on his skull that looks an awful lot like the corner of a briefcase. To whomever the charge of discrimination sticks comes defeat and shame.

But this way of things is itself quite a shame. For, if we unpack the suitcase, we’ll find ourselves reminded that discrimination is not all bad. Discrimination can be and usually is good. It is only our modern politics which has kept us from recalling this rather obvious fact.

Perhaps you don’t get what I mean. To explain, I’ll point out that the dominant usage of the word discrimination today is quite different than it has been in the past. The top two definitions which appear on Google are as follows:

  1. The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex
  2. Recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another

The first definition is obviously what most people mean today, but the second used to be far more common. And in today’s mad blindness to plain realities, the second is often mistaken for the first. If you don’t recognize the real differences between two things, you’re likely to consider any way that you treat them differently as unjust or prejudicial. This is what we love to do today.

The difference between these two definitions of discrimination—between good and bad discrimination—is determined by what you are doing and whether the different treatments you give are reasonable for that purpose. Let’s take an example. If you are trying to draw a realistic castle, you would probably discriminate against your bright purple colored pencils in favor of grey ones. This would make sense and be very right, because the color of the pencil is very important to what you’re trying to do. On the other hand, it would make no sense to discriminate against a pencil simply because it had been touched by the truck driver who delivered it to the Walmart you bought it from is a Trump supporter. Even if you dislike Trump supporters, the fact has nothing to do at all with your project to draw a castle.

This extends every bit as well to people. If you are in charge of hiring an engineer for a nuclear plant, you will discriminate against a 17-year-old kid who dropped out of high school and knows basically nothing but how to play World of Warcraft. You will instead prefer someone who has training and knowledge that will help him be a nuclear engineer. This is discrimination, but it is good discrimination. The reason for picking one kind of person over the other is a based very directly and reasonably on what you’re trying to accomplish. On the other hand, if you were to favor a white Alabamian over a Rwandan man, despite equal credentials in nuclear engineering, you are probably discriminating badly, which means injustice. Or, speaking of race, it is perfectly legitimate to discriminate against white women in favor of black ones if you are casting the lead for a movie about Rosa Parks.

The problem for us is that, in an era absolutely obsessed with equality, we can lose sight of real differences between people and things. So people can be accused of unfair and unjust discrimination even when their reasons for discriminating are very right. A major example of this is marriage. Up until recently, society discriminated against gay couples in favor of straight couples. Then, in the blindness of modern society, we forgot the real reasons for this discrimination, and people started to believe that it is wrong. Soon enough, we stopped discriminating and gave gay and straight couples equal access to the institution of marriage.

This was a big mistake. Like I said before, whether a certain kind of discrimination is right or wrong depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. So what is marriage for? Why did humanity originally choose only straight couples for marriage? The answer would have been easy to most of the world for most of history: babies. The most important kind of sex, when it comes to broader society, is the heterosexual, because it is the kind that actually creates new human beings, which is what society is made of in the first place. Society in general, and its institutional form called the “government,” has little reason to care about what goes on in the bedroom between gay people, because it won’t make new human life. But if straight couples can create people, then it’s hugely important. That’s the biggest reason why marriage had to be made an official, recognized part of society and government. Marriage discrimination against gay couples was never arbitrary or unjustified, because the key point of marriage as a formal part of society was that it was meant to protect the place where humans come from. Babies and their parents need special privileges and protections, thus we have heterosexual marriage. To extend it to gay couples is an example of a failure to discriminate when it is needed, kind of like putting a white Neo-Nazi in charge of a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day celebration out of “fairness.” It’s not right. It’s forgetting that discrimination is sometimes good and necessary.

So I propose that we end the pointless stigmatizing of discrimination in general. Let that first definition become second, and make the second one first. Discrimination is an essential part of human life. The only question is whether we will discriminate with wisdom and justice or foolishness and injustice. If we forget all of this, we are sure to do the latter.

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To be like Jesus, be despised but not despicable.

“Jesus said we would be despised.”

I hear Christians say this all the time. Usually it comes in the context of offering controversial opinions based on the Bible or Christian tradition. And technically they are correct. Jesus did tell the disciples that His followers would be ridiculed, persecuted, and hated for His sake.

But… This isn’t all there is to say about the matter. Too often people use this as an excuse to present biblical teachings in an inappropriate, rude, or even wicked way. (And sometimes they’re not even biblical teachings so much as cheap caricatures of them.) Doing this is unacceptable. Truth can and sometimes must be offensive, but its offense must never be wielded as a club.

Being clear: rudeness is not Christian. Name-calling and slandering are not Christian. Treating people as though they did near bear the image of Christ is not Christian. And Jesus did not tell us to do any of those things. Truth can be very offensive, but this offense can be made worse or better by how, when, why, and where we preach it.

Jesus promised that we would be despised, but He only blessed those who are despised for His sake. When we misbehave, acting arrogantly or abusively in our truth-telling, we will be despised not for Christ’s sake but for our own. In fact, adding rudeness to truth turns the truth into a kind of lie, since it gives off the signal that the God—who is Himself truth—approves of our behavior.

So in the end this really is just a rant against abusing the truth as a club with which to be jerks to other people. We can be despised for our message and for our love and still be like Jesus. But when we are despised for being obnoxious, inflammatory, cruel, or disrespectful, our own Scriptures condemn us. For we are called to be witnesses characterized by love, compassion, gentleness, a good reputation, and blamelessness before the world, in peace as much as it depends on us. To adapt from Jesus:

“What good is it if you speak the truth but harass and disrespect others? Do not even the most rabid SJWs do the same? And if you preach the offense of the cross but add to it your own offense, are you not a stumbling block to your hearers? Therefore be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

P.S. This Babylon Bee article ties in perfectly with my point here.

Nicene Nerdcast: Can the Lord’s Supper fight white supremacy?

In the wake of recent racially-charged events, I’ve done a little thinking about racial issues in the Church. I’m not hugely experienced with these things, so I’m don’t think I’m qualified to say that much about race.

That said, I have spent some time researching the doctrines of the Church and the sacraments. And these are relevant to racial issues, because in Christ’s Church all peoples and races are formed into “one new man” (Eph. 2:15) and are bound together as one body by the one loaf (1 Cor. 10:16-18).

This is the subject of my very first podcast. My new podcast is called The Nicene Nerdcast, and episode one is about racism and Communion. Listen below and give me your thoughts.

Download this episode

The female form is a fountain

Some ramblings about the natural place of the woman’s body:

Contra a popular, fake C. S. Lewis quote, we are not souls who have bodies. We are body and soul equally, and in truth the line between the two is blurry and ambiguous. So to speak of a person’s body is to say something about who and what they are. In modern culture we like to pretend that this isn’t true, which is why Western progressivism is really Gnosticism reborn. But I digress.

Back onto the point, the woman’s body is extremely unique. It, and thus she, is literally a source of life. She is a fountain of flourishing. I’ve said before that the man makes a home a household, and a woman makes a household a home. This is true, and comes close to what I’m saying here. It begins with the beginning of life. The first woman was called Eve, Mother of All the Living, and the first man was not called the Father of All the Living. For the woman is more inanimately associated with the spread of life. When a new human comes into being, he emerges in the womb of a woman. This womb gives him protection and health, everything he needs to grow and enter the world of the living. His mother swaddles him in her very flesh, and she, like Christ to us, nourishes him with her own body and blood.

This role, of course, does not stop after birth. A child born is still bodily dependent on his mother. For the longest time, he can eat and drink nothing but what comes from her breasts. Her body saps her own nutrients to give strength to the infant. Even once weaned, she continues to expend her physical energy, aging time, heart, and many opportunities to go, do, and be in order to grow the child from infancy to adulthood so that he can have a life of his own. His life is a gift from his mother.

Even after the child grows up, the female form remains a source of life. But at this point it is not the mother, but the wife. People make a lot of jokes and throw a lot of disdain to the male sex drive, but few stop to think just how vital it is to masculine life. There is a very real and very serious sense in which a man comes alive by his union with woman. When her flesh meets his in a healthy context, he can receive a strength, boldness, identity, and place in the world which is simply absent otherwise. In so many cases, men become men precisely because they are united to a woman. She empowers him and gives him something to fight for, something to (literally) lean on, and the assurances that he is worth something to at least someone. She does this all by the gift of her body.

The female form is the fountain of life, then. This is its, and thus her, nature. Woman are life-givers in a way that men aren’t. The man helps create life in a one-off action, and the woman nurtures and grows it in an ongoing manner. This is like the relationship between God and man, in which God is, as Father, the one who creates us ex nihilo and the Church, as mother, nourishes and teaches us that we might grow up into the image of our elder Brother, who was Himself grown in the womb of the Church when she was known as Israel. This is why the Spirit is also the only member of the Trinity who is sometimes referred to with a feminine pronoun in the Scriptures, for God as the Spirit uniquely continues in the ongoing action of sustaining and forming human life towards its fullness.

In the end, this is largely why I am so skeptical of modern feminism. Even when it gives lip-service to motherhood, it militates against it. The push for endless birth control and abortion proves as much, along with the push to fill corporations and legislatures with women as well. They try as hard as they can to rip the woman from the home, where she is an omnipotent goddess, to the workforce and the state, where she, like men before her, may easily become either a faceless cog or a soulless beast. They may possibly be right to suggest that no one hates women like some redneck Trump supporter with a picture of Hillary Clinton on a dart board, but I suspect that no one hates Woman as much as these feminists. Let them not dry up the fountain of life. Let them not tame the woman and turn her into an atom. If they succeed too far, it will be everyone who perishes.