Thursday, February 16, 2017

Prejudice Divides Church, Country, Families

By definition prejudice is prejudgment.

Human beings are endowed by God with intellect and will. The intellect is the spiritual power by which  we know; the will is the spiritual power by which we choose. By nature the intellect is geared toward truth; by nature the will is geared toward good.  We have, however, the ability to ignore truth and choose evil.

Thinking things through and trying to determine what is true can be challenging. Both require significant effort and time. Often we will by-pass the effort and jump to a conclusion. It is the reason why we have to respond,  “No, not necessarily,” to people who say that they are entitled to their own opinion

An opinion results from thinking things through. One is entitled to his own opinion only if he or she has put forth the effort to arrive at the truth. The chief distinguishing characteristic of the human animal is the ability to think. Entitlement to opinion depends on using intellect and will to determine what is true and good.  Refusal to seek truth and good undermines that characteristic which makes a human being “homo  sapiens.”

Prejudice or prejudgment can be helpful or harmful. Prejudgments based on wisdom or experience can safeguard life. Prejudgments that are arbitrarily applied to life, people, or experience can be harmful and fall far from the truth.

Wisdom requires a person to submit his or her prejudgment to rational assessment. Prejudgments that are prejudicial are generally understood to be pre-conceived opinions which are not based on reason or actual experience. 

Prejudice can undermine race relations, religious affiliation, political policy. Prejudice can promote sexual discrimination, nationalism, intellectual and linguistic bias.

Many of the divisions in the Catholic Church, in the United States, or in family relationships are founded upon prejudgments.

Prejudice leads to a “them versus us” attitude. The “out group” must be wrong because they do not see things as the “in group” sees them. It is found in the attitudes of conservatives versus liberals, Republicans versus Democrats, in-laws versus the nuclear family.

Pope Francis has been decried as an anti-pope, and no matter what Gospel he preaches, he will be dismissed or condemned by some members of his own Church. President Trump has heard calls for his impeachment, and no matter what  leadership he provides, he will be rejected or proscribed by some citizens of his own country. “Uncle Joe” has been rejected, and no matter what good he may do, he will be disowned and damned by some of the family.

If the enemies of Pope Francis or President Trump or Uncle Joe base their assessment on prejudgment without assessing the possibility of good in their adversaries they have failed to submit their attitude to a search for truth and good. They demean their own humanity.

Such a search may confirm the original conviction, but such a search is likely to come closer to an honest and open evaluation of the “out group.”  Such was the lesson of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice or of Harper Lee’s To Killing A Mockingbird.

Spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle has said, “Prejudice of any kind implies that you are identified with the thinking mind. It means you don’t see the other human being anymore, but only your own concept of that human being. To reduce aliveness of another human being to a concept is already a form of violence.”

One way to heal the divisions in the Church, in our country, in family relations is to acknowledge our tendency toward prejudice and come together with civility and patience to meet the enemy and discuss the differences. If our country is polarized to the point that partisan-politics sabotages the good of the nation, then the words of Scripture and Abraham Lincoln ("House divided cannot stand") serve as a sobering cry for remedy. Re-assessment of individual and communal prejudice is a healing balm for the sores of society.

The documents of the Second Vatican Council resulted from 2500 bishops’ coming together and discussing their differences.  Born of heated debates, of political maneuvering, and intense compromise, the Constitutions and Decrees of Vatican II set the direction for the Church to follow for decades to come. The experience of differing people and differing ways of being Church came together and helped heal in a large way centuries of misunderstanding, conflict, and short-sightedness.

The US Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights are further evidence of the benefits which come from using reason, debate, and compromise to defuse fiercely held prejudgments "in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty."

Dorothy Day's mentor Peter Maurin urged people to work for a "common unity," which he further explained can become "community." Whether the goal is promoting the Gospel or preserving the nation or protecting family life, participants in any of these endeavors must acknowledge what is true and good even in the midst of their differences.

What is presented as "news" on major cable networks is often prejudice passed off as "expert" opinion. Ridicule, insult, disrespect, contempt, slander, dishonesty are symptoms of prejudice. It might be that Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social communication promote immediate, emotional reaction, and retard honest assessment.  The pressure to respond instantly takes precedence over reason. Even the left-leaning political critic Alexander Cockburn acknowledged that the first law of journalism is to confirm prejudice rather than contradict it.

The Gospel calls us to respond with love in every situation and setting, and the love which Jesus taught is ultimately the choice for good. It is the result of repentance (re-thinking) and then choosing what is good. It is the application of those two spiritual powers of intellect and will which characterize and specify our human nature.

You can hear the song from South Pacific:  “You’ve got to be taught to hate and to fear…to hate all the people your relatives hate, you’ve got to be carefully taught.” Prejudice is the great divider. It may be the reason for Jesus’ prayer, “That they all may be one…”


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