The Rebirth of Scientific Racism

recent article in the Washington Post warns that “‘scientific racism’ is creeping back into our thinking”. The story reports of a woman who filed a “wrongful birth” lawsuit after delivering a biracial baby conceived through artificial insemination.midwife She sued, claiming that the mixup created hardship and injury to her and her family. The argument made by her suit called up the specter of eugenics–the science of racism so prevalent 100 years ago but since discredited. The article explains the thinking behind scientific racism:

Here’s how the argument goes. Some people are born with outstanding talents, easily mastering basketball, mathematics, languages or piano, if given the right environment in which to grow. What biologist or social scientist could argue with that? But alongside that genetic understanding, an old and pernicious assumption has crept back into the American conversation, in which aptitudes are supposedly inherited by race: certain peoples are thought to have rhythm, or intellect, or speed or charm. That’s a fast track toward the old 19th- and early 20th-century problem of “scientific” racism.

The article continues by recounting examples where eugenics is currently rearing its head. At one end of the spectrum there’s Dylann Roof, who wrote, “Negroes have lower IQs, lower impulse control, and higher testosterone levels in general. These three things alone are a recipe for violent behavior.” Ironically, he (allegedly) followed up these words by killing nine people during a Bible study in an African-American church in Charleston, SC. At the other, more respectable end of the spectrum are academic articles which claim that genetic differences are the primary causes of ethnic conflict.

As evolutionary psychology and socio-biology become more accepted, so shall “scientific racism” also. Darwinism is an ideology that, when carried to its logical conclusion, has devastating cultural and social consequences. The Gospel stands squarely against this. All are created in the divine image, and all have sinned. Christ died for all, and all the redeemed are brethren in the family of God (Gal 3:28; Eph 2:11-22). Racism must be rejected, even when it wears a scientific veneer.

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Calvinists Believe in Free Will Too

Every once in a while someone will say that Reformed theology rejects the notion of human free will as an “Arminian heresy”.freewill But a quick survey of various Reformed confessions reveals that Calvinists hold to free will also. For example, the Founders affirm the Abstract of Principles, which are part of the confessional documents of both Southern and Southeastern Seminaries. Note the section on “Providence“:

“God from eternity, decrees or permits all things that come to pass, and perpetually upholds, directs and governs all creatures and all events; yet so as not in any wise to be author or approver of sin nor to destroy the free will and responsibility of intelligent creatures.”

Another example is The Westminster Confession, which most Presbyterians affirm. In “God’s Eternal Decree“, it states:

“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” (3.1)

Later, under the heading “Of Free Will”, the Confession states:

God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil. (9.1)

There is one important area that Calvinists don’t believe humans to have free will: the ability to turn to God. But (and this is the important point) neither does any other orthodox Christian. Even Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy rejects the semi-Pelagianism heresy that humans, apart from divine grace, have the natural ability to seek, turn, or want God.

The Second Council of Orange (529) (which is accepted as authoritative both by Catholics and the Orthodox) rejected semi-Pelagianism. The Council declared:

“If anyone denies that it is the whole man, that is, both body and soul, that was ‘changed for the worse’ through the offense of Adam’s sin, but believes that the freedom of the soul remains unimpaired and that only the body is subject to corruption, he is deceived by the error of Pelagius and contradicts the scripture….” (Canon 1).

Similarly, it states,

“If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or make any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit, and does not understand the voice of God….” (Canon 7).

The Second Council of Orange made many comparable statements. Apart from grace, salvifically speaking, the human will is in bondage.

I’m not trying to paper over the differences between Calvinists, Lutherans, Molinists, Arminians, and other Christians. All affirm the reality of human agency. The respective groups disagree primarily about how grace operates on the human will. About that there is much debate. But there is common agreement–even among Calvinists–that a human being, because he or she is created in the image of God, possesses a will which that person owns.

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Disneyland Vs. Dismaland: Why Both Are Incomplete

Recently PBS aired a two-part documentary on the life of Walt Disney. The program presented Disney as a man who recoiled from the dark side of life. He withdrew from the real world by re-creating a parallel, sanitized version of reality. Disney was a remarkable visionary and storyteller, so he powerfully communicated this safe, uber-reality through movies, television, and ultimately Disneyland. Walt-Disney America–and much of the rest of the world–found Disney’s vision almost irresistible. Practically every American child has had his or her life impacted by Walt Disney. I grew up on a steady diet of Disney movies, The Mickey Mouse Club, and Ducktales comic books.

However magical Disney’s world may seem, there’s always something that’s missing. Escapism never satisfies. A recent Disney movie, Tomorrowland (starring George Clooney), displayed just how vapid and banal such utopian visions really are. A recent article in Christianity Today explains why the Disney vision falls flat:

It may assuage our uneasiness to disengage, to pretend that ignoring evil is the same thing as resisting it. Disney has built an empire on this principle, regularly stealing from the Grimm Brothers’ treasury and adapting fairy tales to suit our modern sensibilities. We like our stories sanitized, following a formula that is predictable and happy and safe for children. But the problem with this reluctance to look evil in the eyes—besides the cowardice it betrays—is that such a view of reality is not complete.

Banksy, the British artist and political activist, has had enough. He has created a ghoulish parody of Disneyland that he calls “Dismaland”. Located on a couple of acres in Somerset, England, the exhibit provides creepy rides and disturbing characters intended to mock the Disney vision.

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Dismaland is as depressing as Disneyland is cheery. The CT article noted earlier explains why Dismaland falls prey to the same shortcomings of Disneyland:

The problem with Dismaland is that, despite its best efforts to stand in opposition to Disney World and the like, it fosters the same kind of narrow vision that Disney World perpetuates. Disney may ignore certain horrors in the world, but Dismaland shields itself from Disney’s blazing glory. The world is too vile for us to be blithe. It is also too beautiful for us to be afraid.

Both visions–Disneyland and Dismaland–are incomplete. Neither worldview properly views the evil in the world; both fail to see the world in the light of redemption. Sin has marred a beautiful Creation. Through Jesus Christ, God promises to make all things new. A Gospel-centered worldview, one that sees all things from the perspective of the Cross and the Empty Tomb, can view this beautiful/ugly world with clear-eyed confidence and hope.

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