(Editor’s Note: This guest commentary on the recent race-related violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, was written by Bishop Daniel E. Flores, bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, and provided to Catholic News Service.)
By Bishop Daniel E. Flores
Catholic News Service
There are such things as racist ideologies; they were in evidence during the ugly conflagration in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Racist ideologies blatantly proclaim that some races are biologically and culturally superior to others. Nazism bolstered its racist claims in the 1930s through pseudo-science that absurdly argued the physical and intellectual superiority of Aryan/Nordic races over all others. Propaganda, fear and manipulation of science convinced many that it was socially necessary to defend the “race” from “inferior” elements.
Meanwhile, they pursued a program of human extermination of those viewed as belonging to inferior races such as Jews, Gypsies, Poles and many others. They also pursued eugenic experimentation and elimination of the physically weak, the mentally or physically challenged, people with Down syndrome.
At its root, racism is a conviction that the group to which one belongs (or wants to belong) is for whatever reason inherently superior to all others, and thus has the right and obligation to fend off and control other “groups.” In our times these ideas mingle with notions extrapolated from Darwin and Nietzsche, holding that nature is ruled by the law of “survival of the fittest.”
Thus, the so-called superior groups mobilize to fight the threat that other groups present. It is their right, they would say, to ensure the survival of the fittest. This is why racism is never far from the nightmare of genetic manipulation, selective abortion (who gets selected?) and euthanasia (by the strong) of the weak.
All of this is so inimical to what Catholic faith teaches and to what ordinary Catholics try to live daily. The whole human race, all of us, were created in God’s image and redeemed by Christ’s blood. We are made for communion with one another as children of God. The aim of history, according to the Scriptures, is reconciliation and the heavenly Jerusalem, not the bloodstained hands of the last survivor.
God became flesh in the womb of the Virgin. God in the flesh is brother to the whole human race, not just a select part of it. This solidarity with us should be enough to banish from our thoughts the notion that any person or group can be singled out as inferior, less deserving of respect, care and protection.
But let us also recall that at the hour of his passion Christ completed his identification with us by accepting the condition of the rejected one, the one despised: “He was spurned and avoided by men, … one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem” (Is 53:3).
Christ assumed the condition of the spurned, forever identifying himself with those who are for whatever reason despised. Thus, anyone rejected for reasons of racial prejudice, or for any other reason, is the Christ among us. And be assured we will all be judged by how we treat him. “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Mt 25:45).
Every racist tendency finds its parentage revealed in the story of Cain and Abel. Theirs is the story of two brothers; and their story is ours. Cain slew Abel out of resentment, fear, envy and jealousy. Cain’s resentment flared into the thought that for him to have peace his brother had to die. And from the thought came the will, and then the violent deed.
But even at the beginning of fratricide, the Lord God offered hope: “So the Lord said to Cain: ‘Why are you so resentful and crestfallen? If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master” (Gn 4:6-7).
The “urge” of sin mentioned in Genesis is the very reality from which God acts to save us by becoming man and enduring the cross. The Christian struggle, and indeed the true human struggle, is to master the urge toward despising and disrespecting the neighbor who is in reality brother and sister to me.
As the Lord Jesus made clear in the great revelation of the new law, sin is in the heart’s consent before it is in the deed. “I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, … and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna” (Mt 5:22). This is the “urge” about which God warned Cain. And by grace it is the urge we must master.
The mystery of faith confided to the church requires that we all honestly examine our consciences and ask for the grace to be freed from hidden resentment, prejudice and vestiges of racism. And having done so, we must witness publicly that racism of any kind is inimical to Christian truth and destructive to human society.
And let us pray fervently for our nation and for the world that racial and cultural hatreds end, and that hearts be opened to the vision of a humanity renewed by grace, intent upon reconciliation and formed into a genuine communion of peoples.