Biblical Anthropology, Epistemology, and The Problem of Racism: Some Presuppositional Considerations

imago dei 2I don’t usually write explicitly about so called “hot button” issues, but since the Mike Brown/Ferguson Riots topic is still harassing my social media notifications, I feel like I have no choice. Unlike many other writers, however, my concern is not primarily with “race” or “racism” or “the racial divide” or “police brutality” etc. Those are secondary issues that can only be addressed once one has committed himself to certain presuppositions. What is primary is not the stuff we see in the news but the words that come out of our own mouths, for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

The heart speaks, in other words, and reveals what one truly believes. And as I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, I keep coming across false beliefs about what it means to be a human being, and how it is that we come to have knowledge of ourselves, of right and wrong, of justice and injustice – really, of anything.

Let me clarify what I mean.

You see, when someone says their identity is inseparably tied to their ethnicity or race, they are contradicting the Scriptures. Man is the image of God (cf. 1st Cor 11:7); therefore, every attribute of man that is physical is ontologically accidental (meaning not ontologically necessary). Humans are humans regardless of their skin color, language, location on the globe, military might or lack thereof.

Being human is not, in other words, conditioned upon contingent empirical factors. To assume that one’s humanity is inextricably bound together with one’s race/ethnicity/skin color/language is not only incorrect, it is an implicit denial of the fact that man is the image of God. For if my being human is tied up in my race/ethnicity/etc, then my humanity is conditioned upon something other than God who is Spirit, essentially having neither flesh nor bones (cf. Luke 24:39).

So, while racism is abominable, it is even more so abominable because it implies that humanity is not made in the image of God. To reply to racism by digging one’s heels deeper into the presuppositional mud that underlies racism is to not reply at all. If we are followers of Christ, then let us follow him in his declaration of who we are: image bearers of the invisible God.

The false anthropology of those who find their humanity in their race/ethnicity/etc, however, also reveals the false epistemology underlying it. Many “minorities” (including myself in the past) claim that they have special knowledge due to their membership in their race/ethnicity/etc. We hear this all the time, don’t we?

“You wouldn’t know what it’s like to be black.”

“You wouldn’t know what it’s like to be white.”

“If you were white, you would know that…”

In one sense, these words are purely tautological, expressing nothing more than this: “You and I are not numerically identical.”

But sentences of the kind abovementioned are meant to express more. They are meant to express the idea that there is literally a kind of knowledge which is unique to persons who have particular experiences. Let that sink in.

If it is the case that black people and white people have ethnically specific knowledge that cannot be obtained by anyone outside of their race/ethnicity/etc, then how could I (a Puerto Rican) know whether or not the claim that “All Puerto Ricans carry knives” is true or false? What if the person making that claim has access to experiences which reveal that the proposition is true? What if he has experiences that cannot be had by Puerto Ricans?

See the problem?

But more to the biblical point, we know right and wrong not by experience but by revelation. My white brother in Christ may never have been called a spic, but he has been called derogatory names by persons of other races/ethnic groups/etc. The specific injury done to me is, in other words, not the degradation of my ethnic group/race but my having been treated as less than an image bearer of God.

We know right and wrong by divine revelation, not by experience.

To conclude, then: We are not our flesh and ancestry, we are bearers of the image of the invisible God.

We know right and wrong by divine revelation, not by experience.

If this is a problem for you, Christian, then consider whether or not you believe God’s Word concerning what and who you are, and what and how you know.

Soli Deo Gloria.



5 thoughts on “Biblical Anthropology, Epistemology, and The Problem of Racism: Some Presuppositional Considerations

involve yourself

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