I wish I would have saved the Facebook post I saw the other day, something to the effect of, “There ought to be an award for people who criticize the most without actually reading the article.”
Social media, with its barrage of headlines, blurbs, and limited characters, seems to temp people’s reflexes more than their critical thinking. I’ve seen even the normally-pensive turn into piranha once certain words of phrases step into the waters. Or is this just normal human nature?
I think it’s more the latter. Think about it: think how many times you’ve tried to have a political or religious conversation with someone of opposing views, only to be shot down, shut down, name-called, slandered, misrepresented, talked over, gang-tackled, or worse. From this phenomenon comes the great variety of memes and labels that each make 50 percent of the population laugh at the other in superiority, while oblivious to the fact that the other 50 percent is doing the same thing to them.
From this circus of media, we are blessed with derogations such as “Paulbots,” “nevertrumpers,” “neocons,” “libtards,” “homophobes,” “cuckservative,” and countless more—all of which, once established, can effectively shut down any conversation or argument no matter its merits. Granted, there may always be some cases in which some of these terms do actually apply to folk, but once meme status is achieved, the appellative becomes the stamp of unreason in virtually every application.
The worse aspect of this problem, however, is that it soon becomes the immediate go-to weapon before the whole article gets read, before all the nuances get considered, or even before the article gets read, period. Words become tools for bludgeoning a perceived enemy instead of tools of reason, discourse, education, and understanding. Christians, and Christian thinkers especially, ought to provide examples of the latter—and this often takes the exercise of the spiritual fruit of suspension of judgment and reaction for a good bit.
Along with political labels, there are also many words, phrases, ideas, or topics which historically can have the same effect of provoking mindless reaction and conversation-stopping. One of these I dared to put in print the other day, and from some quarters the reaction was predictable. From others, however, well, I wish I would have thought of that “didn’t read the article” award at the time. Some attributions of what I said, or was getting at, compared to what I actually wrote were fairly stark; and in most cases, I had already clearly addressed the misgiving in the article. I won’t take the time to write a “refutation” of everything that was said—pointless for many reasons, which, if not clear already, will be later—but I will offer a couple comments that hopefully will help all involved, except the rabid, overt racists—although I hope to convert as many of those as possible, too.
When I posted an article the other day to provide some intellectual background for my work on American slavery and racism, I dared utter a word that is on the “forbidden reading” shelf for conservatives: “reparations.”
That single word was all it took to unleash the guard dogs of the traditional canned arguments against the traditional “call” for reparations:
Not all blacks were slaves. How do we know who gets what?
How much do they get? It’s impossible to figure out. It’ll turn into a never-ending welfare money pit.
Who has to pay all this? I never owned slaves. Why should I have to pay?
You’re punishing the children for the sins of the fathers.
Why only blacks? What about all the whites who were also enslaved? Don’t they get reparations too? Why not?
So now all whites have to pay money to all blacks!? That’s crazy. You’re a leftist libtard.
Wouldn’t this be socialism? I thought you argue against socialism!
Where would we get the extra money? We’re already in debt.
There are so many problems with the reparations idea that we could never figure them all out! Why open this can of worms?
With these types of mostly self-justifying arguments—most of which can be answered easily, by the way—the traditional knee-jerking conservative shuts down the conversation for himself and his 50 percent. “You said ‘reparations.’ I’ve read Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams (they’re black by the way; ha ha on you!). So, you’re dumb. Next.”
Of course, had these Fox crusaders actually read the article, they would have crossed, just for starters, this:
The greatest problem for reparations now is, in fact, practical. It is that, after such great passage in time, how in the world we would account for who all gets paid, how much, for how long, and who has to pay it. At this point, I am less averse to having it paid from the general fund (assuming it would be cut from other areas of the budget, many of which are waste and idiocy anyway), even though this would seem to be the very type of socialism I myself decry. I think, however, that is not socialism per se, but a matter of justice delayed and yet due, and should have been exacted from the public wealth of the South to begin with. I would be happy to see other parts of actual socialistic bureaucracies denuded of budget to make restitution where it is due, could it actually be calculated and all the logistical and individual issues sorted out. This thinking of mine is purely conceptual and heuristic at this point.
There are many other problems, of course, as well as other issues.
Any critic who had any of the standard reservations against the traditional “reparations” argument should have seen from just this much that mine is hardly a traditional reparations argument, and, in fact, has little in common with it. Further, I went out of my way to acknowledge that this is only a starting point for discussion (not a “call for reparations” by Joel McDurmon), that conservatives (instead of liberals and far left leftists)—especially the churches—should have been out in front of the conversation, and that there are many problems and issues to overcome.
But the most that any critic seemed to have gotten from this paragraph was one guy who argued, “Why does only the South have to pay?” Talk about tunnel vision.
Read the text! I did not say only the South should have to pay. I said it should have paid originally, to begin with. As the loses of a war, obviously, it should have paid the spoils, and the spoils should have gone at least in part to the victims of their crime. To make matters worse, the victims were promised some of the spoils; they never got it.
Today, however, if there were to be payments, it would obviously have to be a national issue with many more nuances and angles addressed. Again, this needs to be addressed more in the way I just mentioned above.
Then, to make matters even clearer, I concluded like this:
I say we should instead start planning a comprehensive, conservative biblical program of healing race relations, not even shying from considering reparations on the table. It will involve many issues, like criminal justice reform, what repentance in this area looks like, how, in fact, the issue actually gets resolved so that it is resolved, etc. [emphasis now added].
One of the complaints I heard was that “reparations” would be a never-ending punishment for whites and a perpetual welfare scheme. But see how I just addressed that already? Someone didn’t read the article.
The opposite knee-jerk also appeared: what an insult it is to think you can just pay money and everything will suddenly be ok!
No, I didn’t say that; but if there is a material reparation to be considered as part of healing race relations, then we need some objective criteria to avoid the political equivalent of eternal punishment. This is a legitimate concern for taxpayers. Settling it will have to be part of a larger discussion about what else full healing involves. Nobody here is trying to dole out hush money to get it over with; but we need to have an adult conversation where at least some objective criteria are able to have the upper hand over the emotional conversation-stopping by all sides.
All of this is not to say that there were not some able, level-headed, and helpful criticisms and comments to the previous article. There certainly were, and I welcome them. There were, in fact, some very helpful ideas looking forward, and I thank the people, like Creation Ministries’ Rob Carter, who helped make them.
It is my hope and prayer that by braving these early stone-throws from the reactionaries—who, as I said in the previous piece, are more fearful of the overall “leftism” with which they’ve associated the issue wholesale than they would be of the truth, were they to consider it more dispassionately—I can help start a broader discussion among Christians and conservatives, and inspire a passion for this issue which not only sees it through to some meaningful reform, but also itself inspires the drive needed to see the connections to other issues like criminal justice, the war on drugs, drug addiction treatment, and so much more, so that further needed reforms will develop there too.
In the meantime, I don’t mind the few volleys of unreason. I can exhibit them as examples of what to avoid, and I can provide an example for Christian leaders of how first to endure them, and then avoid engaging in them ourselves. Our Lord knows that many of our black brethren have endured them long enough. Who is brave enough to stand beside them for the law of God and truth?