Race in politics has been a focal point in the U.S. for a long time; however, in the last several years it has become more important than at any point in my lifetime. So much that I have written on the subject before here. Given the events in Charlottesville, VA and the reactions to these events, I must now speak again upon the topic of race.
As a preface to these thoughts, however, I want to meditate upon how Scripture describes God. St. Athanasius the Great defended the divinity of the Holy Spirit in a letter to his friend Serapion. He identifies what he called paradigmata, or paradigms that illustrate to us the nature of God. For example, he points out that the Father is equated to a fountain (Jer 2;13; Bar 3:12), the Son is called a river (Psalm 65:10) and we are told that we drink of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:13).
The pattern can be described this way: the Father is the source of the metaphor (fountain), the Son is the incarnation of the metaphor (running water) and the Holy Spirit is the means by which we participate in the metaphor (we drink).
Thus, if the Father is a poet (which shares the same etymology as the word “create” in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth”) the the Son is the Word (John 1:1) and the Holy Spirit is the breath (wind) through which we hear and speak that poetry:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.—Acts 2:1-4)
Therefore, as Peter declares in 2 Peter 1:4, “through these [promises] you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature,” God’s desire is for us to participate in Him. Due to the fact that we are created according to the image and likeness of God, He also desires that we participate in each other as well: “I have given them the glory you gave me, that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22). This is key to understanding race and culture in a world obsessed with both.
Culture is something that can be shared and participated in. For example, I can watch Korean movies and television, eat and cook Korean food, wear traditional Korean clothes, learn to speak the Korean language and learn how to behave in polite Korean society. Being Korean would make the learning curve on all these things shorter, but it is not necessary that I be Korean to participate in all these things.
Race, on the other hand, is not something I can participate in. I am not and will never be Korean by race.
Therefore, culture, as a concept, can help us see the image and likeness of God in other people. It allows us to step in other human being’s shoes and live like they do. It allows us to see a different perspective. It allows us to grow ever closer to God’s deepest desire that we be one like He is one.
In radical contrast, race prevents us from seeing the image and likeness of God in others. As a concept it really only has one purpose: to separate us and prevent us from talking to each other and therefore experiencing that which culture invites us to experience. In a practical sense, race is only useful to those interested in power. Race de-humanizes people so that they can be easily pitted against each other and used and abused to gain and maintain power.
In other words, if I am White, African-American, Latino, Asian, Native American or any other race, than I am merely a tool used by those interested in power to gain and maintain power. It is arguable that I am not even human.
If, however, my culture is European, American, African-American, Latin-American, Asian, Native American, etc. than I and other human beings can freely share our cultures with each other and therefore more easily see the image and likeness of God in our fellow human beings.
Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scyth′ian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. — Colossians 3:11