Philadelphia Eagles’ star Riley Cooper is the latest celebrity to have to issue an emotional, and very public, mea culpa for having used that most infamous of racial slurs, “the N-word.” Fortunately for him, it appears that Cooper has been forgiven.
From these public apologies much can be learned—and a thing or two about contemporary American racial politics isn’t even the most of it.
First, from the highest to the lowest, every aspect of our culture remains saturated in a distinctly Christian vision of morality.
The notion that it is gravely immoral to regard people differently, much less treat them badly, on the bases of race, ethnicity, gender, class, and even religion is a part of Christianity’s legacy to the world. And it is the ubiquity of the belief in this idea that accounts for the pressure brought upon Cooper and others to repent of their transgressions.
In other words, if not for the world that Christianity produced, it is not likely that “racism,” “sexism,” “ethnocentrism,” “classism,” “ageism,” “ableism,” “classism,” or any of the other “isms” that are deemed unmitigated evils by our public culture would have ever been conceived, to say nothing of actually observed.
Note, I do not mean to suggest that there’s anything like a straight line that runs from an educated understanding of Christianity to the Politically Correct excesses of our day. And I know that, consciously speaking, the most zealous of “anti-racists” and their ilk are motivated by an animus toward Christianity—not a devotion to it.
No matter. The point is that while our PC zeitgeist is doubtless a perversion of Christianity, it is still a perversion of Christianity. If the aforementioned “isms” are unconscionable, it can only be because the differences on which they are based are superficial. That is, it must be the case that underlying our differences is a common human nature, a fundamental essence from which each and every person derives an inalienable dignity.
It is this belief, and only this belief, that informs not just belief in the awfulness of “racism” and the like. It is also only this belief that informs the widespread view that there is a “moral law” and “moral rights” of which all members of the human race are in possession.
But here’s the rub: if there is such a thing as human dignity, then human beings are not, and can never be, the bio-chemical accidents of a purposeless, endless evolutionary process. This isn’t to deny evolution, in some sense of this word. It is to deny the logical tenability of a theory according to which something called “human dignity” can emerge from a universe comprised of nothing but matter in motion.
In fact, as such staunch atheists as Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean Paul Sartre have remarked, the very notion of human nature itself is the offspring of Christianity. The concept of human nature serves the same function as the concept of God: both constrain individuals by specifying in advance limits on what they can do and who they can be. This similarity is no coincidence, for unless there is a God, an author of human nature, the latter can’t exist.
But, as Sartre wrote, if there is no God, then “everything is permissible [.]” The great existentialist philosopher admitted that he found this view of reality “very distressing,” for he recognized that it entailed that there are “no values or commands” that “legitimize our conduct [.]” It means that “we are alone [.]”
Nietzsche disdainfully referred to Christianity as the penultimate “slave morality” from which other species of slave morality like “Democracy,” “socialism,” and “liberalism” spun off. From the perspective of “the slave morality,” the evil man is “the aristocrat, the powerful one, the one who rules [.]”
The slave-morality, on the other hand, affirms just those qualities that promise to alleviate its proponents’ suffering: “sympathy, the kind, helping hand, the warm heart, patience, diligence, humility, and friendliness [.]” Because these are the characteristics that supply “the only means of supporting the burden of existence,” they are elevated to the stature of universal human excellences.
If there is such a thing as human dignity, it can only be because humans were, as Christians say, made in the image of God.
The verdict is clear: whether we choose to recognize it or not, the fact of the matter is that upon our shared morality is the indelible impress of Christianity.
The latter’s nemeses from yesteryear readily conceded this.
Apparently, their progeny today lack either the honesty or courage of their intellectual ancestors.