The following is a chapter-long excerpt from my new ebook, Letter to a "Racist" Nation:
Chapter Four: The Tao of Right Living
"Black Lives Matter!" Reads a sign in front of the pretty Methodist church a few blocks from my house, its white spire backdropped by a granite mountain made famous in the TV show Twin Peaks.
I helped take the census in this town ten years ago, so have some idea of its demographics. Occasionally I hear Chinese spoken at the main store in town, and I know there are a few other Asians here besides those in my family. One of four restaurants in town is Mexican, and I interviewed other Hispanics scattered around. There may be a few African-Americans in our community, but I have yet to enjoy the privilege of meeting them, except when I subbed in local schools.
The value of black contributions to American society is heavily emphasized in those schools, and I have helped teach in every public school in this and a neighboring district. I have never heard anyone in my town deny that in fact the lives of black citizens hold value.
So what it the point of the sign?
pastor of that church think some black community member is being persecuted by
the rest of us? If such a thing were to happen, I would hope she would go
to those responsible, and rebuke them as they deserve. I would be willing
to join her. Anyway, the young people in our district hear this message
constantly in local schools. So why dominate your front yard with a
sign preaching a message that we have all heard thousands of times before, with
which we whole-heartedly agree, and that we can seldom apply to those we meet
on a daily basis?
"Thou shalt not commit adultery?" be more practical?
A less-prominent banner hangs across the second floor of the church, offering a version of the Ten Commandments that seem to come half from the Bible, half from the Democratic Party platform:
"Be the Church!"
"Protect the Environment!"
"Care for the poor!"
"Fight for the powerless!"
"Share earthly and spiritual resources!"
This seems to reflect a richer set of values than posters at the average BLM demonstration, odd as it may be to see "Love God" ninth on a church's list of fundamental values. But even thus fortified, the toolbelt of our soul seems poorly-equipped to construct a village.
In Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis described what he called the "Tao," a transcendent set of moral truths of which he believed all humanity was aware.
The term Tao or Dao ( 道) has been used for thousands of years in China, Japan and Korea to mean "road" "path" or "way." Long before the founding of Taoism by Lao Zi, it had evolved from its primary meaning of "route," then "to speak," to emerge as "the principal of reason," "all truth," or the "Way of Heaven," terms the great 19th Century translator James Legge used to translate passages in the pre-Confucian classics. Confucius himself used the word to mean "the Way," "right principles," or "the proper course:" a model of life exemplified by divinely-appointed sages.
Lewis described the Tao as a
universally-recognized set of moral principles and truths flowing from some
principle of ultimate meaning:
"It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on . . . It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and super-cosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar" (28).
In an appendix, Lewis gathered quotations from around the world to illustrate the Tao as recognized in many cultures. He classified fundamental moral duties as general and specific beneficence ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"), duties to parents, elders, ancestors, and children, the "Law of Justice," including honesty and sexual justice, good faith and veracity, mercy, and the "Law of Magnanimity" which for Lewis seemed to include courage ("Death is to be chosen before slavery and base deeds.") His point was that like mathematics or logic, basic moral intuitions are truths outside our minds, not ideas cultures invent, but facts about right and wrong which we discover. (Though different cultures may stress varying duties and form clearer or less clear ideas of these truths, just as some people work out mathematical laws in more detail.)
"Do not be a racist" might be classified as one precept within the "Law of General Beneficence." Lewis argued (quoting Confucius!) that a single law cannot stand alone, but derives validity from the whole.
The fact that you obsess on one narrow statute, and forget the Tao from which it gains validity, reflects both moral progress and regress.
Your concern about racism reflects progress, because the ancient Romans seldom recognized a duty to the poor and marginalized. In his magisterial work Dominion, historian Tom Holland argues that our care for those on the margins of society comes from the Judeo-Christian tradition, in particular the teachings and life of Jesus. I think one can find buds promising a similar blossoming on the stems of early Buddhism (the Dhammapada), the writings of Mozi, and to lesser degrees Confucius and Lao Zi, along with Greek and Roman Stoics. (And the ethical nursery where Jesus no doubt picked up his own shoots before nurturing them to verdant blooms, the Hebrew prophets.)
But what all these pre-scientific thinkers held in common were well-stocked tool belts, not one sad hammer with which to pound like Bam Bam Rubble.
The Tao encourages no narrow obsession. Whether in Stoic, Buddhist, Confucian, or Christian forms, it provides a vastly richer and more positive worldview than either "Black Lives Matter" or even the New Ten Commandments hanging from my neighborhood church.
Take Confucius for example. A standard Chinese high school textbook accurately describes his philosophy as the "mainstream" of Chinese thought. In True Son of Heaven: How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture, I argue that the staying power of Confucius, and his influence on East Asian culture, depended on virtue deriving from humility pointing in four directions: above (loyalty to parents, magistrates, and God), beneath (kindness to children, disciples, and other subordinates), within (humility), and outward (curiosity and the thirst for education that Confucius taught a quarter of the world, and allows East Asian cram centers to print money like the Mint to this day.)
The Tao allowed for progress, Lewis insisted. Where feet were bound or widows burnt, followers of Jesus brought it. The Tao may be as universal as the sky, but like the universe itself, it creates space for seekers of truth to expand into.
Even St. Paul's most pared-down tool belt of virtues is both oddly formidable, and remarkably useful:
"Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control."
Social scientists have come to
recognize the civilization-building power of the final item on this list.
Max Weber's classic The Protestant Ethic and the
Spirit of Capitalism linked such religious virtues to
secular success. The fruits of the spirit may include patience and
self-control, but to apply those virtues in the workplace, will bring money in
the bank. Likewise, Mona Charen's Sex Matters,
and Heather MacDonald's War on Cops, demonstrate
that a lack of self-control and sexual faithfulness undermines one's power to
express love, destroys peace and joy, and creates a ruthless subculture of
predators and prey.
It is for want of "fruit of the Spirit" that murder rates soar on the South Side of Chicago.
Virtue is power. It is the reliable child who is given the flag to direct traffic. Sexual self-control creates families and gives them strength. Scrooge's hard work and careful saving allows him to buy a Christmas turkey for the Cratchits. (Dickens' own father lost his son’s esteem by wasting his earnings.)
Am I boring you? Would you rather drive a "Black Lives Matter" sign into the front lawn of your church, and gain cheap grace? Do you fear that telling men and women to get married before sleeping together will sound "patronizing," "bigoted," or "racist," because those are the only tools left in your belt? Or are you afraid you might have to follow Paul’s code yourself? Restrained sexuality may build civilizations, but it frightens a Roe Vs. Wade generation.
The concept of "racism" is a valuable tool. Without it, some sudden gust of prejudice might blow the shingles off our roof and drench us all. We must keep this hammer within easy reach, and be prepared to use it. We do not want to return to the worst crimes of our past, which betrayed every "fruit of the spirit" on the deepest level.
"That's just your pampered white reality!” I hear a voice saying. “Stop hiding your head in the sand! Even if you don’t experience it in your suburban cocoon, listen to the news, and you'll know that acts of gross white-on-black racism occur in America every day!"
I bet Pentheus wished he had hidden his head in the sand, before his mother tore it off his neck.
If America is really still a racist society (in the only sensible sense, a country that commonly and systematically mistreats people for their color), why have you fallen for every race-bating scam that has come down the pike in recent years?
The word “racism” has become a powerful weapon to control Americans of all races, and keep them at one another’s throats. This is why when you hear the word, you jump, like one of Pavlov's poor, reactionary hounds.