Lately (by this I mean over the course of the past couple of years) I have been increasingly been confronted with a world that wants to dichotmize everything and everyone.
Our culture wants us to make clear distinctions between Good and Evil, Left and Right, Black and White…there is no room for complexity or subtlety. These distinctions or boxes are being applied not simply to systems of thought, politics, organizations but to people as well…and not just people now but historically and outside of our own context.
Recently I posted a cool quote from American and all around historically significant woman Susan B. Anthony which stated “I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires…”
After I posted this a friend posted how Susan B. Anthony was not a great person but a racist who likely championed women’s rights so that it would undermine black men’s right to vote.
I don’t know how to respond to these things.
Am I supposed to not like the person? I abhor racism and if she was racist I abhor her racism but I find it difficult to dismiss EVERYTHING a person did because of one aspect of their very complex persona. Susan B. Anthony was a racist…this does not change the fact that I like what she said about people’s knowledge of God.
Martin Luther was a virulent anti-semite but I greatly appreciate his insight into faith and his part in the Reformation not to mention his hymns and translation of the Bible into German.
William Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice which presents one of the most enduring racist stereotypes of Jews ever written. He also wrote Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear. Must I dismiss the man entirely because of his hate?
Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King was a strong leader for the country through WW2. He was also a complete loon who consulted mediums and crystal balls to communicate with his dead dog and mother seeking advice on how to run the country. He would never have been elected today.
I guess what I am saying is that people do horrible things…but this does not make a person horrible. If I were to be judged on the basis of some of the mistakes I have made and perhaps on some of the culturally contextual opinions I hold which seem to work right now then I can tell you there is no hope for me or any like me.
I fear this movement toward an us versus them mentality or perhaps to quote former President Geroge W. Bush the mentality that says “If you’re not with us you’re against us.”