The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 25, 2023 - 1:04:31

Greeks, barbarians, and Nazis: a Response to Charlottesville

Kate Whittaker Cousino, Aug 18, 2017

What is there to say about this past week that hasn’t been said?

It should be evident that racism, white supremacy, and bigotry of any kind are utterly incompatible with Christian Personalism.

Let me say that again: Racism, white supremacy, and bigotry of any kind are utterly incompatible with Christian Personalism.

To be a personalist is to know that every individual is valuable in and of him or herself, regardless of how we categorise and label ourselves or others.

From the “About” page of this website:

“We reject the ancient distinction between Greek and barbarian; we know that the birthright of a person belongs not to a select few but to every human being.”

There can be no absolute category of “them” and “us.” We are all persons, and every person is first and foremost an “I,” equal in worth and dignity to my own “I.” 

And here, I think, may be what Personalism has to add to the public conversation that is going on in every corner of social media this week.

Because if every “I” is of unspeakable worth, every person is a subject, an “infinite abyss of existence,”—then how do we respond to those we perceive as purveyors of hate or representatives of evil?

How do we value the personhood of white nationalist James Fields, who killed Heather Heyer and injured 19 other people when he drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters last Saturday in Charlottesville?

How do we balance the need, the obligation to stand in solidarity with those targeted by the hateful rhetoric and actions of white nationalists and neo-nazis, with the call to love our enemies?

I’ve been told that to even have that discussion in public is hurtful to those targeted by this violence. That it is a luxury and a privilege to be able to talk, calmly, about forgiving the persecutor when I, as a white woman and, incidentally, a Canadian—as “northern” as you can get—am not the target of their persecution.

And there is some validity to this criticism. I cannot forgive those who haven’t wronged me directly, and it is a privilege to be able to choose when and where I will confront racism and prejudice—one not afforded to those who have to live with the constant awareness and experience of it.

It’s not my place to forgive James Field for the murder of Heather Heyer. And this, too, is very personalist. There are moral callings that can only be responded to individually—not enforced, and not offered in solidarity or on someone else’s behalf.

It’s not my place to forgive James Field.

But I don’t think anyone could say it isn’t Mark Heyer’s place to do so.

“We have to forgive...I include myself in that in forgiving the guy who did this," he said. "I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.' ”

As a personalist, and as a Christian, I don’t have the option of responding to hatred with hatred, as tempting as it is, as good as it feels to be righteously furious.

I am obliged to stand in love and solidarity with the persecuted. And I am obliged to love, somehow, the persecutors, even as I resist and oppose their ideas and plans.

And that universal calling to solidarity, to resistance, and to love, contains within it personal moral callings that cannot be the same for every person, and cannot be used to judge the personal response of any other person.

That’s a lot to wrestle with.  

It’s been a hard week, and a long week.

There’s been outrage and anger and argument.

Now, perhaps, it is incumbent on each one of us to seek out some quiet, to reflect and to discern the voice of conscience within us.

There will never be a better time to find your compass and set your path by it than the day you are in now. 

We are all called to love, to solidarity, and to justice.

What will that call look like in your life, in this time?

What is your personal moral call today?

*Note: Since publishing, I have edited the line "how do we respond to purveyors of hate?" with the amended line, "how do we respond to those we perceive as purveyors of hate or representatives of evil?" 

Image via Peakpx