This is a Ryan Harkins Super Comment Of The Day, combining a series of his reflections on this prayer for racial hate. Here it is, inspired by “Ethics Observations On “Prayers Of A Weary Black Woman’” and a comment by Glenn Logan:
I wonder, if we had a poll, which of the following people would find more appealing? “Dear God, please help me to hate White people…” or: “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, help me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon. Where there is doubt, faith. Where there is despair, hope. Where there is darkness, light. Where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” [Side note: though this prayers if often associated with St. Francis of Assisi, it is entirely absent from his writings. Its use can only be traced back to just before World War I.]
After spending a little more time reflecting on this incredible diatribe, I decided to take a step back and ask what it is about me that would lead to this. Now, I’m not necessarily claiming any direct personal responsibility for this terrible prayer, but my reflections do stem from Matthew 25:31-46. Have I seen you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and I did not minister to you?
Have I been indifferent to your struggles, since they are not mine? Have I been dismissive of your burdens, and perhaps even cast blame upon you? Did I sneer at your poverty, your drug addiction, your broken relationships, and say they were the just desserts of your poor choices? Have I stood at a distance and shrugged, because someone else would help, or if no one else did, the government would lavish plenitude upon you? Did I think that you were greedy for free money, and not feel the sting to your pride? Did I never feel the self-doubt and the hurt? Did I never extend a hand in genuine friendship, giving in to my own fears, rejecting you for your skin color before you could reject me for mine? If I showed you a smile, was it forced and hollow, because I cared more about not being called a racist than in offering you genuine happiness? Did I always demand you come to me asking, and never came without being asked? Was I the one who demanded you get a job before I’d respect you? Was I the one who belittled you for taking the opportunities offered you, without ever taking a moment to see if you were actually qualified? Did I ever stop to listen to you, to really listen to you, instead of lecturing at you?
This is not white guilt, but perhaps a bit of personal guilt at failing to walk side by side with someone who is hurting. Perhaps trying to walk alongside that person is not what they want, but am I so pusillanimous that I would not bear my heart to be wounded, that I would rather not risk pain in an effort to help another person?
I think this applies broadly. I think it is true that conservative economic theory is better than liberal theory, that it helps more people by increasing capital and opportunities all around. But the temptation for the conservatives is the same for the liberals. Correct me if I’m wrong, and I’m just spouting out my personal failings and shouldn’t indict others in my sins, but it seems that both the right and the left want to skip personally helping someone, and just let the monolithic, impersonal systems do the heavy lifting. If it isn’t letting the government distribute welfare to all those in need, then it is letting the economy generate the jobs that will then give people the opportunity to rise out of poverty.
Yes, I know there will be people who will unjustly hate with the fiercest hate imaginable, and there’s nothing I can do to change that. And there’s too much hate for anyone one person (save for the one person who proved his love for us by dying for us) to handle. But maybe there’s a great deal more hate than there needs to be because I didn’t do my small part to diffuse it.
[Commenter Glen Logan wrote]: “What the “woke” left has done is channel one side of this tension between self and social interests to attack its enemies.”
That is very true. Part of my contemplation is leading me to believe that the woke have succeeded because of a vacuum created by insufficient willingness to engage with those in need. Maybe my take on this is very skewed because of my own insulated world, and maybe I’m being unfair to the many, many people out there dedicating their lives to outreach. My thesis, though, is that I feel there is a great indifference out there, and that the woke culture has filled the void that indifference has left. I certainly did nothing to earn their hate, but maybe I’ve not done anything to convince them to not hate me.
[Commenter Glen Logan wrote]: “By couching this focus in terms of racial bigotry and its attendant emotional response, it attempts to value punishment over redemption, a rejection of the ideal of Christian thought that has informed life in America for almost 250 years.This new ideology rejects the very idea that “whiteness” can ever be forgiven, and this is by design.”
In this I find a trace of certain lines of Calvinism, in which you are either saved or damned, and there is not a thing you can do about either one. It is entirely up to God, and you can neither cooperate with him nor resist him. If you are among the elect, and you can catch a hint that you are if God showers you with blessings, then you can glory in that fact. If someone is among the damned, since that’s God’s active will, there’s no point in ministering to them. You might end up ministering to them anyway, since God might inspire you to do so, but it isn’t going to change their unfortunate outcome.
Being born white or black should neither disqualify someone nor promote someone. It is skin color. But if one cannot (reasonably) change skin color, then this is much like Calvinist double-predestination. Now, as a Catholic, I reject double-predestination, and I believe fully in forgiveness, especially as one who has been forgiven much. So this Calvinist way of thought is very alien to me, but it has had influence in American culture, and I think it has bred that indifference in a lot a quarters, and that indifference has allowed the woke culture to take some of these Calvinist ideas and flip them on their head.
In fact, as I think about it more, what Ms. Walker-Barnes is spouting makes a certain logical sense in that light.
[Commenter Glen Logan wrote]: “This is no doubt true in the very general sense, but we cannot enforce on everyone a duty to ‘help others.’”
I agree that we cannot enforce a duty to help on others. And perhaps I’m trying to work a distinction that does not exist. (My wife certainly thinks so. We argued for almost an hour last night about my comment, and I had to eventually stop the conversation because we needed to go to sleep. Maybe she’ll chime in with her thoughts, because she did have some very valid points and concerns that would be good to discuss.) But the distinction is in my mind is analogous to the pretty young woman who, while dressed provocatively, wanders down an alley in a bad part of town. If anything happens to her, her assailants have fully culpability. Yet she was not entirely passive in the whole affair either. She could have acted more prudently for her own protection. In a similar light, the woke culture driving these racial hatreds bears culpability for deepening the divide and fostering hatred, but maybe we could have acted more prudently in heading that off.
It is fine if one wants to live in tolerance and peace, but at the same time, if one does not wish to engage to head off the hatred, one cannot complain when that hatred flourishes unrestrained.
[Commenter Glen Logan wrote]: “So when we self-reflect, I think it’s important to compare what is being asked of us by Christ, and its concomitant access to forgiveness and redemption, to the eternal punishment being demanded by the “woke” Left of all those who don’t embrace its dogma wholeheartedly. Yes, religions of all stripes had and still have certain adherents who cannot tolerate nonbelievers, but virtually all provide some path to redemption. Not so the new religion of “woke,” who (if we believe this woman) are called not just to oppose, but apparently to hate those who disagree with them in any jot or tittle.”
I agree, and that is why I’m so concerned with what I can do. I have a limited sphere of influence. When it comes down to it, all I can control is myself (and sometimes not even then, sad to say…). I can influence some people around me, and there is an entire realm of things I cannot influence in the slightest. So any change I can make has to start with me. The woke culture is an existential threat to our society and needs to be fought. My wife disagrees, but I think the way to fight is to outdo the Left in generosity and love.
[Commenter Glen Logan wrote]: How much better is it to help another save his or her immortal soul than to give him financial or social assistance?
Amen. There’s only one great sadness in this world, and that is not to be a saint. Being generous does not necessarily mean financial handouts, but could be spending time and attention or a hundred other little gestures that could make maintaining hatred very difficult….
Part of freedom is being able to put forth your views without being jailed or killed for doing so. Part of being a grown-up is graciously handling criticism.
Being freed from slavery does not give one the right to hate. Hatred leads right back to bondage, namely the bondage of sin, which is worse than any Egyptian or plantation owner. Pleading for the ability to hate even a specific category of white people is worthy of criticism, especially pitted against teachings from the Sermon on the Mount. Can you reconcile a plea for help hating people with “But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”?
Our people? Her people? I guess I’m among those she denounces who “don’t see color,” because I see, or at least want to see, people. Each person is a child of God, wonderfully and fearfully made, with his own inviolable dignity. And God did rescue all of us from slavery through Jesus’s passion, death, and resurrection. And like the Israelites, who found their freedom challenging, we keep wanting to return to the bondage of sin. Yes, some white-skinned people enslaved some black-skinned people in the Americas, and I don’t want to downplay that fact, nor the social problems that slavery created and still plagues us today. But there is a huge difference between trying to heal those problems on one side, and on the other wishing harm on people who never owned a slave, whose parents and grandparents never owned a slave, and who find the idea of slavery abhorrent.
Does she have the right to speak in the style of the Psalms? Sure. Why wouldn’t she? Or are you implying some exclusive right, where she can do so, but I could not? But more importantly, does she have some special permission to ask for, rather than justice as the psalmist does in Psalm 69, a hardened heart impervious to love?
I did read her works to the end, which inspired my self-reflection below. And, while I’ll admit that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I found it to be a very ugly prayer.
I’m back briefly to say that we would have a poll, but the new “improved” WordPress system makes it so difficult to do one that I’ve given up.
3 thoughts on “On Comments Of The Day Day, Comment Of The Day #1: “Ethics Observations On ‘Prayers Of A Weary Black Woman'””
I don’t really have anything to add to this exchange, but I did want to say that I found it very thought provoking and appreciated the discussion.
See that huge gap after the 5th paragraph? On my draft, it doesn’t show up. There is nothing I can do about it in the current “WordPress “block” system. Nothing, and I spent 20 valuable minutes trying.
Jack, thank you for the COTD! I’m really impressed with how you arranged everything, and I don’t find that little gap to be anything to worry about.