Thursday, May 12, 2016


Throughout history "That's the way things are" has been the rationale - socially, religiously, politically - for all segregation at all times. It's been the watchword of conservative thought. I hesitate to use that term, because it has such modern political overtones, but I mean it simply as the perspective some have of maintaining status quo. It's the definition of "That's the way things are," expressing an essential right-ness in the construction of society.

It likely began earlier, but we see this come to the forefront most easily with the divine right of kings. The party line was simple: God wanted society to function in tiers, so that's why it does. Kings are at the top because God wants them at the top. The nobility, same thing. The poor are poor because that's where they belong. People are handicapped or troubled or blessed or in charge precisely because that's where they deserve to be. It's nature.

That's the way things are.

This is the notion of social stratification that the founders of the United States were so upset with. We look at class today as largely economic - rich vs poor - but in the past it was very much a social distinction. Some people were common, no matter how much money they were able to amass. George Washington and company just didn't like being treated as country cousins and did something about it.

That's why we don't see real egalitarianism in the Constitution or in early American practice. That was a fight for later generations. Early America was still find with the rich/poor dynamic, because, after all, people are rich because they're inherently better and people are poor because they're inherently inferior. "That's the way things are."

No matter how often or how many of us benefit from the dispelling of this dictum, no matter how often we prove that "the way things are" doesn't have to be, we always revert back to it once the argument benefits us. Those same poor men who fought to get the vote themselves shut out women and minorities once they had it. You even see these problems in modern rights movements - the LG don't always treat the BT as equal partners in the equality movement - because power and position is super attractive.

We've seen these challenges over and over again in history. Women are physically inferior, right? They weren't even allowed to run marathons until the 1970's, because people thought it would literally kill them, that their bodies couldn't handle the same physical strain as a man (and every woman who's ever given birth laughs condescendingly). There was all this pseudo science invented to prove that the poor had physical traits that lead to their station, that Africans possessed smaller brains and needed the "guidance" of slave owners and colonial masters.

I wrote on Tuesday about our inherent human desire for division. We love having two groups so we can show how the one to which we belong is superior. It's a part of who we are. This is how we justify it. We appeal to some overarching structure. Hey, those are the rules. I didn't make them. "That's just the way things are."

Not to bring too much God into this (although you had to know it was coming), but this is why the Christian faith consistently calls its adherents to identify with the outcast - if we are constantly viewing ourselves as the forgotten, oppressed, and despised, then we'll not fall victim to the lie of "that's just the way things are;" we'll always be fighting to include people more fully. This is the position of God's people - or at least it should be. Part of being a Christian means that "the way things are" is that all people are loved and valued for who they are, not for any sum of their characteristics. "The way things are" is that we're designed to love and care for others in self-sacrificial ways. We're not just called, but designed as humans to reject the notion of self-preservation and work for the good of the other. Always.

We should never be happy with "that's the way things are."

We've come up with lots of ways to explain it away, but the apostle Paul outlines it plainly in scripture with his notion that "There is now no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ." We've used even this to establish a status quo - saying our group, "Christians" is somehow superior to others. We can claim we're debating belief systems, but that's not really true - we're debating identities. You know why? Because Christians are just as likely to make the same claims to right and wrong about other Christian groups in the absence of a bigger "other."

I'm right and you're wrong - because "that's the way things are."

It's the ultimate boogeyman. There's no real defense other than patience. Those people who disagree say, "no it's not," but they have to wait until people believe them. It always happens, too. History is the story of progress on this issue.

As much as "conservative" was a messy word in the first paragraph, so "progressive" is here at the end. Progress simply means change - a challenge to the "that's the way it is," mantra. Political conservatives and political progressives can certainly be both progressive and conservative depending on the situation, because the desire for power and control knows no bounds - and the lot of the left out has no political litmus test. For ever person who says, "It was better when..." there is another who can say, "not for me."

It is the call to sacrifice personal privilege and ease that is so important and so difficult. We must always be crossing that line of demarcation, moving over the place of the "other" and seeing the world through their eyes. It is the only way for us, who are always in a biases position, to truly understand whether "that's the way things are," is really true.

It's the only way we can conquer this cycle of segregation and begin to find some semblance of the world as it really is.

No comments: