In a conversation with Donald Trump on Friday’s edition of Fox and Friends, host Brian Kilmeade asked a follow-up question about the shooting— the murder— of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia:
“In the past, when there’s been a black-white shooting, a lot of times things get — spiral out of control, what can you do to make sure justice is done and this doesn’t end up in a racial situation?”
Thus Ahmaud Arbery becomes the latest fodder to perpetuate our partisan cultural antagonisms.
Kilmeade’s question suggests obliviousness to the fact the vigilante murder itself was already a racially fraught episode.
The assumption that a black man is by virtue of being black under suspicion of being dangerous enough to be shot is the heart of the issue. The rightful reluctance of the black community to trust police offers will not see them as immediate threats and act accordingly is the heart of the injustice involved.
Whenever a story like
Philander Castile Terence Crutcher Alton Sterling Keith Scott, Ahmaud Arbery’s hit the news, we choose sides. Rally behind our tribe. Keep our feet planted in our shoes’ perspective and see “them” as “other.”
What’s called “partisanship” in politics becomes something worse in a Christian context: tribalism. Seeing another as Other. Dividing up the perspectives into Us and Them and then quickly looking around for a scapegoat.
In other words, we violate the first commandment.
As Thomas Aquinas noted, it’s not so much that God reveals the Ten Commandments to us but rather the Ten Commandments reveal God to us; that is, the commandments chief purpose is to distinguish God from the gods. The gods of the nations in the Old Testament, Herbert McCabe argues: “represent a settling for a partial local identity.”
In giving the first commandment, God identifies himself not as a god but as the God who liberates from the gods: “I am Yahweh your God who brought you out of slavery in the house of Egypt. You shall have no other gods but me.” Note the irony of a God who identifies himself as a Liberator but quickly sets about giving us rules. This is because the Ten Commandments also reveal a bitter truth about ourselves.
One of the peculiar things about humanity is that when we are left to do exactly what we like, we straight away look around for someone to enslave ourselves to, and if we cannot find a master nearby we will invent one.
The true God reveals himself as the One who summons humanity out of this degradation we cling to, who summons us to the painful business of being free.
Free from responding “All Lives Matter” whenever we hear “Black Lives Matter,” revealing that the operative word, for us in such a response, is black.
It’s only when read against the backdrop of the many police shootings and the comment threads it provokes that it becomes clear what St. Paul means by the hard and painful business of having been freed from the Pharaoh of Sin and Death. For its our own preferred tribes, races, clans, perspectives, political parties, nations, _____________ from which the true God seeks to deliver us.
The avoidance of such gods is, the Old Testament makes clear, the basic distinguishing demand made of God’s People.
Says Herbert McCabe:
“The important thing is not just to be religious, to worship something somehow. The important thing is to find, or be found by, the right God and to reject and struggle against the others. The worship of any other god is a form of slavery.
To pay homage to the forces of nature, to the spirit of a particular place or people, to a nation or race is to submit to slavery and degradation.
The Old Testament begins by saying to such gods ‘I do not believe and I will not serve.’
The other gods make you feel at home in a place or tribe or group or the country you grew up in and love, with them you know where you are.
But the harsh God of freedom calls you out of all this into a desert where all the old familiar landmarks are gone, where you must wander over the wilderness waiting for what God will bring.
This God of freedom will allow you none of the comforts of religion. Not only does he tear you away from the devotions to your native place and people, but he will not even allow you to worship him in the old way. You are to have no image of God because the only image of God is humanity.”
When you realize, as McCabe does, that the gods of the Old Testament represent our normal proclivity to root our identity in our preferred tribes, races, clans, perspectives, political parties, or nations, you realize why it was so hard for Israel to journey out of Egypt and why it was so tempting for them to return there.
Whenever you hear a tribalistic comment like “Why did he run if he’d done nothing wrong?” you’re hearing the rattling of very old chains.
You’re hearing the echo of Israel’s lament to return to Pharaoh.
It’s the sound of exactly the sort of bondage from which the true God frees us, a point Jesus reiterates when he takes bread and wine and declares himself our Passover.