Sunday, November 09, 2008

Faith and Possibility


Cultural critic John McWhorter has an interesting piece in Forbes called "The End of Racism?" a question preoccupying many Americans since the recent election. Here's a taste of it:

"It was one thing when legalized segregation and disenfranchisement were outlawed in the mid-60s. This was a massive undertaking, but people devoted their lives--sometimes literally--to making it happen.

It was something else when, in the wake of this, racism became socially taboo in most segments of American society. Sure, there are lapses. But anyone who thinks there has been anything short of a seismic shift in America's racial relations since the 60s should take a look at Mad Men. The very fact that it is news that there remain people who wouldn't vote for a black man shows that we live in a different world than 40 years ago.

The new frontier, however, is apparently people's individual psychologies: Not only must we not legislate racism or socially condone it, but no one is to even privately feel it." (Read the whole thing here).

There was a particular statement made by McWhorter that I found more interesting than his overall thesis regarding racism:

"The question is whether the total eclipse of racism is either possible or necessary. It is neither..."

This statement illustrates one of the fundamental limitations of analyses of social problems that exclude God from the equation, namely the way they constrain human imagination regarding what is possible. In the absence of faith, pessimism presents itself as realism and masquerades
as wisdom. Faith expands the boundaries of possibility, inspires and motivates us to soar beyond the limitations of materiality, to strive for what appears to the skeptic to lie outside of reasonable expectation.

"I say unto you that any one who will rise up in the Cause of God at this time shall be filled with the spirit of God, and that He will send His hosts from heaven to help you, and that nothing shall be impossible to you if you have faith... As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be. This is the standard -- this is the standard -- this is the standard."
(Compilations, Baha'i Scriptures, p. 503)

The very progress McWhorter rightfully celebrates regarding racism in America is due to people's daring to believe in a world without chattel slavery, a world without segregation and institutionalized racial discrimination, changes that many at the time dismissed as neither "possible" nor "necessary". Likewise the human heart can and will be freed from the stain of racial prejudice in all its varied forms and degrees if we have faith in this possibility and strive day by day for its realization.

"Nothing is impossible to the Divine Benevolence of God.

If you desire with all your heart, friendship with every race on earth, your thought, spiritual and positive, will spread; it will become the desire of others, growing stronger and stronger, until it reaches the minds of all men.

Do not despair! Work steadily. Sincerity and love will conquer hate. How many seemingly impossible events are coming to pass in these days! Set your faces steadily towards the Light of the World. Show love to all; 'Love is the breath of the Holy Spirit in the heart of Man'. Take courage! God never forsakes His children who strive and work and pray! Let your hearts be filled with the strenuous desire that tranquillity and harmony may encircle all this warring world. So will success crown your efforts, and with the universal brotherhood will come the Kingdom of God in peace and goodwill."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 29)