The Color Line of this century

Writing at the turn of the previous century, W. E. B. Dubois quite famously said, “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color-line.”

Well, the fact is, that problem, while still with us, has been addressed. The Problem of the 21st century is not the problem of black versus white, but whether you believe Spirit exists or not.

The black community, the folks who were enslaved but became free in 1863 and who were discriminated against until 1963, does not have their history go unmentioned in the history books.

The believing community does. Schoolchildren do not hear about the founding of the Church of Christ [of the Latter-Day Saints variety or any other], of the Seventh-Day Adventists, or of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. No one mentions their very existence. You don’t hear about what the Salvation Army is up to from a lesson in school. Unless, perhaps, you attend parochial school, which can be expected to offer a real class in comparative religions.

“The gulf in outlook between atheists and adherents of the monotheistic religions is profound,” says an NYU University Professor of philosophy.

We are fortunate to live under a constitutional system and a code of manners that by and large keep it from disturbing the social peace: usually the parties ignore each other. But sometimes the conflict surfaces and heats up into a public debate. The present is such a time.

Even beyond the boundary of the country the problem of the 21st century has very little to do with skin color, and a lot to do with soul.

[S]ince 1900, the Muslim population [of sub-Saharan Africa] has increased twentyfold, to 234 million. The growth of Christianity there has been even more spectacular, growing seventyfold to 470 million

If trouble continues to break out between black Muslims and black Christians it will not be because the people in question are black. When in Memphis I lived for a year with a family, everyone of whom graduated high school and containing seven adults, most married, none of whom believed in Darwinian evolution. Again, it wasn’t because they were black that they lived in a dream world.

Can people who believe very different features of experience are significant ever agree? — or even communicate?

The French mathematician Blaise Pascal, one of the founders of modern algebra, had something cogent to say about the difficulty of communication between the parties who had lost the assurance of believing anything in common. He asserted the existence of a rule of belief.

One thing that is necessary for agreement to take place is that there be the rule of your belief (la régle de votre créance) which requires that you never believe anything without having put yourself in the state of not agreeing to it.
It is this agreement of your self with yourself, and the constant voice of reason, and not that of others, which makes it necessary for you to believe.
And belief is so important! A hundred contradictions are true [unless there be a rule of belief].

The phrase in brackets is added by the editor of the French edition; the translation into English is by the writer of these lines (who will supply further bibliographic details upon request). The seventeenth-century French scientist and philosopher went on to say that the rule of belief is supplied by human nature.

Nous jugeons des animaux qu’ils font bien ce qu’ils font. N’y aura-t-il point de règle pour juges des hommes? Nier, croire, et douter bien, sont à l’homme ce que le courir est au cheval.

That is to say, “We judge whether animals do what they do well. Could there not be any rule at all to judge of men? To deny, to believe, and to doubt, well: these are to a man what running is to a horse.”

Please note that Pascal does not say that it is reason, used well or ill, that distinguishes the human being, but the ability to judge wisely. Pascal is not one of those blind believers in science, for whom progress is continually, logically unrolling toward an optimal society.

In order that you might contribute to the community learning to address the Problem of the 21st century, the problem of religious belief dividing our people, you must first learn to trust your judgement, and then you must put yourself mentally in the belief system of your opponent. Only then can you believe what you believe.

About M. Meo

Worked as translator, museum technician, truck lumper, lecture demonstrator, teacher (of English as a Second Language, science, math). Married for 25 years, 2 boys aged 18 & 16 (both on the Grant cross-country team). A couple of scholarly publications in the history of science. Two years in federal penitentiary, 1970/71, for refusing the draft.
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One Response to The Color Line of this century

  1. Pingback: Walk a Mile in the Other’s Shoes | The Cascadia Chapter of the Pacific Green Party

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