Fr. Glenn: See That You Despise None Of These

By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos

There’s a logical maxim which states: If all of A are B, and all B are C, then all A are C. As an example, we might say: If all vultures are birds, and all birds are animals, then all vultures are animals. True.

Let’s alter the maxim slightly and see if it remains true: If all of A are B, then all B must be A. In an example, we might put it this way: if all vultures are birds, then all birds are vultures. Uh … no; I think our little hummingbirds might object. And yet this is the faulty logic upon which is based so much prejudice and bigotry.

There has always been prejudice and bigotry in some form or other, and it’s likely that there will always be so; it’s just too easy to target groups other than one’s own so as to feel superior rather than use the logical maxim above to make a more realistic assessment. And that’s what bigotry and gossip boil down to: the desire to feel oneself or one’s own identifiable grouping superior to those who are different. 

But we revel in such differentiation, of being “better” than the other. That’s one reason people love sports so much; they can rally for their chosen group identifier, collectively rejoicing when it succeeds. That’s why we don’t say “Our team won!”, but rather: “WE won!” … regardless that we ourselves had nothing whatever to do with the victory. Such is the vicarious thrill of winning and of elevating ourselves above another.

Prejudice and bigotry are based on a similar principle. If we hold to some bigotry, we’ll focus on detrimental news or stories about the target group, simultaneously highlighting positive stories about our own group in order to maximize contrast and make us feel even more affirmed about ourselves. This is especially true if we’ve been wronged by members of the targeted group.

Many who are my age and older remember the racial and ethnic prejudices so prevalent back then, likely able to fill in the following blanks themselves: All __________ are thieves. All __________ are drunks. All ________ are greedy. Etc. But in our day, while we like to vaunt ourselves as having largely overcome past racial and ethnic prejudices, new prejudices have arisen. “All Muslims are terrorists.” “All priests are pedophiles” is coming more into vogue, especially with the recent revelations from Pennsylvania. “All cops are racist killers.” “Toxic” masculinity. 

Yes, lumping together everyone from a particular racial or ethnic group is obviously foolish. But in responding to prejudice one must not be unjust in the other direction—the “reversed” prejudice or discrimination. For instance, there was a story in the news recently of a NASCAR driver’s father who had used a racial slur thirty-five years ago in an interview, and for that reason a company pulled sponsorship from the driver.

Well, for one, the driver had done no wrong. Secondly, we must allow for development of both each individual and of civilization itself, that both will hopefully realize the contradiction and even evil of prejudice and bigotry. After all, we are not wise from the womb, and our developmental environment in our youth molds who we become. Influences and misconceptions by those we love and trust in our youth are inculcated early, and we tend to follow such ideas in youth for approbation and acceptance.

But, hopefully, we’ll come to a greater wisdom over time, realizing the truth or error of unjust prejudices we learned early in life. For instance, a very noted example was late Sen. Robert Byrd who helped to organize a chapter of the KKK in his youth, but later called that work “his greatest mistake,” and was even endorsed, and later mourned, by the NAACP as a champion for civil rights.

The avoidance of prejudice and bigotry, I think, is likely one reason that the virtue of humility is emphasized so highly in the scriptures. The Pharisees and Sadducees in the Gospels are prime examples, elevating themselves above the common people to the point that they despised everyone else. These earned Jesus’ vehement condemnation. (Matthew 23)

Conversely, a favorite scripture is the description of Moses; even though Moses was God’s chosen to lead the Israelites from slavery by a variety of supernatural wonders, and then toward the Promised Land, he is described: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3) And, of course, Jesus was “meek and humble of heart”—a humility in which we find “rest for our souls”. (Matthew 11:29)

Prejudice hits hardest the targets of it. We Christians especially must remember that God has no prejudices, for each person is His child and creation, and recall the book of Revelation’s description of Jesus’ sacrifice: “…by thy blood didst ransom men for God from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (v. 5:9), and then John’s recollection: “I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches [of victory] in their hands…” (Revelation 7:9)

Thus, if you find yourself a target of prejudice and bigotry, prove the bigoted wrong by charity and righteousness, remembering the words of Isaiah: “…fear not the reproach of men, and be not dismayed at their revilings…my deliverance will be forever, and my salvation to all generations.” (Isaiah 51:7-8) And for those who perpetuate prejudice, I’d exhort them to consider Jesus’ own words: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 18:10)