Ex nihilo, nihil fit
(Out of nothing, nothing comes)
According to the website space.com, in science, the Big Bang Theory is, “the leading explanation about how the universe began. At its simplest, it says the universe as we know it started with a small singularity, then inflated over the next 13.8 billion years to the cosmos that we know today.”
Similar to the scientific view of the origins of the universe, there are those today who have a ‘Big Bang’ view of racism.
Like the reality of the universe itself, they acknowledge the existence of racism – though the definition of ‘racism’ varies greatly – but that existence is purely the result of uncaused “singularities” that are external to the individual displaying such a sinfully prejudiced disposition. Consequently, racism, with its myriad definitions and interpretations, is spoken of primarily, though not exclusively, as systemic or global with regard to its origins as opposed to intrinsic or individual in nature.
This is important to note as, over the past several decades, the strategies and tactics employed to ‘fight’ racism have largely been directed at the structures which many perceive to be representative of a culture of systemic racism rather than the attitudes that gave rise to those structures to begin with. But structures are not formed out of nothing. They do not come into existence by virtue of a serendipitous or autonomous convergence of ideological or philosophical singularities.
Like many who subscribe to the notion that the universe – with its intricate and abstruse complexities – was formed ex nihilo, adherents of “Big Bang Racism” believe racism to be the result of forces and influences that are external to human nature. In other words, it is the systems and structures themselves that result in people’s racist attitudes and behaviors as opposed to the other way around. Which is why we place a higher value on transferring monuments than transforming hearts (Rom. 12:2).
The argument I am positing is often a point of consternation for many Christian social justice advocates, many of whom deem it of more missional benefit to protest what is wrong with “the system” than to preach what is wrong with us. But such was the case during Jesus’ earthly ministry.
There were people then who, convinced that Jesus was the agent of socio-political change for whom they were waiting – and praying – made the eternal mistake of seeing Him as their king and not their Messiah, never realizing that to whatever extent “the system” under which they lived was corrupt or unjust, it was merely a reflection of the innately sinful human beings who comprised “the system”.
As the 19th-century theologian J.C. Ryle wrote in his classic work Holiness, “If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false and imperfect remedies.”
Ryle wrote those words in 1879. Yet I believe they are just as relevant today, as social justice advocates continue to pursue “false and imperfect remedies” for a spiritual disease that has a definitive genesis but is being treated as an ex nihilo or Big Bang-esque reality. As pastor and theologian John MacArthur exclaims,
“Nothing we can do for ourselves will free us from the bondage of sin. Adam’s transgression had a catastrophic effect, not only on him and his environment, but also on his progeny, including you and me. And we cannot make sense of our moral plight until we come to grips with where it all began.” – Think Biblically: Recovering a Christian Worldview, p. 87
The Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume stated, “I never asserted so absurd a proposition as that anything might arise without a cause.” This applies to racism as well. Racism is not an ex nihilo proposition borne out of subjective Big Bang reasoning. It is the product of a heart that is innately darkened by sin. As Jesus Himself declared in Mk. 7:21-23,
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”
Christ recognized what many today do not – that our problem isn’t the systems or structures under which we live as a society. Our problem is our soul. And unless and until we, as individuals, begin to recognize not only that racism exists but why it exists, we will continue to regard it as an ex nihilo phenomenon produced ‘out there somewhere’, when the problems lies much closer – within us.
Humbly in Christ,