Unblocking the River of Morality

Overcome Fear (and poor decision making) Through Lessening Ignorance
Rev. Jenn Shepherd
July 8, 2021

I attended a lovely, relaxed back yard meeting recently in which a gentleman running for the elected office of county executive came to introduce himself and answer questions. One of the issues brought up was the misunderstanding by the public on what the job really consisted of and what the position has the power to do and not do. The question then became how is it possible to change the perception, to create an understanding that is more accurate to the circumstance? The group did not readily have an answer.

This is an issue with a lot of topics I am witnessing with the people in my life and the images and misperceptions I am seeing expounded on social media.

As a middle school classroom teacher, I was charged with not only imparting facts but also imparting critical thinking skills and the ability to research and read for more information. I taught both science and history. Both subjects lent nicely to forming a thesis or hypothesis and then gathering information to support that thesis. We discussed how it was necessary to be willing to modify conclusions reached based on the research, debate, and experimentation. Human understanding is continually evolving.

Fear of being wrong, fear of change, discomfort in realizing that there is a need to reframe one’s own thoughts based on new information is a challenge we all face. It is imperative that we meet these levels of discomfort and fear head on if we are to unblock the debris from the river of morality.

This is imperative to be taught at all levels of society, including our young. Without critical thinking and reasoning skills we faulter as a people. These skills are in part derived from reading philosophy, listening to debates on theories and learning how to present information to support the theories. We have examples of this all through time. We have examples of people going against the established norms with a new set of data, of information and the discomfort of some groups led to the silencing of those individuals and slowed down the rate in which debris could be moved from the river of morality.

400 years ago, Galileo was investigated and was forced under the threat of torture to discount his theory of heliocentrism. In 1616 Nicholas Copernicus’ book On Revolutions of Celestial Spheres was edited so that the sun theory was presented as hypothetical only. There is a lot more to this story, which spans hundreds of years from Aristotle to 1992 when Pope John Paul quoted Saint Augustine on Galileo’s behalf:

If it happens that the authority of Sacred Scripture is set in opposition to clear and certain reasoning this must mean that the person who interprets scripture does not understand it correctly. It is not the meaning of Scripture, which is opposed to the truth, but the meaning which he has wanted to give to it. That which is opposed to Scripture is not what he has placed there himself, believing that this is what Scripture meant.”

The world is filled with different interpretations of just about everything. I was sent an email earlier today in which information was relayed about a school district that not only has members on the board that wish to take away any LGBTQ books and information from the school libraries, but also want to forbid Critical Race Theory from being discussed in the classroom.

Again, there is fear and ignorance behind such motivations. How are we interpreting the world around us? Do we even fully understand the morality of the issues are that we say we are for or against?

Critical Race Theory is a term. And it is not a new term. It is a way of understanding how policy through time has been shaped by American Racism. This country had its findings with slavery at its core and the economic backbone of many colonies soon to be states at the time of the American Revolution. It also expanded its territory despite Natives that were already occupying the land at the time the United States decided it had a Manifest Destiny to reach from one coast to the other. These are not disputed instances. The discussion of how race has impacted us as a whole people is as important as it is to discuss the many backgrounds of the immigrants who created this country. Race is a human construct which categorizes peoples. We do that. It can be found on the census reports when it asks to check an ethnicity box. It was not too long ago in the United States history that Irish and Italian ancestry was seen as less than an Anglo heritage. Now those categories are “white” on the census boxes.

The following is from the publication Education Week article “What is Critical Race Theory and Why is it Under Attack,” by Stephen Sawchuk.

Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that race is a social construct, and that racism is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.

The basic tenets of critical race theory, or CRT, emerged out of a framework for legal analysis in the late 1970s and early 1980s created by legal scholars Derrick Bell, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and Richard Delgado, among others.

A good example is when, in the 1930s, government officials literally drew lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often explicitly due to the racial composition of inhabitants. Banks subsequently refused to offer mortgages to Black people in those areas.”

This is history. Much like the hesitation of the Church to accept and move forward with scientific discoveries, the United States is in danger of being the entity that says only one group holds all the answers to moving forward together, in a more moral union. Instead of being afraid of what we have done to each other as a people it is time to learn from it, ALL of it, heal it and move forward.

For when a nation founded on the belief in racial hierarchy truly rejects that belief then and only then will we have discovered a new world. That is our destiny. To make it manifest, we must challenge ourselves to live our lives in solidarity across color, origin, and class. We must demand changes to the rules in order to disrupt the very notion that those who have more money are worth more in our democracy and our economy. Since this country’s founding, we have not allowed our diversity to be our superpower and the result is that the United States is not more than the sum of its disparate parts. But it could be. And if it were, all of us would prosper. In short, we must emerge from this crisis in our republic with a new birth of freedom. Rooted in the knowledge that we are so much more, when the we in we the people is not some of us, but all of us. We are greater than and greater for the sum of us.” Heather McGhee, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together

The River of Morality
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