Monday, August 07, 2017

Separation Anxiety

If our culture has a mortal sin, it is discrimination, the penalty for which is shaming, mockery, job loss or exclusion from the in-group.

We are told not to discriminate between moral and immoral behaviors, regardless of the real-world outcomes such actions produce. We are told not to discriminate between the productive and unproductive use of our tax dollars, because to do so demonstrates that we are ‘phobes’ of one sort or another. For similar reasons, we are not allowed to distinguish between employees who are capable of performing required tasks and employees who are not; or between students who understand the material and students who do not. Instead, we must meet demographic targets for success based on levels of perceived historical victimhood.

We might say our society has separation anxiety. It’s in a mindless panic to make sure nothing is ever usefully distinguished from anything else.

Discrimination from Day One

But discrimination has been baked into the design of the world since literally Day One. We cannot do without it.

Five times in the first chapter of Genesis we are told that “God divided”. He made a series of distinctions. He discriminated, if you like. He saw that a world of undifferentiated, homogeneous mush was not conducive to his desired ends, so he separated some things from other things, the end result being light, sky, land and time, all of which are terribly handy for those of us who like being able to see, having something solid to stand on and something other than trillions of gallons of water to breathe.

Discrimination created the conditions under which mankind may function in his environment because it separated the things that were not conducive to human life from those that are.

Israel: DiscrimiNation

After this, God gave Israel his law, and it was full of discrimination: between holy things and common things, between clean and unclean, between that which was to be eaten and that which was not, between those you could marry and those you couldn’t, between Israel and the nations, between the Levites and the other tribes, and many more.

Didn’t get born into Aaron’s family? Too bad, you’ll never be High Priest, Jack. Like the look of that Canaanite girl, do you? Sorry, she’s not for you. Not ever. Just how it is. Enjoy nibbling on boiled crustaceans? Not happening around here.

Discrimination, all kinds of it. And if you don’t like it, there are plenty of other nations you can always go and live among, right? That is God’s way.

Some Things Are Better Than Others

Our society doesn’t like us to discriminate, because making distinctions implies some things, values, qualities and outcomes are better than others, which tends to result in hurt feelings among those who have pulled life’s short straw. The big problem with the hyper-egalitarian view, though, is that some things ARE better than others, and some things are definitely better than others for accomplishing particular defined purposes. God said the light was “good”. He didn’t say that about the darkness.

Now, darkness certainly serves its purpose. I am glad to be able to turn the lights off occasionally and close my eyes, and I’m sure so are you. But there was plenty of darkness around already, so God made something better, not least so that mankind could see to move around in the world God was making for him. It made for greater functionality. Likewise, there was also plenty of common or “profane” stuff around when God gave his law to Israel. Those common things didn’t go away, but now there were things that were holy, better, set apart to serve a higher and more noble purpose.

Discrimination and Functionality

It’s not a particularly egalitarian statement to make, but certain foods produce better long-term results than others when processed by the human body. Certain men and women make better life partners, produce happier marriages and hardier and more intelligent offspring. Certain employees serve well, others serve less well, and some are outright terrible at their jobs. Certain rules cause human society to function better than certain other rules, even if the latter rules may initially seem more democratic, permissive and pleasing to the population.

Discriminate, discriminate, discriminate.

From and To

But there are two aspects to discrimination, and the latter one is almost always forgotten. You separate FROM something, and you separate TO something else. Yes, there is a negative aspect to discrimination, but there is a positive one too.

Nehemiah writes about the covenant that his people made with their God when they returned from captivity and rebuilt their cities, having for a time at least learned their lesson. He speaks of:
“… all who have separated themselves from the peoples of the lands to the Law of God.”
There were two aspects to this division. Israel was to be distinct FROM the peoples of the land, but they were also uniquely separated TO the Law of God. The Law was theirs in a way it did not belong to others.

The Option Is Always Ours

Yes, as a citizen of Israel, you could if you wanted marry women from the various people-groups that had recently occupied Israel’s territory. You could be irreligious or worship other Gods. You could take interest from your fellow Israelites, enslave your brothers and ignore the Sabbath. The options existed if you wanted to explore them, just as many options exist for us today.

But the Law of God simply produced better results: societal, familial, personal, religious. On some level the people of Israel knew this. God’s law was simply truer. It addressed the nature of fallen man and limited the damage he could do to his fellows. Not to mention that obedience to it limited the judgment that might otherwise quite reasonably fall on them and those around them.

So they separated themselves to the Law of God. They discriminated.

I Will Welcome You

Paul takes this discrimination principle and applies it to believers. In the famous “unequal yoke” passage in his second Corinthian letter, he first quotes the Old Testament commands to make distinctions:
“Go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing.”
That’s the negative side of discrimination, the thing from which we must separate. But then he adds this:
Then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
There’s the positive, the thing that we are separated to. The family of God. Likeness of character to our Father in heaven. A name given us that can never be taken away and an inheritance to come that will never perish.

You’ve got to admit, it sounds like an awfully good reason to do some discriminating, doesn’t it?


  1. And the question is how did this lack of discrimination, discernment, differentiation come about and is it irreparably gone, forever? It seems to me that it is changed or gone not because of diminished faculties but because of two things. Namely, there seems to be a much greater tendency and need nowadays to have a feel good moment and the need to belong to the feel good crowd. Second, the feel good moment is easily achieved nowadays if you can seemingly be perceived as generous by giving away things ( that really don't belong to you and don't cost you anything in the short term (your lifespan)). What you are offering and giving away belongs to the riches of God of course and to the caring and responsible person. You are freely giving away absolution from sin, the serious consequences that individuals and society have to deal with in the long run because of your misplaced generosity, and you are substituting your peace of mind for God's by declaring that personal and interpersonal sin and wrong basically don't exist and are mostly irrelevant except for a few serious capital situations defined by people that agree with you. Of course, this is mostly because you do not belief there is a God since that would be inconvenient. Or, if you do belief, then you modify his persona to suit your needs. Hence, back to the convenience argument - what impacts YOUR personal convenience would of course be wrong but never mind if anyone else is impacted or offended by your interpretations. Again, I don't know if this moral relativism is fixable as long as we are able to keep on fixing the built-in negative consequences of wrongness, e.g., HIV and other diseases. The awful fact is, of course, that we cannot fix them since the most important ones deal with our psyche for which we need God. Thus there is addiction, crime, violence, hostility, gluttony, intemperance, pettiness, ignorance, etc., basically all the biblical stuff that exclusively human and misplaced generosity can not overcome.

    1. It seems to me the inability to distinguish good from bad and lesser from better is a natural consequence of the post-modern mindset. If nothing means anything anyway and if whatever meaning it does have is strictly personal, feelings-oriented and entirely arbitrary, why would any of it have relative value?