Monday, November 22, 2021

Anonymous Asks (172)

“Did Noah’s sons represent races?”

We are often told diversity is our strength. Yet many of the very same people who chide us to accommodate the differences between men and women from different parts of the world also insist there is no such thing as race, other than the human race.

So then, to answer questions about the origin of races, we would first have to agree about the meaning of “race”. Good luck with that in our hyper-politicized environment.

The Human Race and the Reality of Babel

Now, there definitely remains a sense in which that “human race” bromide is correct. Christians should probably acknowledge it. The apostle Paul declared that every nation came from “one man” or “one blood”, which amounts to the same thing. Whatever you want to call the distinctions we note between men and women from various parts of this planet, we all have genes from one or more of the three post-deluvial human pairs, the sons of Noah and their wives. And ultimately, of course, if it were possible, we could all trace our genetics back to the very first man and woman. So the “human race” voices are correct in the sense that we all come from the same source, and our Bibles confirm it.

As for the first statement, both the Bible and my personal experience say it’s false. In the workforce and in politics, the greater the number of different voices pushing different agendas based on different cultures, worldviews and religious backgrounds, the greater the chaos. Forward motion on anything becomes next to impossible. This was the experience of Babel, and we must remember that God introduced that confusion intentionally. His interests were not being served when unregenerate men were enabled to pool their knowledge, so he stopped it from happening.

Iron and Clay

We also see the diversity principle falsified by the statue in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream: its feet and toes represented a divided kingdom, because they were partly of iron and partly of clay; partly strong and partly brittle. The differences between people groups are real, and were initiated by God. Far from being “our strength”, muddling together diverse interests in society and the workplace leads to incoherence and confusion. (I readily acknowledge the church is a different story — or at least it is when it is functioning as Christ intended — but that is not our subject here.)

So then, human beings are in fact very different from one another, and it is not useful to pretend these differences do not exist. It’s so un-useful, in fact, that I was recently subjected to a lengthy diversity training course which took great pains to point out all the differences that exist between employees of our corporation, in order that we might begin to display greater sensitivity in dealing with them, so as to avoid “micro-inequities”. It is evident even the leftest of the Lefties concede there is something distinct there that needs to be accommodated when people from various parts of the world interact with one another, whatever it may be.

Traditionally, the word “race” was used to describe the genetic subset of these differences.

Anthropology and Biology

Currently, the disciplines of biology and anthropology define “race” differently. That’s a significant communication problem. Biologists say race is “an informal rank in the taxonomic hierarchy, below the level of subspecies. Various definitions exist.” Anthropologists say race is “the classification of humans into groups based on group-wide visual appearances that reflect common genetics, mental and cognitive traits and capacities such as intelligence, physical traits and capacities such as strength and endurance, common ancestry, and social and other relations between them.”

For our purposes it is immaterial whether we agree or disagree with the current definitions, which are at odds with each other and will undoubtedly be revised in keeping with the next shifting political wind. The point is that at some level, something called “race” exists and distinguishes groups of humans from one another. Everybody agrees about that.

Red and Yellow, Black and White

So did Noah’s sons represent races in the sense they were once rather arbitrarily defined: Indigenous North American, Asian, African, Caucasian ... or, if you prefer, “red and yellow, black and white”?

If we assume Genesis is true, then all the genetic potential currently on display in the world existed in the six men and women from which the rebooted human race sprang. Of course, that doesn’t mean Ham was black, Japheth was white and Shem and his wife looked like Woody Allen and Barbra Streisand. It just means the raw material for every possible genetic package was there waiting to be realized in future generations. Inbreeding and outbreeding over several millennia would do the rest, creating the myriad appearances, traits and capacities we see today.

That’s assuming we don’t willingly blind ourselves to the observable differences that exist between us. We can get offended by the perceived tone-deafness of old Sunday School songs if we like, or we can choose the more positive — and biblical — takeaway: Jesus loves all the children of the world, without exception.

That truth at least is not open to debate.

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