When It Comes to Equality, Are All Worldviews Equal?

Sep 02, 2020

It’s a tragic reality that no matter where you live in the world, so many people—both historically and to the present day—have been treated unfairly based on solely on their backgrounds. What does the Christian faith have to say in response to the human problem of racial injustice, a problem that is both global in scope and deeply personal? And how does the central teaching of Christianity compare to other worldviews—such as atheism, relativism, pluralism, and hedonism—when it comes to questions of equality and inequality? Join us this week on Ask Away as Jo and Vince consider how Jesus Christ responds to the cry of protestors the world over, “No Justice, No Peace!”

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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis.

Terms like inclusivity, exclusivity, equality, equity oftentimes mean different things to different people. The definition of these words are important. With social unrest all over the country and the world, the righteous quest for justice and equality are complicated because terms are oftentimes not agreed upon. Complicating the matter further is trying to figure out how Christians should be involved in the fight for justice. When people are looking for inclusivity, does the Christian faith offer it through only exclusivity? How is racial equity and the gospel connected? How do other worldviews tackle these issues? But before we get started, Vince, can you tell our listeners a little bit about the Zacharias Institute's premium content offering?

Vince Vitale: Yeah. Thanks, Michael. It's hard to believe that Jo and I have been here in Atlanta for coming up on four years now, and the Zacharias Institute is, I guess, heading into its fourth year, and so we've done a lot. We hope that you're engaging in what we do live, just about every month we have some sort of significant event that's going on, but don't feel like you need to wait around for the next event or conference in order to take part in the resources of the Zacharias Institute. So if you head to the website, and Michael, maybe you can give more details about exactly where to go to, but you can access just about everything that we've done in the past now, over the last few years. So whether that's conferences for church leaders or for business leaders, or conferences that we've done jointly with Passion Global Institute, understanding and answering Islam, there's all sorts of content on many different topics and themes, and really some of the best speakers and thinkers in these areas who will be teaching you and training you.

As a ministry, we exist to help the thinker believe and to help the believer think, but as we help the believer to think, we hope that they are then going to help the thinker to believe. So for us, all of the training is pointing people towards being able to communicate their faith in a compelling way and in a caring way. So if that's something you're excited about, I certainly hope you'll check out the premium content from the Zacharias Institute.

Michael Davis: As you know, the US is experiencing social unrest nationwide. The protests are not just isolated to this country, we have now begun seeing them across the globe. At the heart of these protests is the belief that people of color historically have been marginalized, treated differently, even brutalized because of the color of their skin. As Christians, we believe God to be an inclusive God, Acts chapter 17, verse 26, even though Christianity is often perceived otherwise. How do other worldviews compare to Christianity's inclusiveness on race, atheism, relativism, pluralism, hedonism, et cetera? Are they inclusive? Do they promote equality or do they promote all beliefs, including racist ones, as being permissible?”

Jo Vitale: Joel, thank you for asking a question today that I think for months has been on the minds of everybody. I'm really glad that we're getting a chance just to even begin to engage with it a bit on this episode. Also, I appreciate your recognition that actually this really isn't just a US based challenge, but actually this is the world over. You can go to any country in the world and you're going to experience or see firsthand different forms of racism. It seems to be just the nature of the world we live in and the nature of humanity, that this is an area where we've really learned to hate one another.

I've been thinking a lot about Nelson Mandela's quote that he said, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate. And if they can learn to hate, then they can be taught to love." I think about this a lot when I look at our one-year-old son, Raphael, because he hasn't learned to hate yet. And it makes me so sad to think that at some point he might, that at some point there will be something within him that is going to be against somebody rather than being for them because at the moment, he loves people. He's such an extrovert, which maybe isn't much of a surprise given his parents, but he lights up when people walk into the room. Actually, Vince and I have noticed a particular affection for people of color. He gets really excited to meet people of different skin color. What I like here is he instinctively does what we all do, which is he sees the difference, he's not colorblind, but he appreciates it. He's actually celebrating diversity. It excites him and he wants to know people who look different to him.

It begs the question, doesn't it, if that's where we start, then where do we learn to hate difference? To my mind, this goes all the way back to the very beginning, right to Genesis chapter three and the fall, and that devastating sentence you read there, that then their eyes were opened, that Adam and Eve, they went from seeing one way to suddenly beginning to see another. What happens in that moment is they experience shame for the first time, they become ashamed of themselves. They see the differences between each other more than they focus on the things that are uniting them. And rather than therefore, rejoicing in their difference, they become ashamed of them and then they can't cope with that sense of shame in their difference. So instead of reaching towards the other, they actually then turn and point the finger at one another and they become divided. It becomes a blame game.

So suddenly in that moment, you see that first image of diversity no longer being something that unites and something that is celebrated, and instead it becomes a form of warfare. We see that between the sexes. I think that has been historically and continues to be to this day, true when it comes to the question of race as well. People somehow have become other to us. We see them as other. We don't see them as bone of bone or flesh of flesh, of united, but somehow other and therefore, we're suspicious of them. That is the situation in the world today. It's heartbreaking. I think the question that you're getting to, Joel, is given that that is the reality that I think we can all recognize is true of the world today, which world view actually has the best response to this? And where are we going to find hope and a pragmatic solution to actually be able to combat it?

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's really true. I hadn't quite thought about that, Jo, but it's so true when Raphael sees difference, his instinctual response is to think of it as beautiful and to be drawn to it, whether that's a little black boy or black girl, or whether it's just a little girl. I think he also recognize when someone is not a boy, but a girl, and he has a particular drawing. There's something intriguing, but he lights up in a certain way, something really beautiful about that.

Yeah, we're so thankful for your question, Joel. I want to say you've given us a great definition here of inclusiveness and inclusivity and the idea of an inclusive worldview. I just love that you say, are they inclusive? Do they promote equality? That's a great way of thinking about what counts as inclusive because we tend to think inclusive as a means that we have to affirm everyone else's beliefs, a sort of form of pluralism that all truth claims are equally valid. And on that understanding of inclusivism, then yes, Christianity is not inclusive. Jesus says, "I'm the way and the truth and the life. No one comes through the Father, except through me. There is no other name by which we must be saved." That's Acts four. So on that view of inclusive, the one that is normally touted, no, Christianity is not inclusive, but that view unravels very quickly because the inclusivist excludes the exclusivist. Saying all beliefs should be affirmed immediately excludes anyone who thinks that not all beliefs should be affirmed.

And by the way, that's the vast majority of the world's population, Christians, Muslims, atheists, none of those people believe that all beliefs are equally valid or that all beliefs should be equally affirmed. So I think that pluralism is actually among the most exclusive of all truth claims because so few people, throughout time and across the globe, are even exposed to that thought, let alone being psychologically capable of believing in pluralism. I mean, for most people, it's just utterly obvious that, of course, some beliefs are true and some are false, some are more valid and some are less valid. Yes, of course there's going to be disagreement. And disagreement itself is not offensive. It's a matter of whether you disagree in a way that leads to the devaluing of a person.

So when you talk about pluralism, atheism, agnosticism, all of these views to me are highly exclusive because they could not be adopted by most people around the world and they do exclude many other beliefs. Christians are sometimes charged with an exclusivism based on the fact that they're seeming to privilege a knowledge as objective, universal truth, while supposedly ignoring the fact that many people disagree with them. But I think that's really ironic if an atheist, or an agnostic, or someone who submits themselves to pluralism makes that sort of objection because they're very badly off with respect to the same exact point. Those who say every view is valid and take that form of inclusivism, in that attempt to be all inclusive, the very sentence is excluding the vast majority of the world population who insists that many views are deeply flawed.

So I think your definition of inclusive, inclusivism, it's a much better definition. A worldview is inclusive if it promotes a quality among people. I'd never put it that concisely or thought about it in quite that way. With your permission, I'd love to use that. I just think that's a great way to think about what actually counts as inclusive.

Jo Vitale: It's a fascinating idea, isn't it? Because actually when you think about pluralism, because I do think there's a genuinely good desire there, that people are trying to be as inclusive as possible, and often that desire is for racial inclusivity as well, that people want to bring everybody together no matter where they're from, what their background is, what their skin color is. It wants to unite people. That's a desire, and that in so many ways is a good desire. It's like you said, in some ways that is about desiring to promote equality and yet, it's an equality based on something quite shallow in one sense. It's based entirely on perhaps your skin color, it's skin deep, but if you happen to think differently behind that, then actually you're no longer welcome at the table. To me, that seems incredibly dishonoring in one sense because it's assuming that people who all look a certain way are all going to think the same way as well.

So in trying to honor people and perhaps even be racially inclusive, ironically what you wind up doing is often dismissing the very people you're trying to include and to honor because you're not recognizing a difference in thought that may be there as well, or a difference in belief, a difference in expression. So I think, ironically, the pluralism project actually eats itself. It undoes itself in the very process of trying to set out to be inclusive.

Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's really insightful, and I think you're right. This is important for us, that when we're thinking about different worldviews, even worldviews that we disagree with, there is often sometimes a remain of a good desire behind a belief that we might disagree with. And that only makes sense if we were created in the image of God and if that image of God remains in every person, then just like our desires are often distorted, but there's often a remnant of good. Sometimes those desires are, as C.S. Lewis put it, not too strong, but too weak, we have to go further. Oftentimes that's the case with our thoughts as well and with the concerns that motivate some of the conclusions that we come to.

I do think that's the case often when it comes to pluralism, people want to be committed to equal opportunity for people, they want to be committed to fairness is a good one, but to my mind, if anyone is committed to fairness, Jesus is a person who's committed to fairness because of his fair love for everyone. His universal love for every person, like a parent who loves each one of his or her children. That might look very different in each one's life as it does in any family, but the love itself is universal and the love itself is fair.

Sometimes people object to Christianity and say, "You just believe that because of where you are born, it's not fair", and I often think, well, that's not the case in Christianity. Many people I know, myself included, were not born into a Christian home. People all around the world who became Christians in places where by natural means they shouldn't have, but God can break in anywhere. But when you think about atheism, when you think about pluralism, well, those are views that you can really only adopt if you're born in a certain place in a certain slice of time in history. So again, I see that as far more exclusive.

So, Joel, I think you go to just the right question, what promotes equality among people? And you've heard us talk about this before on this show, but that means we need to seek something which is equally true of every single person. You need a worldview that says there is something about every single one of us that's equally true and that can't change no matter what. And when I think of the other options, whether it's scientism, any form of naturalism, atheism, pluralism, hedonism, we might get to that later in the episode, I can't find anything that's equally true of all of us. But when you go to the love of God and when you go to the image of God in each person, you actually have something which can ground that, and therefore can be genuinely inclusive because you have something which is actually equal about every one of us and therefore, can ground the equal value and the equal rights of every single one of us.

Jo Vitale: Yeah, I think that's absolutely essential. I remember the first time, when I was a teenager, reading the book Roots by Alexander Haley, and I'm crying through so much of that book because I think it was the first time that I really encountered racism through hearing the stories of the history. It became real to me in a way that I think it hadn't before, but it still felt distant for me because I was living in England at the time. It seemed kind of removed. And then the next step for me was when I learned more about the history of my own people, the British Empire and the slave trade, and realized the complicity of my own people. And then it came a step even closer when it wasn't just the British, but realizing, "Oh, but Christians did this. There were Christians who were slave owners." And then a step even closer where it wasn't even just Christians who had historically owned slaves, but actually my own branch of the Christian family tree, Anglicans, have been a part of that as well.

I remember, to my horrid discovering, that this missional group within Anglicanism called the Anglican Society for the Propagation of the Gospel had actually branded into the skin of slaves that they'd owned in Caribbean the very name of their organization. Can you imagine your organization is for the propagation of the gospel and you're branding it into people's skin? That sickened me to this degree I hadn't experienced before. And then realizing actually this isn't even just history anymore. When I hear the stories of my fellow brothers and sisters who've experienced so many forms of racism, that to them that is their everyday occurrence, it is heartbreaking. But there's a reason it's heartbreaking, something rides up within us, just this feeling of God's saying over it, not in my name. Not in God's name is this done. And the reason is because it's so antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ, as Vince has said, that is something that is equally true of every single one of us, that we are all made by God, we're made into the same family and we are all equal before Him at the beginning, we are all equally welcomed into salvation by Jesus Christ, one day we will all stand before Him in heaven and find ourselves in exactly the same situation before Him. And we're all called to love one another, sacrificially, even to lay down our lives for one another. Why? Because that is how God loves us.

As Vince has said before, the one thing that grounds us, that makes us equal when everything else about us as human beings will change, is the love of God. That's the one thing that's equally true of all of us. So if God puts his stamp on every human person and says, "This person is worthy of my divine love, and I love them so much that I would go all the way to the cross for them. They are worth me dying for them." How dare we say otherwise? How dare we distinguish between people and treat them as anything other than the way God has treated them? That's why it's so stunning what Paul writes in Galatians chapter three, that in Christ Jesus, you are all sons of God through faith for as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. Therefore there's neither Jew nor Greek, neither is there slave nor free, there is no male or female for you are all one in Jesus Christ. Those are the true implications of the Christian worldview. That is the true vision of the gospel. That is a radical image of equality that you won't find anywhere else.

Joel, you mentioned the verse in Acts 17:26, "From one man, he made all the nations that they should inhabit the whole earth." We are called to be family to one another in the truest and deepest sense, and that is what undergoes Christianity. That's why, more than any other worldview, it's a theology that's liberating in the truest sense because we're all made to be free and we're all made to love one another as Christ has loved us.

Vince Vitale: Jo, you mentioned that you won't find this anywhere else, and that's the other thing I love about your question, Joel, that you asked that question, how do other worldviews compare? This is something that we have said frequently on this show that whenever we're dealing with these tough questions, we can't either applaud or criticize a worldview in isolation. We always have to ask what are the alternatives? Criticism without alternative is empty. Sometimes those simple examples are helpful. If you think this is a terrible podcast, the first question I'm going to ask you is, which podcasts are better? And then if you tell me that you can't think of any, then your criticism's not going to have much weight to it. You need an alternative that's better if you're going to criticize something. So you're asking exactly the right question, how do other worldviews compare?

And on the other hand, if Christianity is saying these things about human value that are positive and that are grounded in the love of God and the image of God, but everyone else is saying that too, well, then again, that's not necessarily to Christianity's benefit. Then again, that's just on a par with other worldviews. But we believe that there is a utter uniqueness to what the Christian faith and Jesus himself said about individual persons and it doesn't compare with other worldviews.

Michael Davis: And there's a uniqueness to Ask Away, right?

Vince Vitale: Utter uniqueness to Ask Away that you cannot find on any other podcast.

Jo Vitale: Exactly.

Michael Davis: Yeah, we have-

Vince Vitale: We'll leave it for you to be the judge of that.

Jo Vitale: But as one example, let's compare it with hedonism. Let's take a look at what is hedonism, I have to say here. Now, the basic premise of hedonism is that pleasure is the sole determination of what is valuable. So the utilitarian, Jeremy Bentham, once commented that the game of pushpin, which apparently is a children's game, I've never heard of it, but it's of equal value with the arts and sciences of music and poetry. So basically the idea is that as long as you get pleasure and you derive pleasure from it, it doesn't really matter objectively how good or bad something is, it's just about what you're experiencing from it. But of course, we've made this point before, I'm sure we'll make it again, hedonism is something that ultimately, both personally leaves you incredibly empty, but also it's a world view that, Vince has made this point before, that actually is also incredibly exclusive because it's basically about the pursuit of happiness. But pursuing happiness is the privilege of the few. Only privileged people are in a position to pursue happiness. Most people are just trying to eke out survival. Millions of people don't get the luxury of even worrying about how they're going to pursue pleasure or what's going to make them feel happy today. That's just not a reality, that life is too broken, there's too much suffering and pain. To be a hedonist, it's a nice idea, but you don't get to experience that.

It's interesting to me that actually when you apply it to this question of race, actually, if as a worldview you're just going to embrace hedonism, "Well, it's about whatever makes me happy", there's absolutely no motivation to care about issues of justice, to care about issues of race. If you're a hedonist, why should you care if someone else is suffering on account of their skin color and the way they're being treated? As long as life is good for you, there's zero motivation to do anything about anybody else's pleasure or their experience of life or creating injustice or making things better for them.

Vince Vitale: Yeah. So going back to your point, Joel, about inclusivism, hedonism is actually highly exclusive. It excludes both the people who have the luxury of pursuing it and it excludes those who don't have that luxury. So if you have the luxury of pursuing hedonism, someone like Oscar Wilde, you pursue it to its end and you wind up anything but happy. And then if you don't have the luxury of pursuing it, again, then you can't even have that pursuit of happiness. So when we talk about inclusive as an exclusivism, hedonism is a highly exclusive worldview.

Jo Vitale: And if we are defining inclusivism as something that leads to equality for people, then I think you're going to come across the same challenges, as you mentioned, Joel, with atheism and relativism as well. Because relativism really can't say there's one objective equality or can't even say that all people are equally valuable because that's just your truth, it might not be mine. So there's absolutely zero motivation to deal with racism if you can't even all agree on one core idea that actually all people are equal, so it's going to undermine itself.

And then the challenge with atheism of course is, what even is the motivation to work towards a world that's better for everybody when actually it's the premise here, naturalism, is survival of the fittest? And actually, it's against our very human nature. "So as long as things are working out for me and I'm in a strong position, why should I do anything to help other people who aren't within my community or my family? In fact, the better I make things for them, perhaps the worst they'll be for me." So it's the opposite of motivational in that sense if you actually look at the underpinnings of the world view. There's just no basis to care about racial justice.

Michael Davis: And this is so relevant right now, Joel. I'm really glad that you referenced the protests about racial justice that are taking place. As Christians, we need to really be praying deeply about what the gospel has to say in this critical moment in history.

I was looking at an image of one of the protests recently, and someone was holding up a sign and it said, “no justice, no peace.” That image has really remained in my mind, I mean, almost every day since I've seen it, because those words, “no justice, no peace”... If you needed to sum up the gospel in four words, it would be hard to do a better job than that. There's a deep, deep gospel truth in that claim. How are we supposed to forgive any sin, but how are we supposed to forgive historic offenses like slavery or like misogyny that affect so many people in so many ways over so many generations... The people who committed the crimes, the perpetrators themselves might not even be alive to answer for their crimes, how could justice possibly be served? Nothing you could say would be strong enough. Nothing you could do would be strong enough. What actions could possibly be performed to make things right? There's a real problem there, there's no way to forgive without trampling justice and dishonoring the people who have been wronged. And without the possibility of forgiveness, I think society is in real trouble.

Jo and I, in this stage of life, we're thinking about everything in terms of family life and how we will parent as our children get older, but when a child does something wrong and they know that forgiveness is not an option in the family, then what do they do? They either deny that they did it, or they try to blame someone else, or they run away from home. You wind up with a really bad consequence in any family or in any community when forgiveness is not an option. There's a real challenge here because how can you have forgiveness without justice? We're living through exactly the same process on the societal level where forgiveness and reconciliation seems to be impossible.

I'm encouraged when I see words like that, “no justice, no peace.” I'm encouraged to think of the person of Jesus and think that, "You know what, Christianity, the scriptures, the gospel of Jesus Christ has something really robust to say in this key moment", because the paradox of forgiveness is that either we choose forgiveness at the expense of justice, or we choose justice at the expense of forgiveness. That's exactly what's being communicated by that sign. And if that's the ultimatum before us, then as society gets more and more socially conscious, then it's no surprise that forgiveness becomes increasingly obsolete and people just get canceled left and right. The statement that Jesus made at the cross is that forgiveness does not need to be at the expense of justice. Why? Because he served justice on our behalf and because forgiveness can only be offered without trampling justice, if justice has already been served. And in Jesus, it has.

I'm so encouraged to be able to say that at this time, in this moment, because without Jesus I would not be able to say that. And honestly, I don't know what I would say when I see a sign like that, “no justice, no peace.” I would have to say there's a deep truth in there, but I don't know where we're going to get that justice from because we're talking about things that are really complex, we're talking about things where sometimes it's not even clear how to identify specifically the perpetrators, how many victims, where the victims were historically when it happened. If those people are even still alive, how are you possibly going to get justice? Jesus offers that, and I'm not sure that anything or anyone else does.

Jo Vitale: It's such a beautiful thought because it means to those who are the victims of injustice, whether racial or any other kind, it means that they have a hope to hold onto, that justice can be served, that their pain, their grievances will be taken seriously, and I think that's absolutely essential.

But on the other hand, it also means that for those who here are feeling defensive or worried about even looking to themselves to ask the question, have I done wrong here? Have I offended? We can be scared to ask ourselves that question because if we're in a culture or a world where there's no such possibility as forgiveness, we don't want to open that box if it means that we might have to admit to an offense and there's no hope for us, there's no redemption. But because of Jesus, it means that we can examine ourselves, He can look at our hearts and show us if there's anything offensive within us and to lead us in the way everlasting. And there is a way everlasting because of Christ. It means that if we have sinned, if we have wronged people, whether we've even known it at the time or not, if we've behaved in racist ways, we can repent of that and there is hope and redemption for us. It means if we have been wronged in those ways that there can be justice for us too.

So that is a hope that the gospel, the Christian worldview, can offer at this time that is so badly needed and that you're not going to find anywhere else, where we're just finger pointing and back to that beginning of seeing others differently and then we blame and we look at, "Well, you're the one who committed the offense. It was your fault. You're the one who did the wrong thing. It wasn't me. It was you" because that's so much easier than confronting our own sinfulness. But we have an opportunity here as Christians to model both repentance, to be the first to say we're sorry, but also to give forgiveness as well. That's where the power of the gospel really works in practical and beautiful and society-changing ways.

Michael Davis: Well, guys, we're out of time. Vince, sum it up for us.

Vince Vitale: Well, Joel, I hope you can see how much we've appreciated your question. I think I'll just linger here for a moment because it's so important where we've gotten to at the end of this episode.

I was reading an opinion piece in the Boston Globe a while back, and the title was No Man is Entitled to Forgive Another Man's Killer. The premise of the article was that only the person who has been wronged has the right to forgive. To be forgiven for stealing, you need to be forgiven by someone you stole from, not by someone completely disconnected from the crime, only the victim of a crime has the right to forgive that crime. That creates a real problem when we're talking about historic evils, when we're talking about highly, highly complex evils, where when we're talking about victims and perpetrators... It's very difficult to nail things down and to understand even exactly what took place at some point in history, or even today, it's just so complex. Again, we're just pointed back to the scriptures and we're pointed back to a God who is an identifiable, accessible, and also eternal victim of every crime in one sense. Only a universal victim, only someone who is the victim of all crime of all sins can enable a universal forgiveness.

It just brings me back to those words of King David when that weight of sin was crushing him, he cried out to God to wash away all of his iniquity, and he says, "For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me against you. You only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge." The one who has the right to judge also has the right to forgive, and God can and is willing to satisfy that need of forgiveness. Only he can do that because any sin that we've committed, whether individually or as a society, is ultimately a sin against him. And he is alive because he rose and he has the love to offer that forgiveness and therefore, and only because of that, can every sin be forgiven. That's the good news that our society needs to know right now.

I hope to all of you who listen to this show, if you don't know that, I hope you will know that personally in your heart. If you do know that, I hope you will share that with the world that desperately needs to know that truth.

Michael Davis: Amen. Vince, Jo, thank you all so much for joining me. Thank you all for listening and we will catch you guys next time.

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