We human beings have many times many different prejudices. I’m not trying to make a value statement in saying that, just naming something that I believe is an inherent aspect of human nature. We are deeply prejudiced beings. It is impossible that this not be the case. I have never met anyone who did not have many prejudices. The primary difference I have seen among human beings was whether or not they were aware of their prejudices.
Why is it impossible for us to not be prejudiced? Because we are beings of infinite yearnings and finite knowledge. We feel called to make decisions and judgments, even though it is impossible for us to have perfect knowledge of all that is around us.
At the base of my argument on this issue is a theme I’ve turned to many times here at the Celestial Lands, and that is that while objective reality and objective truth do indeed exist, it is impossible for human beings to ever comprehend, grasp, or access it. Each time we seek to define any objective reality, or any objective or ultimate truth, we are prevented from doing so through our own limited perspective as a single human individual, and by our incapacity to grasp all knowledge that can be related to any given subject.
And yet, even with the incapacity to achieve objective reality or ultimate truth, many human beings inherently yearn for it. I claim many human beings, because I have not met all human beings and cannot encompass all of their perspectives, so I cannot make a claim of ultimate knowledge. Indeed, that is the point I’m arguing… that while objective reality and ultimate truth do indeed exist, we human beings do not have the capacity to discern or conceive it. We spend our lives in our own masses of perceptions, preconceptions, prejudices, and assumptions.
Religions have long realized this tension between the human desire to encompass ultimate truth and objective reality, and our near complete incapacity to do so. Some theologians have even proposed this tension as the ultimate source of all human religion… the attempt to address this tension by designating an ultimate truth and objective reality through reference to divine inspiration. Yet, even accepting the truth of a divine inspiration, I would argue that from the moment of inspiration to the moment of reflection on such a divine inspiration, said objective reality and ultimate truth becomes limited by perceptions, prejudices, and preconceptions of each individual that encounters the divine inspiration or revelation.
So, to take Christianity as an example… perhaps the revelation was indeed one of ultimate truth and objective reality when it was presented by God, and depending on your Christology, perhaps it was ultimate truth and objective reality when it was conceived by Jesus… but every person who has encountered the revelation of Christian faith after that has done so through their own mass of preconceptions, prejudices, and personal perspective.
This is not necessarily bad… it is simply human.
Each of us lives each and every day in a world of our own making. It is a world of our own perceptions, our own perspectives, and our own limited encounter with what surrounds us. We wade through a mass of our own emotional reactions, our own ideas about what it is that surrounds us. Often we join with other groups of humans that share some of the pre-conceptions, prejudices, and perceptions that we have, because this is comfortable for us. Being in groups that share our prejudices and perceptions actually helps us to ease the feeling of tension between our desire for objective reality and ultimate truth and our inability to attain or comprehend those things.
I believe the danger of preconceptions, perspective, and prejudice lies not in having them (for they are inherently part of humanity), but rather in not realizing you have them. The danger for humanity lies not in the prejudice itself, but in believing and acting as if one’s own prejudices are actually objective reality and ultimate truth. In a sense, this danger is in elevating one’s own limited human perceptions to the level of the ultimate, of the divine, of God.
To have made judgments about another human being because of their race is human. To believe such judgments represent ultimate truth or objective reality is racism. To have made judgments about a religion is human. To believe that such judgments represent objective reality about that religion is hubris. To have made judgments about someone’s sexual orientation is human. To believe that said judgment encompasses all of that person objectively is fallacy.
Human beings cannot eliminate all prejudice, limited and false perceptions, and unjustified beliefs from our lives. To do so would require perfect knowledge, and we human beings are simply not capable of that. We all make judgments on limited knowledge every day of our lives, and need to do so in order to function.
No, what we are called to do is to constantly remember that all of our judgments are limited. All of our perceptions are imperfect. We are called to remember that human beings can never achieve objective reality or ultimate truth. Instead, we are called to constantly test what we think we know, to accept our own fallibility, and to encounter every other person we meet with a spirit that allows us to change our preconceptions, perspectives, and prejudices.
Yours in Faith,