Republican (presumptive) nominee Mitt Romney got in some hot water recently in a visit to Israel. He told Jewish donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians, outraging Palestinian leaders who suggested his comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East.
“And as I come here and I look out over this city and consider the accomplishments of the people of this nation, I recognize the power of at least culture and a few other things,” Romney said, citing an innovative business climate, the Jewish history of thriving in difficult circumstances and the “hand of providence.” He said similar disparity exists between neighboring countries, like Mexico and the United States.
There has been a lot of analysis about Palestinian ‘culture’ as well as economic, military, and other realities that have contributed to discrepancy that is so evident between Israel and Palestine.
I want to focus on a slightly different aspect of the story. Mitt Romney started in the middle and you just can’t do that. In a previous post entitled “Bullies, Bananas and the Bible” I stated:
You can’t verbalize the way things are – which is a result of the way things have been – as proof that this is how it should always be.
Creation ‘expert’ Ray Comfort famously made a fool of himself by producing a video with Kirk Cameron where he praised the glories of the (modern) banana as evidence of God’s grand design and love for human beings. You can watch the video here – it is a hoot. There is only one problem. Comfort was highlighting many of the adaptations and ‘improvements’ that were results of human modification through deliberate cultivation.
This the problem starting in the middle. You can’t just walk into the way things are, assume the status quo and then make a case for it. *
This is not an isolated school of thought. I was camping in a national park with a long time friend who lives in and loves his ‘red’ state. We were hiking out and enjoying the beauty when he began to tell me about how ridiculous the environmentalists are and how stupid it is to put all these regulations on industry – we are handcuffing these innovators who create jobs for people. His evidence was to point to the trees around us and say “look at all of this amazing space – what are they so worried about? I don’t see why we need to have all these regulations and get so upset at industry.”
I pointed out that if somebody 100 years earlier had not had the foresight to preserve this land, the timber industry would own all this land and would have harvested all these trees. It would look nothing like it did and we would not be walking or hiking there. He had literally never thought about that.
It would be like walking into a grocery store, seeing a steak wrapped in saran wrap on a Styrofoam platter and beginning to articulate how perfectly the steak was designed for your grill – how the saran wrap crumples in your hand for ease of disposal in the waste basket – how the steak is the same dimensions in thickness from side to side for consistent grilling. Clearly God designed this steak to go on your grill and for your enjoyment!!
This is the danger of starting in the middle.
John Piper’s conservative view of God is the same as Comforts view of the banana and my buddy’s view of the national park: completely ignorant and disconnected from the narrative & trajectory that lead to it.
Which leads us back to Romney: this is a consequence of privilege. I would love to ascribe it to some classicist view of god or an a-historical understanding of theology. It might be from those two things as well, but it is a consequence of privilege and the blind spot that results from it.
If you don’t account for socialization in things like gender – and instead argue for original design … if you don’t give validity to things like constructions and conditioning then you look at how society has been you will mis-attribute it to some other factor. We do it with everything from sexuality and gender to culture and race.
If one ignores systemic oppression and historic injustice and starts in the middle, then one can conclude that it is this group’s culture or collective disposition that gives them the advantage resulting in the conditions that we see today.