Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Shepastor: “Plato, Pavlov and Woodson Were On to Something…”

Jeremiah 5:21New Life Version (NLV)
21 ‘Hear this, O foolish people without understanding, who have eyes but do not see, who have ears but do not hear.

The “spirit of injustice” has dynamic morphing abilities. It is keen and deceptive. It somehow deludes its carriers into believing they are fighting for what is right, standing against that which is immoral while all the while becoming that which they claim to despise.

The Nation has watched as those zealous for the “unborn child” fight for their rights while within the womb, but turn a blind eye when those same children need healthcare benefits and a “healthy start.” We have watched as the Church “stands” against racism and poverty, but maintains and in action promotes sexism and inequality. But the most tragic manifestation of all of these human maladies (particularly in the case of sexism) is to watch the oppressed maintain their own oppressive status.

In his work The Republic (in short), Plato presents the analogy of “The Cave.” In it he describes individuals who have been chained together and forced to stare at a wall in a dark cave. Light from a fire presents shadows upon the wall – all they see day in and day out are distorted shadows. He suggests that if one of the prisoners were to break free and walk out towards the light, his eyes would burn and pain him and he would quickly turn back. If someone were to drag him, against his will out into the light, he would fight and despise the individual who was trying to free him.

Initially, the pain from the light would be overwhelming. However, eventually, his eyes would adjust and he would see the beauty of the outside world. Filled with joy of this new knowledge, he would try to return to the cave to free his former fellow prisoners. Upon re-entrance, his eyes would again hurt and hinder him from seeing the shadows that were once so clear in the darkness. His fellow prisoners would determine that whatever he experienced outside of the cave was so painful, they should never try to leave. Furthermore, they will try to kill anyone else who tries to leave again!

The Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, famous for his experiment with dogs asserted that dogs (and ultimately humans) could be “conditioned” to have certain responses when two otherwise unassociated items were paired. In his experiment, Pavlov rang a bell and then gave the dog food. After several times, the dogs began to salivate in response to the bell. The dog began to associate the bell with the food.

The late Dr. Carter G. Woodson declared the following about conditioning…

“If you can control a man's thinking you do not have to worry about his action. When you determine what a man shall think you do not have to concern yourself about what he will do. If you make a man feel that he is inferior, you do not have to compel him to accept an inferior status, for he will seek it himself. If you make a man think that he is justly an outcast, you do not have to order him to the back door. He will go without being told; and if there is no back door, his very nature will demand one.”
― Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-Education of the Negro
Plato, Pavlov and Woodson were definitely on to something! Tragically, in 2015, many of the oppressed still would rather remain in the proverbial cave and watch “shadows,” rather than endure the initial sting of the sunlight. As a female pastor, it pains me to see many of my sisters still making excuses for inequities in the church. Particularly as an African American clergy woman, the pain of the dichotomous reality we face is only superseded by other women who fight to maintain the status quo in order to reap the perceived rewards of affirmation from their male counterparts. Much like Pavlov’s dog, they “salivate” for acceptance in the “boys club.” They have been conditioned not to challenge, but to accept and “behave.”

As suggested by Dr. Woodson, their thinking has been controlled and conditioned for so long, those who oppress don’t have to worry about their actions. While it is never beneficial to be a “bull in a china cabinet,” there is a time to speak and a time to be silent. Too frequently we remain silent when justice prompts us to speak. To God be the glory, many great strides have been made. We still, however, have “miles to go before we sleep.”

May we by faith step out of the cave, “fast” from the food of false affirmation and speak the truth in love. May we resist the temptation to go for loud “Amens” and Hallelujahs by cutting down other sisters who speak out against that which is clearly unjust. May we risk the pain of alienation for a season for the greater good of all.

Remember, today’s hero’s and shero’s were yesterday’s menaces and villains.

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Until Next Wednesday,
In Faith, Hope and Perseverance,
Pastor Chris

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