A Spiritual Disease


Thursday morning I saw Shane Claiborne tweet a response to the racist “send her back” chant from Wednesday’s Trump campaign rally in North Carolina.

“Racism is evil. And it spreads like a disease.”

I don’t disagree with the statment that racism is evil, but “like a disease” just didn’t seem like a strong enough description. I don’t think that racism is like a disease. Rather, I think it’s an actual disease of the heart and spirit, – one which has a terrible infection rate.

But what kind of disease is it? Is there an analogy from the realm of medicine for what racism does to a person’s spirit? I think there may be.

When racism infects someone 1, it changes their personality. Someone can be a great friend, honest worker, or caring parent – exemplifying what God really intends for people to be one to another. But when racism takes over a person’s spirit, usually in the presence of those of other ethnicities or when they come up in conversation, those noble traits become subverted. Friendships become based not on mutual care but mutual hate. Dishonesty about, and toward, “the other” is considered a virtue. And parenting shifts from instilling ennobling lessons in children to instilling lessons of hate and mistrust. People, unaware of what’s happening to them, become twisted masks of themselves. They transform into ugly parodies, filled with and agression and hatred which becomes confused with loyalty and love. This twisting of personhood has an analogy in the world of medical science. It’s called rabies, and those caught up in the throws of racism are infected with a spiritual variant of the disease.

There is a notable difference between the viral and spiritual versions of this illness. When rabies symptoms present themselves in mammals there is no known cure. At that that point the disease is always fatal. We know, however, that people infected with the spiritual version of this illness are redeemable. People can come back from hatred and re-learn how to love. I hold on to this hope for redemption with bleeding fingers, and will not let go.

There is a path forward for our culture, as long as we refuse to let it become overgrown. I have to believe that, even when I see a mirror of 1930’s fascism parading proud as a peacock at a Trump rally.

  1. For this post I’m making a distinction between latent racism, which is passed on to us through culture and institutions, and active racism in which people are moved toward personal acts of aggression and violence against people of other ethnic backgrounds.