Why Racism is Material Heresy : Responding to Questions/Objections to Outline 1


I have been surprised by the amount of negative reactions and wagon circling defensiveness I have received in response to the previous post, “Why Racism is Material Heresy and Ought to be Formal Heresy : Outline 1.” The scope of the piece was quite narrow, targeting only the claim that races as such can differ by superiority or inferiority, even pointing out that if this specific claim does not apply to a given ideology, then it does not fall under this particular critique (though it my the next). Nevertheless, I have been called a Marxist, a Social Justice Warrior, “woker than thou,” and the like. I’ve read Das Kapital and I promise I am no Marxist; I guess I do have concern for social justice (I reject Two Kingdom theology after all); and I promise I’d never even heard the word “woke” until recently.

Many also just don’t seem to like the claim that racism could be considered heresy, either because the word should be reserved for “more important” errors, or because they still do not see it as de fide error. But what else could it be? It is an ideology, a matter of belief and confession. It is not primarily an action. Any other errant ideology, belief, or confession that corrupts essential doctrines is subject to the charge of heresy, why not the belief and confession that some race can be superior to another?

As such, I don’t really feel the need to extensively respond to the above “objections”; they don’t actually call into question the soundness of Outline 1 anyhow. But there have been a couple persistent questions/objections that do relate directly to the content of the outline itself. All of these responses are pretty much the same, captured essentially in quips like the following:

It is a scientific fact that races differ. Is that now heresy?

Ever heard of the Bell Curve?

Is it now heresy to recognize that Kenyans are better distance runners than Swedes?

Is the movie White Men Can’t Jump now heretical?

…and the like. Though I think the outline itself answers these questions, I will nevertheless offer some clarification here; so long as it is remembered that the logic and metaphysical principles employed in Outline 1 are just those of the Ecumenical Creeds. If the argument of the piece does not hold, then neither do the arguments employed and assumed in the Creeds. For example, we could question whether the Son bore the complete nature of man, or the Athanasian principle “like begets like,” or the principle “substance does not admit of greater or less,” etc.; but then the very logic and metaphysical assumptions of the Trinitarian and Christological tradition will likewise be called in to question.

The Nature of “Nature”

To begin with, it seems that many respondents might be misunderstanding the word “nature” as used in the post and in the Creeds.  When the Creeds speak of “nature,” they do not mean nature as opposed to nurture, or nature as opposed to grace, or natural as opposed the supernatural. Rather, “nature” is used as in essence or substance—that which a thing must be in order to be what it is, and that which receives predication but cannot itself be predicated. This nature/substance/essence is to be understood in opposition to what the Aristotelians call “accident,” viz., properties which an individual may or may not express, wilst nevertheless being what it is. Thus, “human nature” is that which an individual must have in order to be considered truly human. “Human nature” as substance is to be distinguished from the accidental properties of humanity—those which any individual human may or may not express, yet still be truly human. For example, specific height, weight, abilities, etc., are accidental properties, and not properly constitutive of human nature (substance) as such. And thus, the Christological principle previously quoted from Gregory of Nazianzus, “that which He has not assumed He has not healed,” necessitates that Christ be whole and perfect man, bearing whole and complete human nature, yet does not necessitate that Christ express every possible property of every subsistent human. Gregory and the Creeds did not mean that Jesus had to be a tall man in order to redeem tall men.

So, when the Formula of Chalcedon (451) states that Jesus Christ is “perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood,” it does not mean that he was white, black, brown, tall, short, fast, slow, and all other possible human properties at once. It means that all of the essential properties required to be truly human were borne by Him through incarnation. Like all men, Christ has a true body, a true soul, a true spirit, true and natural human mind, true and natural human will, with true and natural human operations. Fulgentius (468-533) confesses accordingly:

I firmly hold and nowise doubt that Christ the Son of God has true flesh and a rational soul of the same kind as ours, since of His flesh He says (Luke 24:39): ‘Handle, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as you see Me to have.’ And He proves that He has a soul, saying (John 17): ‘I lay down My soul [Douay: ‘life’] that I may take it again.’ And He proves that He has an intellect, saying (Matt. 11:29): ‘Learn of Me, because I am meek and humble of heart.’ And God says of Him by the prophet (Isa. 52:13): ‘Behold my servant shall understand.’ (Peter on the Faith, XIV)

And we see in the 3rd Council of Constantinople, (contra monotheletism and monophysitism):

[W]e say that as the same our Lord Jesus Christ has two natures so also he has two natural wills and operations, to wit, the divine and the human: the divine will and operation he has in common with the coessential Father from all eternity: the human, he has received from us, taken with our nature in time.

By bearing human nature, including a human body, soul, mind, will, and operations, “the whole was united to the whole, that He might bestow salvation on me wholly; for what was not assumed is not curable” (John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith, III.6), even though the “whole” does not include all individual possible expressions of human properties.

Kenyans and Marathons

Next, it was noted in the previous post that individuals (subsistences) can vary by superior or inferior without implying distinction of nature (substance). An individual man can be greater than another in virtue, intelligence, even swiftness. I would argue that statements of the sort, “Kenyans are better marathoners than Swedes,” are really just statements about individuals (subsistences); they are statistical correlations between individuals, not claims of superiority or inferiority of race as such.

Now, all classes (or sets) are identified severally by a particular property which holds for each member of the class. For example, the class of 20 years old humans is identified by the property of being 20 years of age and human; so with the class of 60 year olds (and the class tall men, etc.). If we then say that 20 year olds are inferior in wisdom to 60 year olds, we have said something about the relationship of each class and each individual in the class, for membership is simply defined by the identifying property of its membership. So how would we assess the truth of the claim that 20 year olds are inferior in wisdom to 60 year olds? We could easily falsify the claim by simply finding one 20 year old with superior wisdom to one 60 year old. While I am certain that the claim would be found false, what is important here is how it was found to be false. It is not true or false according to 20 year old-ness or 60 year old-ness (the defining properties of the sets), but is true or false by statistical comparison of individuals within the sets. The defining property itself does not determine the truth or falsity of the claim; only statistical comparison of the individuals verifies the truth or falsity claim.

There is, of course, another way we could take the claim. We could take the age/wisdom claim to just mean that most” 20 year olds are inferior in wisdom to 60 year olds, or “on the average.” The claim taken this way is most likely true. But this makes even more clear that the statement is not about 20 year olds qua 20 year old-ness, nor 60 year olds qua 60 year old-ness, but simply about comparisons of individuals to individuals within the respective classes. But most importantly for our purposes, none of this strikes against the human nature or substance of the individuals in the class. 20 year old-ness is an accidental property, not an essential property to being human. The classes are identified around age not human nature as such.

So what, particularly, of statements like “Kenyans are better marathoners than Swedes?” (I know this is a stupid example and I only allow that “Kenyan” or “Swedish” is even a race at all for the sake of the argument.) Again, we could take this in two senses. We could take it to mean all Kenyans are better marathoners than all Swedes, or we could take it to mean “most,” or “on the average.” And again, how would we determine the truth of the claim? We would have to make statistical comparisons of individuals, for the class “Kenyan” and the class “Swede” are identified by common progeneration and common descent, not physical endurance. It is easy to discover that there are thousands of Kenyans who are not good marathoners, so the “all” claim is simply false—but false by statistical comparison of individuals, not by the identifying property of the class. On the other hand, the “most” or “on the average” claim may in fact be true, but again based on statistical comparison of individuals. And as we have already granted in Outline 1, individuals may be superior or inferior without dividing the nature (substance) as such.

Two Important Caveats

But there are a couple of important caveats. First, it certainly may happen to be the case, as a matter of fact at a given moment, that all 20 year olds are inferior in wisdom to 60 year olds, or that all Kenyans are superior marathoners to Swedes. Sure, this is absolutely false in the real world, but it is at least possible in the logician’s “all possible worlds.” But this would still simply be a matter of contingent fact, again resulting from statistical comparison of individuals, and not a statement about the nature of the classes themselves.

Second, one may, contrary to fact, ignorantly or maliciously claim that all 20 year olds are inferior in wisdom to all 60 year olds, qua 20 year old-ness vs. 60 year old-ness; or that all Kenyans are superior in distance running qua being Kenyan. In this case, we are dealing with something quite different. The claim with reference to the age/wisdom example would at worst be culpable ignorance, showing that the claimant misunderstood the identifying property of the classes, viz., mere age. But with the Kenyan/marathon example, things are much different. The property that identifies a class as a particular race (at least for those who claim superior/inferior) is, as we have said, common progeneration and common lineal descent. As we have also argued in Outline 1, the only thing that is universally shared in a class defined by common generation is the human nature (substance). Human nature (substance) is alone universally propagated within the class. If the Athanasian “like begets like” principle holds—such that we can both argue that the Son of God is true and complete God, because He is natural offspring of the Father, and likewise argue that He is a distinct person by the begetting—then we must affirm that begetting produces identical nature (substance) but not identical personhood (subsistence), nor identical accidents. “Like begets like.” Nature begets identical nature, but subsistence does not beget identical subsistence nor identical sets of accidents.

So, if one were to claim that all Kenyans are superior marathoners to all Swedes, but explicitly not because of statistical comparison of individuals, then the claim goes to the identifying property of the class, viz., common progeneration of identical human nature. To say that a race qua race is superior to another race is in fact to claim that that which universally and necessarily characterizes the membership of the class—common progeneration of substance—is distinct by greater or less. But identical substance does not admit of greater or less, only differing substances or individual subsistences (as per the argument of Outline 1).

(I would note also that this same critique would apply to “proneness.” If one were to claim that a race qua race was superior or inferior as “prone” to x, y, or z, all of the same arguments would apply. I would also note that many racists like to quote supposed statistical comparisons of individuals to promote their claims. This is also reprehensible and I plan to catch this up in the next piece.)

Therefore, I would conclude that all scientific, “Bell Curve” like, statistical statements of the sort “Kenyans are superior marathoners to Swedes,” while often false and ignorant, do not divide the human nature of the classes (in this case, races), but are simply statistical comparisons of superior or inferior individuals. But I would only say this with the caveat that unscientific and malicious statements of superiority of race qua race, rather than statistical comparisons of individuals, does divide the human nature of the races and clearly leads to the corruption of essential doctrine (as argued in Outline 1).

A Couple Regrets

To conclude, I must say that there are actually two things that I very much regret about these posts. First, I regret that by going into such theological and philosophical detail, the simplicity of the argument may be obscured. The argument seems almost commonsensical to me. Christ bore the whole of human nature by bearing the nature of a specific race. If races as such can differ by superiority and inferiority, then they, by the very meaning of race, must differ in nature (substance). So, Christ either only bore the substance of one race, or races as such cannot differ by superiority or inferiority. Christ came as the savior of all mankind, all races, ethnicities, tribes, and nations are one in Him. This is what we confess when we say the He, “for us men and for our salvation became man, and was incarnate by the Virgin Mary.” The claim of superiority/inferiority contradicts this.

Second, I regret that something as morally repugnant as racism might appear by these posts to reduce to just more academic wrangling, rather than contemplated as the actual plight suffered by real life families all over the world. I most certainly do believe that we must press the case that racist ideology is de fide error, corrupting essential doctrines, and is therefore heresy. But it is a much more practical issue to those who in flesh and blood suffer under its existential weight—much more so than one typing away on a lap-top.

8 thoughts on “Why Racism is Material Heresy : Responding to Questions/Objections to Outline 1

  1. tiwazmonk February 15, 2018 / 4:14 pm

    There was a reason that I specifically mentioned heritable traits. With genetic traits, having the traits (even if they are latent) and having the same progenitor would be almost equivalent. If the ability to govern oneself could be linked to a specific gene (which I don’t believe it can) then it would be plausible that a specific race could be the sole possessor of that gene and thus more fit to rule.

    Also, almost everything instantiates more than one nature. A stone circle is instantiating both stoneness and circleness. Like wise humanity was not the only nature Jesus had. He instantiated maleness and carpenterness. All males (human and animals) have things in common that makes them male. It cannot be argued that maleness is not a metaphysical substance in the same way humanity is. So, likewise, one could claim that one is instantiating the same human nature as other races while still instantiating different a race nature.

    Finally, circleness is a nature and as a nature it exists as a perfect circle, yet no perfect circles exist in the physical world. Does that mean there are no circles in existence? No, it just means that no physical circle perfectly instantiates circleness. Similarly, rationality is a fundamental part of human nature. Yet, no human (sans Christ) is fully rational. Some are even barely rational. Does this mean Jesus was the only human? No, it just means every other human is imperfectly instantiating their humaness.


    • Brad Mason February 16, 2018 / 3:00 pm

      Hello again!

      On the first paragraph, I’m not sure how that specifically relates to the post.

      On the next, I am entirely unsure where you are coming from. It seems that you are confusing nature/substance with universals. A universal is that which can be multiply instantiated by individuals, not substance. In fact, Aristotle defines substance as that which cannot be predicated, but receives predicates. A substance or nature is matter and form, not just form. So no, Christ, as per the Creeds, is one person (subsistence) in two natures, the divine and human. Though the Fathers were not particularly working with specifically Aristotelian categories, their use of “nature” or “ousia” cannot be identical to universals, properties, or predicates. There is simply is no such thing as a race “ousia” on the substantialist grounds of the Creeds.

      As for circles, again, circleness is not a nature or substance to be instantiated. It is not enformed matter, it is a universal which can be instantiated by substances.

      And last, to say something is “rational” is not a question of ability, greater or less, but is properly understood by the Fathers (and everyone else) as a capacity. To be a “rational animal” is to be “animal” life with “rational” capacity. To be sure, there is literally no such thing as greater or less instantiation of substance, only more perfect and less perfect instantiation of universals predicated of natures/substances. This sort of thing actually came up quite a bit in debates with the Semi-Arians in the 4th Century. They believed Christ was God (in your terms, instantiated the divine nature), but id so as less god than the Father. The Cappadocians showed the absurdity of this claim. As per Aristotle, the Fathers, and Medievals, substance does not admit of greater or less.


      • tiwazmonk February 16, 2018 / 6:06 pm

        “Substance, in the truest and primary and most definite sense of the word, is that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject; for instance, the individual man or horse. But in a secondary sense those things are called substances within which, as species, the primary substances are included; also those which, as genera, include the species. For instance, the individual man is included in the species ‘man’, and the genus to which the species belongs is ‘animal’; these, therefore-that is to say, the species ‘man’ and the genus ‘animal,-are termed secondary substances.

        It is plain from what has been said that both the name and the definition of the predicate must be predicable of the subject. For instance, ‘man’ is predicted of the individual man. Now in this case the name of the species man’ is applied to the individual, for we use the term ‘man’ in describing the individual; and the definition of ‘man’ will also be predicated of the individual man, for the individual man is both man and animal. Thus, both the name and the definition of the species are predicable of the individual. ”

        http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/categories.1.1.html Part 5

        You are using substance in its primary definition according to Aristotle. However for the reasons shown in the quote it cannot apply to the word human. Human is predicated of every individual human and thus cannot fit your definition of a substance.

        The secondary use of substance is equivalent to a form and since everything that is predicated of the species human is also predicated of the genus animal there is no reason why the lower class of race cannot be added to the hierarchy.

        This is how ousia is used by the church fathers. For instance:
        “The predicate therefore being common, and extending to all the individuals ranked under the same name, requires some note of distinction whereby we may understand not man in general, but Peter or John in particular.

        Of some nouns on the other hand the denotation is more limited; and by the aid of the limitation we have before our minds not the common nature, but a limitation of anything, having, so far as the peculiarity extends, nothing in common with what is of the same kind; as for instance, Paul or Timothy. For, in a word, of this kind there is no extension to what is common in the nature; there is a separation of certain circumscribed conceptions from the general idea, and expression of them by means of their names. Suppose then that two or more are set together, as, for instance, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, and that an enquiry is made into the essence or substance of humanity; no one will give one definition of essence or substance in the case of Paul, a second in that of Silvanus, and a third in that of Timothy; but the same words which have been employed in setting forth the essence or substance of Paul will apply to the others also. Those who are described by the same definition of essence or substance are of the same essence or substance”
        https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf208.ix.xxxix.html Part 2

        It is clear that Basil thinks that substances or natures are predicated. What you are defining as substance he defines as a hypostasis.

        “My statement, then, is this. That which is spoken of in a special and peculiar manner is indicated by the name of the hypostasis. ”

        Ibid. Part 3.

        So it seems to me that a substance is a form and a hypostasis is the particular instantiation of that form and so, my statements about imperfect instantiation would seem to apply.

        The first paragraph, which is the least important, is merely trying to show that the claims of different skills among different races is not merely a case of statistical correlation.

        I am sorry if I am taking up too much of your time or taking away from the gravity of the issues you speaking about, but I felt that it is an important subject and that the objections needed to be raised.


      • Brad Mason February 19, 2018 / 10:08 am

        I am most certainly speaking of secondary substances, not primary substances. But as Aritsotle argues, only the primary substances, their species, and genera are considered substances. From the Categories, Ch. 5, we read:

        “It is reasonable that, after the primary substances, their species and genera should be the only other things called secondary substances. For only they, of things predicated, reveal the primary substance. For if one is to say of the individual man what he is, it will be in place to give the species or the genus (though more informative to give man than animal); but to give any of the other things would be out of place—for example, to say white or runs or anything like that. So it is reasonable that these should be the only other things called substances. Further, it is because the primary substances are subjects for everything else that they are called substances most strictly. But as the primary substances stand to everything else, so the species and genera of the primary substances stand to all the rest: all the rest are predicated of these. For if you will call the individual man grammatical, then you will call both a man and an animal grammatical; and similarly in other cases.” (2b29)

        Therefore, not all predicates (or even most) are substances. Paul is a substance, human is substance, animal is substance, but white or round are not. Aristotle explains this by noting that we can say of the same individuals, e.g., Paul and Peter, the following:

        (1) Paul is short and Peter is tall.
        (2) This man (Paul) is short and this man (Peter) is tall.
        (3) This animal (Paul) is short and this animal (Peter) is tall.

        This cannot be said of predicates in general for they are not a “this” or a “such and such.” Only these are substances, as we read above from the Categories. And in connection with my argument, Aristotle also writes,

        “Substance, it seems, does not admit of a more and a less. I do not mean that one substance is not more a substance than another (we have said that it is), but that any given substance is not called more, or less, that which it is. For example, if this substance is a man, it will not be more a man or less a man either than itself or than another man. For one man is not more a man than another, as one pale thing is more pale than another and one beautiful thing more beautiful than another. Again, a thing is called more, or less, such-and-such than itself; for example, the body that is pale is called more pale now than before, and the one that is hot is called more, or less, hot. Substance, however, is not spoken of thus. For a man is not called more a man now than before, nor is anything else that is a substance. Thus substance does not admit of a more and a less.” (3b32)

        This is the point. A particular man, man as such, and animal as such is substance; other properties and universals are not. And substance does not admit of greater or less.

        Further, the predication of secondary substance to primary is given careful clarification by Aristotle because it is different than predication of properties. All that is true of the secondary substance—every part of the definition—is predicated of the primary. E.g., all that is true of animal is true of man; all that is true of man is true of Paul and Peter; this is not so with predication of properties and universals. “White signifies nothing but a qualification, whereas the species and the genus mark off the qualification of substance—they signify substance of a certain qualification” (3b10). This why Aristotle can say of substance that it receives predicates but is not predicable, because primary substances are just individuals of secondary substances, and secondary substance is not a property that attaches to primary substances, but is simply what is true of them as being what they are. Humanity is the specie of Paul, not a property that Paul has, but the type of substance that he is.


  2. tiwazmonk February 19, 2018 / 3:50 pm

    I may have gone overboard and tried to fit my platonic circular (because its perfect) peg into a square Aristotelian hole. My primary objections, however, remain.

    Objection 1:
    Aristotle does say that there are only two classes of secondary substances, but I do not think it does any violence to his system to add more. For instance, if we take a dog, all that is true of his animalness is true of his mammalianness and being a mammal is predicated of the dog but is not in him. So it seems to me that mammal can be secondary substance. Likewise we can add a lower class. German shepardness contains all the predicates of animal, mammal and dog. It is not a quality in the subject and if he ceased to be a German Shepard he would no longer be himself. Thus, the racist could claim the same about race. He could claim that it is not a quality, but, just as man is the type of animal he is, his race is the type of man he is.

    Objection 2:

    Substances are defined by properties that are said to be of the subject, but not in him. These are called differentiae. One of the differentiae of the human substance listed by Aristotle is being bipedal. As such, what one of my previous comments demonstrated still holds. One can claim that individuals can imperfectly instantiate their substance without ceasing to be that substance.

    Even if you reject Aristotle on this point and define humanity as merely being a rational animal you have not escaped the objection. Aside from the fact that other animals have been demonstrated to have reason, Aristotle rejected the idea that all humans had the same capacity for reason. For Aristotle women and barbarians were essentially less rational, were by their very nature fit only for slavery, and could never achieve the human telos of eudaimonia. So the philosopher clearly thought they different groups within a species could instantiate their substance to greater or lesser degrees.


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