I have been disappointed and saddened by a news event that has been circulating lately. Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly has apparently said that Jesus of Nazareth and Santa Claus were white. It was reported in a related bit of news that John Steward “layed into Kelly” for making such a comment. I did not hear the comment nor do I know the context. The comment is being used nevertheless to make the point that Ms Kelly is stupid and, by extension, so is her employer Fox News, and by further extension all conservatives and conservatism itself. This really does make me sad.
The reason for my sadness is as follows. Ms Kelly is not stupid. I would not dare to engage her in a debate, just as I would not debate Mr. Stewart. Both of these individuals are extremely bright and intelligent people. The statement by Ms. Kelly that Jesus and Santa Claus are/were White could easily be defended, if one felt that the issue was important enough to need defending. Jesus, born in what is now Palestine, probably looked a great deal like Palestinians look today according to most scholars who deal with that area. While one could hardly call Jesus and Palestinians Nordic, the fact is that they are, by and large, White. If a Palestinian walked up to a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Arkansas in the 1950’s and ordered a burger and fries he would have been served. Of course there are nuances, and “White” has come to mean a great many things other than simply skin color. Still the fact remains that within the broad, merely physiologic sense of the word, Jesus was White.
As to Santa Claus, this character was based upon an extremely generous person named Nicholas who lived in what is now Turkey in the fourth century and was probably ethnically Greek. This ethnicity also falls into the category of “White” by physiologic criteria. The mythical character with the unhealthy body mass index who somehow wriggles down chimneys, even in houses which do not have chimneys, has mostly been white too. I don’t know how many hundreds of years that the Santa Claus myth has persisted but I would say that for at least 99.99% of that time Santa has been White.
If Ms. Kelly was saying that it is wrong to depict Santa as being other than White, or that there is some theological harm in portraying Jesus as being Black or Asian or Hispanic or Eskimo or anything else, I would disagree with her. My Christian view is that all on Earth are made in the image of God, and Jesus is God, so any human on the planet is in the image of God. Therefore, if Jesus appears to be Black to a Black person, Asian to an Asian person, etc., etc., that would be fine with me (and it doesn’t actually have to be fine with me, and I know that). In the case that Ms. Kelly or anyone else was arguing the contrary I would be willing to debate them, regardless of their intelligence or accomplishments.
The main problem for me is how very easy and natural it is to label those with whom we disagree stupid or worse. That makes it much easier to dehumanize and then hate them. We disagree with George W. Bush so we label him stupid. Now we can hate him and no insult or injury to him can bother us in the least. Or we may disagree with Barrack H. Obama and, since it is hard to call him stupid, we call him evil. Now we can more easily hate him and no insult or injury to him will bother us as well. The news media with journalists like Kelly, the quasi news media with commentators like Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews, and pseudo news media starring entertainers like Stewart, live on this division. And when Congress shows itself bitterly divided with one side unable to work with the morons and dunderheads on the other side of the aisle, how are they different from all of the rest of us?
My summary position would be this: We cannot as a nation hope to ever lift our society up while we call each other evil, stupid, racist, greedy, etc., and then go on about our own evil, stupid, racist and greedy business. Labeling as stupid those with whom we merely disagree places them in the status of “the Other” whom we hate or exclude almost as a duty while feeling comfortably superior in the process. I doubt that our nation will ever heal until it tires of such labeling and chooses to agree or disagree with each other in a more agreeable fashion. As Jesus, whatever color he was or anyone would like for Him to have been said, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Reconciliation and peace were important to my Jesus, whom I would worship if He was a Martian.
I cannot change the actions of a single person in this nation, although I hope that at least one person will read this and consider if a more charitable opinion towards their opponents might be worth trying. In the meantime I suppose that I will begin my campaign to change discourse in America on the only field where I have any leverage at all: myself.