Skip to main content

Essentialism: How We Stereotype People

Eric Butterworth Unity Podcast
The Human Side of Unity

Mark Hicks

Hi Friends -

What I am about to share has taken me three weeks to write. As you will come to understand, it hasn’t been easy to write and I know that it won’t be easy for many of you to read. However, as fellow students of Truth, we know that the only way to overcoming error and achieving new life is the embrace of the Truth that sets us free.

Let me begin with a question. If you or I were unconsciously harboring thinking patterns that were causing us to stereotype people of different nationalities, races and physical characteristics, and if the root cause of those thinking patterns were rooted a feature of our particular kind of Christian tradition (Metaphysics), would you be interested in knowing more?

I’m sure you would, just as I would. That is why my heart sank three weeks ago as I was listening to a podcast while taking my daily walk.

It was 26:30 minutes into an interview with Joseph Graves, professor of biological sciences at two North Carolina research institutions and author of The Emperor’s New Clothes: BioLogical Theories of Race at the Millennium and The Race Myth: Why We Pretend Race Exists in America.

Twenty-six minutes in, Graves began talking about Essentialism. “Essentialism is the view that every entity has a set of attributes that are necessary to its identity and function”, so says Wikipedia. Wikipedia continues, “In early Western thought, Plato’s idealism held that all things have such an ‘essence’—an ‘idea’ or ‘form’.” The essence of ideas is how they play out in life expression. For an essentialist, the key to understanding life is to know the essential ideal behind each life expression.

Many of you will immediately recognize that kind of talk as the very foundation of greek metaphysics. Early Christianity picked up greek metaphysical notions as Christianity spread through the Mediterranean world. Much of the influence of metaphysics on Christianity fell away. But metaphysical expressions of Christianity, like New Thought and Unity, have melded metaphysical concepts into our understanding of Christian theology.

That’s a problem. Like it or not, we metaphysicians are susceptible to essentialism. And, as Graves and others explain, essentialism is basically about stereotyping things—attributing to them qualities that are “permanent, unalterable, and eternal.” Once we apply a stereotype to a people, place or thing, it is separate, categorically different. When applied to our human family, whatever sense of oneness we may desire is gone.

Graves argues that, genetically, there are no races in the human species. He explains how essentialism blinded western society to understand what race really is—a social categorizing of people based on what we would call in metaphysics “appearances.”

As a side note, the debate really came to surface when the human genome was being decoded. Scientists kept clamoring for the datasets to have a column for race. Graves and others argued what we intuitively know—that, in terms of genetics, race is a category that doesn’t exist.

Charles Darwin was the first to come to the same intuitive understanding. His observation of the diversity of life revealed to him that there were no clear boundaries of when black becomes brown and brown becomes yellow and yellow becomes white. Graves says in the podcast that it was not until Darwin’s understanding of the diversity of life that we were able to break free from stereotyping people according to physical traits.

He says “In opposition to the apologists for slavery who argued that blacks and whites had originated as separate species, Darwin believed the races belonged to the same human family. [For Darwin,] slavery was a ‘sin,’ and abolishing it became his ‘sacred cause.’ By extending the abolitionists’ idea of human brotherhood to all life, Darwin developed our modern view of evolution.”

Does racial stereotyping of human race occur in Christian metaphysics? Turn to your Metaphysical Bible Dictionary and look up two of these essential “ideas” or “forms”— Ethiopia and Cush—two biblical names for sub-saharan Africa. We discover that these metaphysical ideas characterize sub-saharan Africa as,

Ethiopia—“burned faces” Meta. The darkened or material thought in which man has held his body and its activities--the seemingly mortal, physical part of himself--as opposed to the Truth; also the result in his body of this error thinking.

Cush—“firelike; burned; blackened; combustible” Meta. Ham typifies the physical in man, in its very biased, material, sensual expression. The physical has always been looked upon as something very material and as being void of intelligence and spirituality. It has been in darkness, and has been given over to ignorance and sensuality, with corruption as its ultimate state. Cush represents this darkened thought in which man has held his body and its activities--the seemingly mortal, physical part of himself.

These entries are disturbing, to say the least. I will leave interpreting them up to you. But my point is that because of it’s rootedness in essentialism, metaphysics (Christian as well as Greek) is highly susceptible to prejudicial and untrue characterizations of people, places and things.

There is, however, a fundamental difference between Greek Metaphysics and Christian Metaphysics. Metaphysics, as originally understood by the Greeks, is non-theistic.

For the Greeks, the basic foundation of Reality (all that is) is not God, nor matter, but Ideas (capitalized as foundational spiritual entities). As was said, Ideas contained the “essence” or “pattern” of Life Expressions. That is to say, when we observe the shape or behavior of something, we are (R)eally observing the essence that underlies it.

There were lesser gods, but they were little more than super-humans. They certainly were not part of the foundational structure of Reality. The lesser gods might have tried to shove around Ideas for their own benefit, just like you and I might do, but they had no ability to create them, and as I will point out, they had no ability to transform them for a greater good.

It was the Jewish and Christian faiths that brought into consciousness the notion of a transcendent, loving and principled God. And it was Plotinus, who lived shortly before Augustine who connected that loving Mind of God to Christian metaphysics.

So the greek kind of metaphysics is not Judeo-Christian. It’s actually godless, or, as we euphemistically call it today, non-theist. Non-theistic metaphysics is going on right now, in our individual lives and in our culture. In my opinion, that is a real problem for we who look to metaphysics for understanding.

Because greek metaphysics is non-theistic, the meta-narrative is Idea > Expression. Because Christian metaphysics is theistic, the meta-narrative is Mind > Idea > Expression. That is to say that God-Mind emits Divine Ideas which are manifested as Life Expression according to the character of our thinking, speaking and actions. That is the basis of Christian metaphysics.

What happens when Christian metaphysics becomes non-theistic metaphysics? With non-theistic metaphysics, God-Mind is supplanted by human-mind, reducing the supernatural meta-narrative to the interplay of Divine Ideas and Life Expression, without the guidance of God-Mind. Divine Ideas are marginalized and trashed, leaving Ideas to fend for themselves, running amok.

That, according to Graves, is why we have our legacy of slavery and racism. My name for it is godless metaphysics. Regardless what we may call it, godless metaphysics is going on right now, in our individual lives and in our culture. It is, as we observe in our world today, quite ugly, as I wrote in January 2017.

When I first wrote about godless metaphysics in January 2017, I referred back to the Civil Rights Movement. In the society of that time, as in the time of the Roman Emperor, and as in our present time, God-Mind has all too often been supplanted by the human will. But Dr. King, as a Christian minister and modern-day prophet, was able to remind us that the Divine Ideas that are the foundation of this country, are expressions of God-Mind, not human-mind, and that all people are endowed (by their Creator, not by the Emperor) with certain inalienable rights.

I also wrote about godless metaphysics a year ago when discussing how Grace interplays with the Law of Mind Action. Mind Action is basically godless. It causes an effect according to our (human) thinking, leaving God out of the equation. But Grace transcends cause and effect. Grace is a quality of law which does not depend on our state of consciousness. Rather it depends upon God’s never failing love and understanding, which we know as Grace.

I don’t have an answer for the characterizations of Ethiopia and Cush in the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary. And I, like most everyone I know, understand that our journey to racial justice and reconciliation will require much more Grace and Love than human will and Mind Action.

This post is an appeal to all who are metaphysicians to set aside the entries for Ethiopia and Cush in the Metaphysical Bible Dictionary, much like we are setting aside pain laden statues and monuments in our country today.

Let us affirm that as one human race, we will overcome our tragic, sinful legacy of racism when we make the same discovery made by Charles Darwin 150 years ago: that the essential character of every human being is not “permanent, unalterable, and eternal” but rather constantly mutating into higher orders of being (individually as well as collectively) because of the work of a loving, transcendent God-Mind.

Mark Hicks
Sunday, July 19, 2020

Download PDF of this page