Racism Mitigation: The Trio of “Imago Dei”, Goodness and “All Men Are Created Equal” Can Help

Sylvanus A AYENI, M.D.
7 min readJul 29, 2020
March 1, 2020: Congressman John Lewis speaks to the crowd at the Edmund Pettus Bridge crossing reenactment marking the 55th anniversary of Selma’s Bloody Sunday.

One of the existential dilemma of our time is the biased and abhorrent stratification of human beings based entirely on illogical classification by skin color. This dilemma will unfortunately, continue to produce intermittent catastrophic social eruptions until leaders in various societies address the fundamentals.

What will it take for the members of our species, Homo sapiens — “wise man”
to value each other beyond the prevailing worldview of skin color? A worldview which is at the core of Racism.

The exemplary life of late Congressman John Lewis, like that of his hero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., giving all their love for the well-being of their fellow human beings should open our hearts. It is a life that we can all emulate and that can help us understand the trio of “Imago Dei”, Goodness and “All Men Are Created Equal”.

The struggle for justice, human dignity and “inherent relevance” of each human being is as old as the first attempt by humans to build communities. In our time, one of the great challenges is unity in diversity within nations, particularly in multiethnic nations with people of different skin color.

Ever since the term Race was introduced into mankind’s lexicon, stratification of human beings has been based largely on superficial features including skin colour, facial features and hair texture. These characteristics have largely informed us, albeit profoundly erroneously, about who we are or supposedly, who we are not.

The dehumanization of fellow human beings otherwise known as Racism based on superficial physical features, has been a feature of human existence across continents for centuries. It remains a major moral and social issue of our generation.

It is very difficult to erase the legacy of centuries of government sanctioned injustice, persecution and dehumanization. Even when freedom is achieved by the victimized group, the emotional scar lingers, especially when there are clearly visible recurring instances of injustice based strictly on skin color.

This article explores the idea of the trio of Imago Die — “The Image of God”, Goodness, and All men are created equal vis-a-vis mitigation of systemic racism. It is not proposed as a panacea, but as a vital, effective and sustainable apparatus to tame the scourge of racism.

For this proposition to work, the endeavor must be undertaken via education, preferably from K-12, and even beyond. The concept must also be accepted and woven into the value system of the society by political, educational and business leaders at local, state and federal levels.

Granted, this is a huge social undertaking, but it is one that deserves serious consideration. If this generation fails to act, another generation, sooner or later will be forced to confront the issue of racism with innovative methods. Hopefully they will employ this trio or at least some version of it as part of their remedy.

Imago Dei

Christianity and Judaism are Faiths in which “Imago Dei” is foundational as found in Genesis 1:26–27, which reads,

“And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (KJV)

While over the centuries, great theologians have provided different interpretation of the phrase — Image of God — , its foundational moral value and implications are not in doubt.

Four great theologians in particular have contributed significantly to exegesis of the doctrine of the Imago Dei —Irenaeus, (Bishop of Lyons); Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and Karl Barth. www.religionfacts.com/imago-dei

According to Irenaeus, “image” in Genesis 1:26 meant people are rationale and free beings.

Thomas Aquinas held that the imago dei exists in a person’s intellect or reason. Intellect, in his assertion, is a person’s most God-like quality. Because less rationale creatures, like animals, were not created with a mind that has the abilities of a human’s, they do not have the image of God.

According to Calvin, the image of God exists in the soul: “For although God’s glory shines forth in the outer man, yet there is no doubt that the proper seat of his image is in the soul.”

Barth’s emphasis on “male and female” leads him to stress the component of relationship in the imago dei. “When two people share in communication and love with one another or with God, they are doing the activity of the Holy Trinity”, writes Barth.

The great Christian philosopher, Saint Augustine (354 CE — 430 CE) insists that the mind is created in the image of God, not because it is capable of self-knowledge, but because it has the potential to become wise, i.e., to remember, know and love God, its creator (De trinitate — The Trinity — 14.21–22).

Thus, even for non-practitioners and non-adherents of Judaism and Christianity, the virtues of Imago Dei as espoused by these five thelogians should be a powerful impetus for human beings to strongly reconsider the issue of classification of human beings based entirely on skin color.

The fact is that human beings are not the color of their skin. The skin color is very superficial and it has nothing to do with the character, the essential nature and the “being” of any human being.

Goodness

Existentially, philosophically and theologically, implicit in the concept of Justice is the “Idea of the Good”.

“You have often heard it said that the Form of the Good is the greatest thing to learn about, and that it is by their relation to it that just things and (other virtuous things) become useful and beneficial” (Plato’s Republic, 505a).

Thus, for mankind to overcome racism which is always propelled by nefarious conception of skin color and superficial human characteristics, the underpinnings of interactions between human beings must change.

Our interactions with each other must reflect an understanding that the thirst for Goodness resides in human beings. Hence, it is patently unjust to assume the opposite and to prejudge a human being negatively because of his or her skin color.

Is there evil in the world? Of course there is. Are there evil, destructive, self-centered, oppressive and decadent human beings? Of course they abound in our world. But similarly, good, productive, self-giving and uplifting individuals abound. Neither of these groups of human beings is exclusive to any continental population, whether, Africans, Asians, Europeans, North Americans, South Americans, Australians (Oceanians) or their descendants.

The stereotyping of any group of human beings as less than “good” because of skin color is not only scientifically baseless, it is dangerous, immoral and inimical to peace in the society.

All Men Are Created Equal

On the surface, the concept of “All Men Are Created Equal” is a hard sell.

Consider a child born premature, who bleeds into the brain, spends several weeks in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit while undergoing several procedures. Eventually the child is discharged from the hospital. Can anyone disagree that the child is handicapped from the beginning compared with a healthy baby who goes home with the mother the day after delivery?

Are seven children living in a one bedroom apartment in a multigenerational setting equal to a family of four living in a five bedroom mansion with two children, a swimming pool and their own tennis court?

Clearly, human beings are not equal in types of talent, in available opportunities, in quality of parenting and in the “fortunate breaks” and “good luck” of life.

Perhaps the most famous “writing” that would readily come into the minds of most people who read or hear the phrase: All Men Are Created Equal is the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

In practical day to day living, the ideals espoused in this great document remain a challenging ongoing experiment. This is particularly noteworthy in the lack of opportunities for some segments of the population to pursue happiness.

Therefore, viewed from the “visible realm”, it would appear obvious that “All Men Are Not Created Equal”. However, a deeper dive into the beginning, the fulfillment and the end of life of all human beings would reveal the fact that there is a lot of truth to the phrase: “All Men Are Created Equal”.

The equality of all “men” (mankind), I submit, has to do with mainly three things. The inherent dignity of all human beings, the innate drive and capability to achieve Eudaimonia — “well-being”, “flourishing” or “fulfillment”, and the special connection between the Creator and human beings, as distinct from other animals and other living things.

It is noteworthy to recall some of those individuals who have fought against racism, injustice and inequality in a manner that personifies the trio of “Imago Dei”, Goodness and “All Men Are Created Equal”.

The men and women include: Abraham Lincoln, William Wilberforce, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and John R. Lewis, just to nasme a few.

Much has been accomplished in the fight against Racism, thanks to the bravery, courage, perseverance and sacrifice of many men and women. There is still a lot of work to do. As we continue to employ their successful methods, the trio discussed in this article can inform our actions as we seek novel avenues to fight the torment.

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Sylvanus A AYENI, M.D.

Neurosurgeon. Founder, Pan Africa Children Advocacy Watch(PACAW Inc) www.pacaw.org. Author: RESCUE THYSELF: Change In Sub-Saharan Africa Must Come From Within