“How it is that we once again find ourselves rooting out sin, shunning heretics, and heralding the end times,” asks Joseph Bottum in the Weekly Standard, exploring “The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas:”
Just as, for Paul in Romans, “the law entered, that the offence might abound,” so our awareness of our own racism massively increases when we realize that we are utterly formed as racists in America. And just as, for Paul, “where sin abounded, grace did much more abound,” so it is that only from this overwhelming awareness of racism can we hope to escape racism.
The doctrine of original sin is probably incoherent, and certainly gloomy, in the absence of its pairing with the concept of a divine savior—and so Paul concludes Romans 5 with a turn to the Redeemer and the possibility of hope: “As sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” Think of it as a car’s engine or transmission scattered in pieces around a junkyard: The individual bits of Christian theology don’t actually work all that well when they’re broken apart from one another.
Which is why it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that an infinite sadness often haunts expressions of the white-privilege notion that we must become more aware of race in order to end the inherited sin of being aware of race. If we cannot escape it, then how can we escape it? When Prof. Jensen cries out in his chiliastic pain, “I will carry this privilege with me until the day white supremacy is erased,” he’s speaking in tones once reserved for the moral solution that only the Second Coming could provide. The strangeness of the isolated concept can be discerned in its unendingness, its never-satisfied ratchet. Discerned as well, I would suggest, in some of the disturbingly salvific terms with which President Obama’s campaign and election were first greeted.
Of course, however Christian the idea of white privilege may have been in origin, it emerged in contemporary America stripped of Christ and his church, making it available even for post- and non-Christians. For that matter, an explicit anti-Christianity is often heard alongside rejections of white privilege. At Radersma’s race conference, a fellow presenter named Paul Kivel defined white privilege as “the everyday pervasive, deep-seated and institutionalized dominance of Christian values, Christian institutions, leaders and Christians as a group, primarily for the benefit of Christian ruling elites.”
But that, too, is typical of much post-mainline moral discussion in America: the Church of Christ Without Christ, as Flannery O’Connor might have called it (to use a phrase from her 1952 novel Wise Blood). The mainline congregations may be gone as significant factors in the nation’s public life, but their collapse released a religious logic and set of spiritual anxieties that are still with us—still demanding that we see our nation and ourselves in the patterns cast by their old theological lights.
As Umberto Eco wrote in 2005, “God Isn’t Big Enough For Some People:”
It is the role of religion to provide that justification. Religions are systems of belief that enable human beings to justify their existence and which reconcile us to death. We in Europe have faced a fading of organised religion in recent years. Faith in the Christian churches has been declining.
The ideologies such as communism that promised to supplant religion have failed in spectacular and very public fashion. So we’re all still looking for something that will reconcile each of us to the inevitability of our own death.
G K Chesterton is often credited* with observing: “When a man ceases to believe in God, he doesn’t believe in nothing. He believes in anything.” Whoever said it – he was right. We are supposed to live in a sceptical age. In fact, we live in an age of outrageous credulity.
And finally, as Kate quips today at Small Dead Animals, “You Clever Matchmaker, Gaia!”, spotting someone who really red-lines the phrase “outrageous credulity:”
Afton Burton left her parents’ home in Illinois at age 19 to move to California, where she could be closer to Manson, Burton said.
It was Manson’s work as an environmentalist that drew her daughter into him, according to Burton.
“He’s an environmentalist, and she’s involved in his environmentalist program,” Burton said.
Say what you will about Charles Manson, but he took the “warrior” aspect of the phrase “Social Justice Warrior,” not to mention the quasi-religious doomsday implications of that strange mindset, seriously.
* The Chesterton Society traced the complex history of this brilliant aphorism, and concluded, “we must point out the irony that critics have chastised Chesterton for misquoting other writers, while he is the most misquoted writer of all. No one would be more pleased than G.K. Chesterton.”
Related: “Professor says she can no longer give common-sense advice for fear of being accused of victim-blaming.”
More: “Funniest Paragraph of the Day, Courtesy of the NY Times:”
“Unitarian Universalism is not a theologically grounded religion,” Ms. Brock said. “If we mess up our principles and values, we don’t have a theology to fall back on. We’re not Catholic — we can’t just keep giving communion until we figure it out. If we don’t have our values figured out, our institutions become pointless bureaucracies.”
And finally, William Voegeli writes that “MSNBC Shrill Is No Accident. It’s How Liberals Really Think:”
Convinced that no intelligent, decent person could take conservatism seriously, liberals believe it is not necessary or even possible, when engaging conservative ideas, to go beyond diagnosing the psychological, moral or mental defects that cause people to espouse them. Liberals claim to understand conservatives better than they understand themselves on the basis of seeing through the cynical self-interest of conservative leaders (and funders), and the fanaticism or stupid docility of conservative followers. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, scourge of the Koch brothers, went on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show in 2010 to deny that the Tea Party movement was “a spontaneous uprising that came from nowhere.” In fact, Maddow explained, many of those attending its demonstrations “were essentially instructed to rally against things like climate change by billionaire oil tycoons.”
This condescension has always been part of the liberal outlook. In 1972, eight weeks after George McGovern suffered a historically massive defeat against Richard Nixon, film critic Pauline Kael told the professors at a Modern Language Association conference, “I know only one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don’t know. They’re outside my ken. But sometimes when I’m in a theater I can feel them.”
The evil sinners are out there, I can feel them! Don’t get too close or their demonic ideas and/or cooties will rub off on you, too!