America’s New Religion

Antiracism has become, as John McWhorter pointed out in 2015, America’s new religion. It has its holidays, its saints and martyrs, its liturgical processions and gestures, its symbols and sacraments, its Scriptures and sermonizers, its modes of confession and almost-absolution, its eschatological hope that America will, somehow and someday, fix racism once and for all.

McWhorter isn’t wholly hostile to the Antiracist religion. It’s a good thing, he suggested, that many are “profoundly committed to seeing all people as equal and calling for more people to feel the same way.”

It's a good thing for blacks and whites to join in condemning abuses of power and recognizing the unique suffering, and crucial gifts, of African-Americans.

David French is right: "the consequences of 345 years of legal and cultural discrimination, are going to be dire, deep-seated, complex, and extraordinarily difficult to comprehensively ameliorate."

French says we need to "say two things at once - yes, we have made great strides," but, second, "the central and salient consideration of American racial politics shouldn’t center around pride in how far we’ve come, but in humble realization of how much farther we have to go."

Yet, McWhorter argued, Antiracism makes racial justice more difficult to achieve. It short circuits the painful honesty we all need. Certain questions cannot be asked, questions like: “Why are black people so upset about one white cop killing a black man when black men are at much more danger of being killed by one another?”

Some do publicly raise such questions, most of them on the Right. But then the questions are taken as evidence that the questioner doesn’t “get it.” The many African-Americans who raise these questions are little better than traitors who deserve to be shouted down.

Antiracism’s eschatology – its hope for a Judgment day when America “owns up to” racism – is not a political program so much as a “tacit promise of catharsis.”

That same hope obscures the actual progress we’ve made on race relations. As McWhorter says, “if hatred and dismissal of black people were really still as much the bedrock of this society . . . then Antiracism—complete with the logical elisions and willful contempt of self required—would not be the new religion of enlightened white America.”

That eschatology functions as justification for the persistent demands of Antiracism. Judgment Day is postponed, perhaps indefinitely. No matter what America does, it’s not enough. We haven’t reached the promised land. Like many perfectionist religions, Antiracism is satisfied with nothing less than total surrender.

For the Antiracist, racism is the equivalent of original sin, the master explanation for all African-American problems. Antiracism siphons energy and imagination from practical solutions. Confession of white privilege relieves white guilt, but, McWhorter asks, does “self-flagellation by the ruling class” actually help anyone?

Black students don’t score as well on standardized tests? The tests are racially biased and must be changed. Why not instead, McWhorter suggests, make a “massive effort . . . to get black kids practice in taking standardized tests”? It’s another question Antiracism won’t let us ask.

If anything is, Antiracism is the established religion of the United States, dominating mainstream and social media, education, entertainment, sports. One of the two major parties has walked the sawdust trail and given its heart to this new Jesus. The GOP is often tarred as a safe haven for racists, but most Republicans at least give lip service to Antiracism.

Antiracism manifests the intolerance of many established faiths. It prohibits blasphemy, and enforces its strictures through public shaming or lawsuits.

Antiracism is trying to capture public squares throughout the nation, toppling old monuments. It’s agitating to capture public time, as it erases offensive holidays from the American calendar.

Antiracism is attractive to sensitive Christians, for obvious reasons. The gospel announces God’s hospitality to all peoples, tongues, and races, offers forgiveness and reconciliation, as the Spirit knits us into a community of love. Christians agree: Racial hatred is evil.

Christians stand for equitable justice, and abhor abuses of power, especially against the weak and vulnerable. Christians can support calls for reform of policing. Long before Trump threatened to deploy the military, para-military police units were already patrolling our streets.

Like many contemporary movements, Antiracism illustrates G.K. Chesterton’s observation that the modern world is overrun with “old Christian virtues gone mad because they have been isolated from one another and are wandering alone.” It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference between the lonely mad virtues and the community of sane ones.

Though disguised in Christian colors, Antiracism is a rival faith. And not only a rival in a general sense, a competitor for hearts and minds. It's a rival in the sense that orthodox Christianity is one of Antiracism’s targets. If there’s one thing a newly established religion cannot tolerate, it’s the persistence of the old establishment.

Over the decades, “racism” has expanded to include every form of discrimination against any minority, including especially sexual minorities. Negative judgments are excluded. Antiracism morphs into a tyranny of non-judgmentalism.

For many adherents of our new religion, Christians are the bigots and the Bible is our manual of authoritarianism . We're sexists if we deny a woman’s right to abortion, fascists when we refuse to celebrate transgenderism. We’re the heretics and the blasphemers, dissenters from the new established religion.

There may come a time when Christians are a little wistful for the good old days when a President was willing to do a self-serving photo-op holding a Bible in front of a church.

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