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IT IS JUST HYPE TO CALL ELECTISM A RELIGION?
Some think it's just that I don't like religion and haven't studied it. And they're right. But that doesn't mean we haven't watched a religion emerge since last year.
I am flattered to see that a person or two out there has actually taken it upon themselves to review my postings of excerpts from my The Elect, as if it were already an actual book. And from these reviews, I can see what a major strain in reviews of the actual book, Woke Racism (out from Portfolio in October) will be. I will be roundly slammed for seeming disrespectful of religion, and for not knowing enough about it to sully it with a comparison to Elect ideology.
I get it. I can see how insufferable I will seem in my take on religion, despite that Woke Racism will pull considerably back on the tone I often took in The Elect. I am, indeed, an atheist. Not an agnostic, but an atheist. And I openly admit that religious commitment perplexes and sometimes even irritates me. It’s partly a matter of personal history.
Want a bit of that dirt? First, the fact that many black Americans are devoutly Christian puts a barrier between them and me that I wish weren’t there. Second, it kept me from being able to share much of my life with a very good childhood friend when he decided to embrace an especially conservative branch of Christianity.
However, those biases acknowledged, my point that Electism has become a religion stands. My point is that religion typically includes a wing of belief that must stand apart from empiricism, that at a certain point one must just “believe.” This is not to dismiss the reams of profound, cosmopolitan close reasoning that theology has produced over the millennia, nor is to dismiss devout people as unintelligent.
Rather, it would seem to me that religious belief requires a person to sequester a part of their cognition for a kind of belief that is not based on logic. Yes, the theologian can slice and dice brilliantly in seeking a rational basis for the faith – but at a certain point, you hit that wall: one must “just” believe, “take that jump and” believe, one must believe … “.. (I don’t know) …”.
My point about The Elect is that its ideology involves – and actually is founded significantly upon – that type of religious thought. No devoted spectator of the emergence of this way of thinking could miss that it has morphed from a sociopolitical stance infused with religion (as in what I pointed out in 2015 here) into a straight-up religion.
The difference is that believers have actually started saying it outright.
Sometimes it’s where the people don’t think they’re being heard beyond their flock. A memo went around in one department at New York University last summer actually laying out “Our first guiding principle is that participation in political movements such as Black Lives Matter is analogous to a decision to attend a religious or spiritual gathering.”
One might picture this written by a black theologian. But it was an especially rich thing to see coming from a white statistician!!! This was a sign of a new era.
(This was not, however, written from the mathematics department, for those who might want to sniff it out, which will be futile – but I guarantee you it was real.)
Another example is the status that Michael Brown, killed by white officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, has taken on among some people of this world. The issue is that difference between fact and “belief.”
The fact is that Michael Brown was not killed with his hands up by a marauding white bigot who couldn’t perceive his humanity. Brown tried to take Wilson’s gun, hit him, and then – for reasons we will likely never fully understand – repeatedly charged at Wilson until Wilson finally fired. This has been corroborated beyond any reasonable doubt by the forensic evidence as well as by neighborhood observers.
What, then, do we make of a theologian who thinks Michael Brown was a modern Jesus?
“As with Christ, the flesh of Michael Brown, Jr. made him imminently killable in the eyes of many and mitigated any claim of empathy on the hearts of too many others,” Stephen J. Ray informs us. “Michael Brown Jr. is and will be our shining Black Prince for from his death God has brought Life to us all and in his gaze we are enveloped in its power.”
Now, the Elect defense here is to say “Oh, this guy is just some ….” – but watch it! He’s “just some” black President of the Chicago Theological Seminary, penning a serious article called “Black Lives Matter as Enfleshed Theology” in this book.
Try again, Elects. “Well, you understand that black people have a special sensitivity to a case like Ferguson because of the long history of cops’ mistreatment of black people in this country.” I do get that, but I question whether we are to give black people a pass on sheer logic because of even that history. It’d be one thing if Ray had written this years ago (some would be surprised at how in line with the Common Consensus on Ferguson I was until the facts came out). But this is from just a couple years ago.
And besides, one also encounters things like this: “God endows Black flesh with the power to communicate life to others in Black Lives Matter. That resembles the plot of Good Friday to Pentecost: the Holy Spirit gathers a new community around the body of Jesus.” That’s from another book. By Eugene F. Rogers.
Another black theologian, of course? But no – he is white, despite the “black” air lent by the middle initial, the name Eugene, and the content of the quote. And no, he’s not “just some …” – he is a celebrated Professor of Religious Studies who has done work at Princeton, Tübingen and Yale who has been awarded a Fulbright, an NEH grant, and … well, I’ll stop. Point being: serious people are thinking this way, and it’s religious.
This stuff just goes on and on. Listen to this Elect white teacher at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School. Here’s another grand old academy being choked by CRT ideology, while smart media types stand by claiming nothing’s going on because legal theorists forty years ago had no such things in mind and thus it isn’t CRT and thus if you don’t like it, * you’re a racist and … (note that this is religious thought as well, in that sharp break with sequential logic at the point I marked with an asterisk).
Anyway, listen here to this person who openly likens white people to alcoholics, who need to meet and cleanse themselves:
The strong religious component in AA meetings needs no explanation, and this teacher is openly calling for him and his colleagues to, essentially, come together and pray, self-flagellate – complete with dismissing those in disagreement as not belonging in the setting, having no place among them. Just imagine this blithe, tribalist kind of dismissal coming from anyone you had as a teacher in your life, and yet now, zealots like this man are normal in institutions of instruction. This man likely doesn’t realize that he, despite likely happily guffawing at the thought of Jerry Falwell and looking upon Ultra-Orthodox Jewish people as curiosities, is on the vanguard of a religious faith himself.
If this kind of thing is just “like a religion” rather than being one, then I assume that those who feel that way would comfortably classify Roseanne Barr’s likening of Valerie Jarrett to apes as “like racism,” Donald Trump’s referring to black people as “the blacks” and regularly assigning the label of “dumb” to black people as “like racism.” Why the binary logic with racism but suddenly an almost aesthetic sensitivity to gradations when it comes to religion?
What we have been seeing over the past year in terms of how serious people are comfortable presenting themselves and their thoughts is analogous to watching creationism taught alongside evolution. It’s scary, whether or not I’m an atheist and whether or not I’m up on my Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and Niebuhr.
How about this, for meeting my religious detractors – of which there will be increasingly more – halfway? An alternate-universe version of The Elect would be forging, even with a certain smug impatience with real questions, real change on the ground for real people who need help. That religion would be fine with me. In a way, it is the Catholicism of, say, Dorothy Day.
However, the this-universe version of The Elect make a pretense of being about activism when what really gets them going is shaming people and virtue signalling, while exploiting black people they don’t truly respect as tools for the former - as actual black people join them unaware of the profound dismissal that pity entails.
So the problem is not that The Elect is a religion. It’s that it’s a shitty religion.