This article is a short preface to my forthcoming series about critical race theory (“CRT”). This series will offer some reflections about CRT based on a chapter by chapter analysis of this primer written by CRT advocates.
But, first, I offer this observation. CRT can be a religion.
People are very, very religious. Don’t let secularism fool you. It’s a religion, too. Everybody has a religion. You may have seen statistics that say there is a rise in people who claim no religious affiliation. Those statistics are misleading. Religion is alive and well. It’s just a different kind of religion that’s thriving. The religious economy has changed, but it’s still kicking.
Why do I say CRT can be a religion? Why do I say there are lots of religions floating around in the petri dish that is the secular West? Why do I believe that even Communism, as articulated by Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto, is a religion?
Well, it begins by explaining what religion is. For that, I offer you the words of two sociologists and a well-respected theologian:
- Kerry Ferris and Jill Stein (The Real World: An Introduction to Sociology, 6th ed. [New York: W.W. Norton, 2018], 313) explain that religion is “any institutionalized system of shared beliefs and rituals that identify a relationship between the sacred and the profane.”
- Rodney Stark (Sociology, 10th ed. [Belmont: Wadsworth, 2007], 388-389) defines religion as “any socially organized pattern of beliefs and practices concerning ultimate meaning that assumes the existence of the supernatural.”
Millard Erickson, a Christian theologian, offers some complementary thoughts. Religion, he explains, is:
belief or doctrine, feeling or attitudes, and a way of life or manner of behaving. Christianity fits all these criteria of religion. It is a way of life, a kind of behavior, a style of living. And it is this not in the sense of merely isolated individual experience, but in giving birth to social groups. Christianity also involves certain feelings, such as dependence, love, and fulfillment. And Christianity most certainly involves a set of teachings, a way of viewing reality and oneself, and a perspective from which all of experience makes sense.Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2013), 6. Emphasis added.
These are all very helpful; particularly Erickson’s insistence on religion as a prism to understand reality. Here’s what we learn from these definitions about religion:
- An organized system
- with beliefs, rituals and practices
- that explains the relationship between the sacred and the ordinary,
- provides the basis for ultimate meaning and purpose,
- acts as a prism to interpret and explain reality,
- and identifies a particular deity or ideology as a Sacred object of worship.
You’ll notice I adapted Stark’s insistence on the supernatural (which, for him, is key to religion [Sociology, 389]; contra. Ferris and Stein) in criteria #6. I think this is a very good definition that anybody can understand.
Now, perhaps you can see why many flavors of religion are alive and well. CRT can be one such religion, but that’s the sterile name for it. The populist version of this CRT religion is anti-racism which, ironically, can be racist to its core. It’s particularly alive in the streets of our cities, in our universities, amongst our politicians and in our local, state and Federal governments.
Writing for National Review (06 July 2020), Kyle Smith penned an article titled “The White-Guilt Cult” that accurately summarizes the religious nature of the worst elements of this new McCarthyism that has captured the West. Here’s some teasers:
Anti-racism is the most critical element of a broader new Woke Orthodoxy whose other elements include environmental apocalypticism, feminism, and a severing of sexual identity from genetic indicators. Settling on a term for the new religion will take some time. Wesley Yang’s suggestion (seconded by Ross Douthat) of “the Successor Ideology” is clunky, anodyne, and a bit euphemistic given the righteous, roiling fervor and unnerving credulousness that define the cult. As Dmitri Solzhenitsyn writes in National Review Online, a YouTube prankster named “Smooth Sanchez” who walks the streets of New York demanding that white people kneel before him and declare their privilege receives surprising compliance, even as he signals his charlatanry by referring to George Floyd as “George Foreman.”
Ben Shapiro notes astutely that the new woke religion rushes in to fill a “God-shaped hole” in secular hearts. Devotees immerse themselves in the sacred texts of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendi (né Ibram Henry Rogers of Queens), books designed to make white wokesters writhe with a kind of ecstatic anguish. Indoctrination in early childhood is taken up as a parental duty (Kendi’s new board book for toddlers, Antiracist Baby, is a hot seller), parishioners engage in ritualistic incantation of sacred phrases (“Hands up, don’t shoot,” “I can’t breathe”), and there are mass displays of penitential self-abasement. All over the country, guilty white crowds have gathered to reenact the circumstances of George Floyd’s horrifying death. Scores, even hundreds, of parishioners in the new faith prostrate themselves on the ground, hands behind their back, repeating “Mama” and “I can’t breathe.” Sometimes police officers joined these displays, kneeling or prostrating themselves for the sanctified period of time: eight minutes, 46 seconds. Floyd’s death is a kind of new Crucifixion, his final words the new “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
An objective observer of the madness of 2020 would likely concede the quasi-religious overtones of this movement, whatever one thinks of its merits. The National Museum of African American History and Culture somehow managed to summarize the ideological content, the divine revelation, of this new anti-racism religion in its unfortunate article entitled “Whiteness.” This racist screed culminated in a truly horrifying PDF chart which purports to showcase systemic white racism baked into our culture:
This is an ideology; a religion. It’s a racist and warped prism that interprets reality. It’s been popularized most recently and explicitly in corporate boardrooms and in government human resources offices by Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Ibram Kendi’s How to be an Anti-racist.
I’ll tackle the first chapter of the CRT primer in the next article. For now, it’s enough to understand that religious zealots are still with us. Their religion is just a bit different, that’s all. And, like all zealots, they sully the moderates who have legitimate points to make.