There’s a saying: “Don’t think of a pink elephant.” In other words, what one resists can dominate and even control one’s mind, making the action a person wishes not to do the action that person ultimately does. Religious believers often use this accusation against atheists. We allegedly “resist” or “deny” a belief in God, therefore “proving” His existence or at least His importance to us, because believers see atheists as spitting in the wind like rebellious adolescents.
Of course, we know atheism is akin to democracy in that it rejects any supreme being or cosmic authority. Atheists observe a decentralized universe in which physical, chemical, and biological processes interact to evolve, not impose, reality. Democracy did not elect a new king, and likewise the god-concept is not a “pink elephant” to atheists. But unfortunately today, something else threatens to be.
“Racism” is the new “pink elephant,” with woke apologists invoking “whiteness” and “white supremacy” in an absurd downward spiral of resentment and retribution that will benefit no one (certainly not people of color). It has the ironic effect of feeding a white narcissism that apologizes for “white privilege” in the abstract, while punching down on working-class whites and regarding people of color as children, without agency, needing intervention and rescue.
Many atheists have adopted this dualistic, simplistic self-righteousness that mimics the good/evil, virgin/whore scriptures of religion! This has misled otherwise intelligent people into paradoxically adopting quasi-religious concepts: utopianism (or what I call the Racial Rapture), a past Golden Age (especially before the year 1619), Original Sin, retribution to be visited upon the sons and daughters of the guilty, and a perpetual payment of indulgences and/or personal flagellation without any forgiveness, human or divine. James Lindsey has already made these points.
However, I see a more subtle problem here: wokeness, especially as it combats “racism,” is not only a secular religion, it is a secular religion without a god. There is only the Devil: white oppressors. Cis-gendered white men, suburban white Karens, white toddlers in school being told they oppress students of color, etc. There is only perpetual complaint, perpetual grievance, and a pound-of-flesh philosophy that no longer believes in equality, let alone strives for it. Rather, to quote Ibram X. Kendi in How to Be an Anti-Racist, “Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”
In other words, many atheists, seeking to fill a void that apparently did not disappear with their former belief in god(s) and religion, unfortunately embraced a radical 12-Step program of “anti-racism” without seeing the connections to the same religious dualism that characterizes the Twelve Steps for alcoholics.
(It’s interesting that Kendi describes the prioritizing of elderly people for the Covid-19 vaccine as a justification for racial discrimination, without also mentioning 1) being elderly is a biological realty, not a social construct or identity, 2) such a program would have been applied to all ethnicities, and 3) it was actually suggested that elderly people not get the vaccine, since they were largely “white” and not productive. Of course now we have the CDC’s recommendation that vaccinated and unvaccinated citizens be treated equally, showing why different treatment of demographics in the name of “social justice” becomes maladaptive over time.)
The Pound-of-Flesh Approach
This negative obsession with a manufactured Satan also characterized the inflammatory sermons of the Reverend Jerry Falwell, who denounced evil everywhere and focused on sin and biblical “inerrancy.” (Unfortunately, I had to listen to Falwell quite a bit while growing up.)
In contrast to other religious leaders, whose supernatural beliefs I also rejected but who at least focused on charity, forgiveness, repentance and growth, Falwell spread fear, accusation and paranoia even amongst his own flock and this same internal accusation, rather than a group effort toward positive change, has divided the atheist movement.
Internal accusation has spread throughout society. There is the Amanda Gorman affair, in which activists expressed hot outrage that a white Dutch woman would translate Gorman’s poems into, well, Dutch. A translator in Spain also had to step down as Gorman’s translator for having the wrong identity. (Apparently, only black people can translate black people’s poetry into European languages.)
The widely-publicized Minneapolis Teachers’ Union contract stipulates that if an “underrepresented” teacher of color is next in line to be laid off, that teacher should be retained and instead the next white teacher higher on the seniority list would be laid off instead.
Of course, this is completely illegal, a violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, but I have a question:
What benchmarks, if any, have been set for justice to be “restored” for these teachers from underrepresented groups, so that layoff decisions can revert to a seniority-only system that treats everyone equally under the U.S. Constitution? (In other words, how will the union know when it has succeeded?)
I doubt there are any metrics or even goals, because as with the Gorman debacle this just is more knee-jerk, irrational thinking justified by invoking “past harms” and real disparities. Yet even critics of the teachers’ contract miss a key point: the purpose is not really to achieve equality of outcome, undesirable as that is. The purpose of this stipulation, along with other gestures toward “equity,” is to satisfy an emotional, momentary need to “stick it to the man” (or in this case, the senior white colleague.) Setting workers against each other satisfies Kendi’s exhortation that we refrain from “being neutral” and turn away from equality as an ideal, instead resorting to petty squabbles over scraps in the name of making some supposedly “privileged” workers “uncomfortable.”
Here is my prediction for the future of this dubious equity initiative: the Minneapolis teachers’ union contract will unintentionally create yet another racial disparity, with newly-laid off white teachers departing for private school positions or leaving the profession entirely, and young teachers of color laboring valiantly in an increasingly anachronistic public education system while parents pull out their children and find alternatives, like magnet schools or learning pods. In ten years, as with automobile line workers and other blue collars laborers in the 1980s, and more recently service industry workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, teaching will remain a high-stress, low-paid, and increasingly outsourced job largely dominated by people of color (as auto workers were and service jobs now are), while the issues of teacher burnout, low pay, social passing, a national teacher shortage, out-of-touch administrators and disruptive, large classrooms remain unaddressed.
“Equity,” like religion, offers static solutions to dynamic problems. This is, essentially, a new form of mysticism, even creationism. Woke atheists should reconsider their embrace of a utopian future that requires a belief in a reconstituted Fall of Man (and in a new-fangled human exceptionalism, or soul-concept, in the form of gender identity extremism which estranges people from the natural, biological, sexual world of limits and consequences, which we fought to teach in science class).
Meanwhile, in the material world, a siege-mentality has taken over that treats resources like pie: one person must sacrifice for another person to get a fair share. Such a zero-sum game is hardly necessary (and we were assured it was a lie) but the real agenda here is a Marxist one. Equality is outdated, flawed; there must be a transfer of power from the “white supremacists” to the “oppressed” members, this time based on race, not class and owners/laborers.
This appeals to white progressives because it reinforces their controlling tendencies to solve everything and rescue everyone (paradoxically giving them a sense of power over other people), and it appeals to young, radicalized teachers who believe their success only comes from wrestling “privilege” out of the hands of someone else, even if that privilege is minute or imaginary. It is the struggle that is the goal, because all proponents are externalizing their behaviors.
If Black Lives Matter, anti-racism, and the call for “equity” have any kernels of truth they’re wrapped in thick layers of nonsense. Whatever facts they possess are derailed in an incoherent cry to 1) dismantle “systems of oppression” and 2) sacrifice certain individuals on a sinking ship. The second statement negates the first, and the first is a red herring. This adds up to a circular argument in which a “system that was never set up for black people” depends on white people to “address” the problem which breeds only patronization and dependency, a shallow and immature philosophy in the name of resistance.
(This is akin to the breathtakingly inane fallacy that anyone can confront their “inherent biases” in an unbiased way, or that teachers, being adults, should be teaching “equity” (Critical Race Theory) to children, as if children were more likely to be racist than adults.)
The New Soviet Bread Line
Suppose instead the Minneapolis Teachers’ Union wrote the contract so that instead of laying off the white teacher with the next least seniority, the teacher with the highest seniority – vested, guaranteed a pension, and likely close to retirement or able to find another job – would be asked, for the good of the membership, to step down, thus shifting all other teachers up in seniority. This would have achieved a new seniority balance voluntarily, without mentioning race, and without leaving the union vulnerable to lawsuits while still retaining younger teachers of color. But instead, a myopic rush to make the contract All About Race – even claiming it did not go far enough – resulted in at least one court challenge while still protecting those teachers at the top (who might have voted for a race-based contract knowing full well it would never affect them). Equity, indeed!
Mentally this is like being Soviets in a bread line, waiting to wrest a crumb from the Cassocks. A crumb taken from someone else is more desirable than a goal striven for by one’s own efforts, since that would only affirm capitalism and the meritocracy. And it is this—the tit-for-tat hacking away at “whiteness” rather than addressing the real issues (such as teacher burnout, which also disproportionately affects teachers of color), which is the real goal.
Other examples abound. A church in Illinois announced it was giving up the music of “white composers” for Lent. Did the marquee say, “We are celebrating the music of black and brown composers”? No—the church in Illinois announced it was “fasting from whiteness,” therefore ensuring everyone would be talking and thinking about whiteness. Real good hypocritical job there, First United Church of Oak Park.
(I certainly hope the pastor did not assume Aram Khachaturian or Clara Schumann were “white men,” and I wonder if Tchaikovsky, who was gay, merited an exception.)
By contrast, my childhood church’s choir, led by a black director, performed his grandmother’s Spiritual hymns, which were recorded and sold on cassette tape (this was the 1970s) to pay for the new church organ. Our director could play almost any instrument but he relished that organ, and would perform classics by memory, including the famous Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D minor.” The emphasis was on us learning the story of his grandmother’s journey to freedom, not divisive concepts about our “whiteness.”
The New Prohibition
So how did atheists go from presenting a united front on the fight against Intelligent Design to a splintered community arguing about racism, misogyny, identities and “white tears”? Why would those who promote science fall into racial essentialism and side with #ShutDownSTEM?
I don’t have a simple answer. But I would like my fellow “woke” atheists to consider one more fact:
In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Centuries a lawyer from Illinois ran for President three times as a Democrat, representing the left-wing Populist Party. His second Presidential campaign specifically opposed American imperialism after the Spanish-American War. A gifted orator, he railed against the gold standard and eastern banking interests and won two elections to the House of Representatives. He became Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson but resigned to protest U.S. threats against Germany after the sinking of the Lusitania. He supported U.S. joining the League of Nations, the minimum wage and the eight-hour workday, the right of unions to strike, and women’s suffrage. He called for agricultural subsidies, a living wage, full public financing of political campaigns and government inspection of food, sanitation, and better housing conditions.
Sounds like a great guy, doesn’t he? And I’m sure he was if you knew him.
His name was William Jennings Bryan, and he was an ardent Prohibitionist. Of course, atheists mainly know him as the prosecutor in the case of The State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, arguing against the teaching of evolution opposite Clarence Darrow, who defended John T. Scopes. Bryan took this stance against evolution because he feared it would lead to a tyranny of the strong against the weak and the destruction of his gentle, justice-oriented Christianity.
Bryan, an otherwise reasonable guy, found his devil and stood on the wrong side of history. Atheists should not.