Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Book Review: STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING by Ibram X. Kendi

This non-fiction survey of racism in American history is well worth the read. It is a good introduction to racism in American history and the winner of the National Book Award. The explanations and descriptions of early 16th to 18th racist leader seldom is written about, so few know of that era other than brief descriptions of the murderous Middle Passage.

Kendi has a deep passion for what he writes, and he gives new readers a handy way to break down and to remember all of the complex events, leaders, and crises that take place over hundreds of years. His handy key history sheet reduces all humans into about 4 or 5 categories related to the topic of racism--there are racists, or assimilators, or accommodators (not his term, can’t remember, but something like it), and a small number are anti-racists.

So this popular book in a simple basic sense at first, is helpful, especially for those who don't know racism's history.

And, despite his skimming across the surface of most American history because his book is an overview, Kendi does go a bit more deeply into the horrific tragedy of Reconstruction and its racist aftermath when the racist Redeemers took over all Southern governments between 1865 and 1879 (and the U.S. government let them; indeed, the Hays government helped them!:-()

His book was a good review for me of that time period since I’ve not read Foner’s Reconstruction, a scholarly one for about 7-10 years ago.
HOWEVER by midpoint Kendi’s basic schematic for categorizing all of humankind begins to show signs of distortion, misleading, and down-wrong falsehood, and confusion. He obsesses to make everyone fit into his few cookie-cutter stereotypical categories.

Cutting every human to fit his 4-5 Procustrian beds. He, especially does this when he attempts to blame almost everyone for holding racist views, even calls nearly all abolitionists and Civil Rights workers actually “racist” in various ways, including Garrison, Douglas, and Martin Luther King! And his book gets worse.

#1 Kendi confuses inherent worth of all humans with thinking that all humans essentially have the same immediate achievement ability. He thinks American leaders who thought that illiterate, abused ex-slaves weren’t immediately ready for voting, leading, achieving, are racists because of that. Maybe some of them were.

BUT many others did understand that democracy can only function well with literate, somewhat rational humans! Without rational discourse and education, democracy easily turns into mobocracy. Heck, the latter can happen even with some learning if the humans don’t engage in civil dialogue, and to remember to consider the views of opposing humans with tolerance and understanding, etc. The unjust tribalism of President Trump supporters and the counter extremists of some Democrats is a galling example. They fanatically hold to their side no matter how many facts are shown which demonstrate their leaders are in error and even worse are doing immoral and unjust actions.

Contrary to what Kendi asserts, American leaders' seeking to help ex-slaves become literate before they were allowed to vote (and become full citizens) wasn’t "racist," wasn't a denial of their inherent worth. Rather it was an acknowledgment that despite their human inherent worth, enslavement had hindered them, had kept them from achievement in many areas, and that therefore, the ex-slaves needed to be given the means and finances and education to now work toward achieving what had been previously denied them.

Most of them, especially the field workers, weren’t as capable as educated Whites and free Negroes, just like at-risk teens raised in dysfunctional abusive families aren’t immediately capable of the same achievements as teens raised in high-achieving positive, loving families.

Kendi goes onto to claim that unless all Africans were immediately given total control of their nations in Africa in the post-colonial era, then the leaving European leaders were just as racist and oppressive as their forebears who had committed so much evil. Not so.

This shows a severe lack of historical understanding, anthropology, etc. OR more likely, since Kendi is a brilliant individual with a PhD., his claims show how ideological-driven his book is.

He repeatedly commits either/or fallacies, blames all human horrors on only whites, excuses all POC from any responsibilities, and so forth.

A quick cursory glance at African nations, as they are now, 50-100 years later shows that Kendi’s view is delusionary, confused, and wrong.

Not a single nation—at least none that I can think of--have rational, civil, democratic, balanced leaders. YEt most of the the nations have amazing natural resources and great potential. And millions of worthy humans who could accomplish much if given the chance.

But instead these nations' resources have been squandered by a succession of corrupt, often brutal dictators, autocrats, even mass murderers!

Some of these immoral horrors can be blamed on the abuse, misuse, racism, and massive theft of colonialism, but not all. Think of Uganda under Idi Amin, the Rwanda genocide, the former Congo, Zaire under Mugabe (who has turned the former bread-basket of Africa into a failed malnourished state), Mozambique, Egypt, Algeria, Somalia, etc.

The few somewhat better functioning nations such as Kenya still suffer many killings during violent elections, have plenty of irrational behaviors, and lots of unnecessary suffering.

Even mostly democratic South Africa (probably the best example of a modern state in Africa) has since the end of Apartheid, been poorly governed, and even worse run, by the corrupt leader, Jacob Zuma, a polygamist, who built a mansion while millions of citizens still live in shacks and poverty, etc.

Though S.A. has had about 30 years to start making huge changes, restructuring and opening up the nation to ALL of its citizens, Black leaders (with the exception of the elderly Mandela) have failed miserably.

It’s true that many years of racist ruling by the white supremacist Dutch Reformed leaders left behind many severe problems, but Black leaders for the most part haven’t solved those and, instead, have created problems of their own.

Nor does Kendi deal with horrific African leaders of the historic past such as Shaka and the Zulu. Nor does he engage with the tribal slaughters by Blacks that occurred in Africa for centuries and that still happen.

Instead, Kendi acts like only white Europeans are racist and engage in all manners of evil.

It's tragically and unjustly true, that hundreds of years of oppression, persecution, abuse, enslavement, and slaughter were caused by white Europeans. Kendi is correct there.

Where he misleads is that he denies, and doesn’t speak of the hundreds of years of Black and Brown evil actions.

Further, Kendi defends the horrific criminal riots of the late 1960’s in the U.S. calling them anti-racist “rebellions”!

Any quick overview of U.S. history shows this to be completely untrue. Arson-burnings of many blocks of businesses including Black ones, massive lootings, vandalism, killings, etc. aren’t anti-racist “rebellions”! They are criminal riots.

He goes onto support the criminal Black Panthers and other violent Black racists who committed crimes including killings.

Kendi also seems to defend ‘gangsta rap with its endless obscenities, call for lethal violence, injustice, and so forth. He defends such rappers as Tupac.

About the only Black leader for civil rights that Kendi thinks gets good marks for anti-racism is Angela Davis! Yet she is a card-carrying, supporting doctrinaire communist! Davis, allegedly, refused to condemn the Soviet Union and other communist nations for their imprisonment of millions of innocent protesters, writers, and scientists, and for their state-murder of millions.

Good grief, Davis admires Lenin, one of the worst leaders of the 20th century, guilty for the death of millions of humans!

Davis even accepted the Lenin Prize. Etc.

While her direct involvement in the kidnapping and murders of people by the Jacksons, and the attempt to help George Jackson to break out of San Quentin was rejected by the jury in her trial, the fact that she allowed the younger Jackson to use her own guns shows negligence. Heck, allegedly, she employed Jonathan as her bodyguard.

What had happened to the Black nonviolence of great leaders like Bayard Rustin who convinced a wavering King to not even have a gun in his home?
Davis also supports South African Winnie Mandela as a woman of "courage"! Whew..Read about that immoral, unjust leader who advocated murder of others by burning tires around their bodies!

Kendi appears to admire Chairman Mao, one of the worst murderers of human history!

At least Kendi speaks positively of W.E.B. Du Bois going to meet Mao in the late 1950’s. That’s about the time Mao caused the starvation deaths of millions of innocent Chinese. Then there are the millions Mao intentionally slaughtered.

Further, Kendi claims that even Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison, Dubois, King, Obama, etc. held racist views. I kid you not.

He doesn’t mention the great Civil Rights leader, Bayard Rustin, who began protesting back in the 1940’s! Then advised King and others in the 1950's Please read the powerful biography, Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin.

Nor in all of his over 500 pages does Kendi speak of the huge influence of heretical and liberal Christianity as the source and standard bearer of anti-racism, abolition, civil rights, etc, (except for a few comments on Woolman and Quakerism).

And the further the book goes, the more obsessed, Kendi becomes in his simplistic ideological claims. As Kendi says in a recent interview, he thinks all humans are either racist or anti-racist. Another case of the either/or fallacy.

Worst of all Kendi thinks that the solution for racism is power and self-interest, not altruism or spiritual elevation or moral realism. Forget about King, John Lewis, and so many others who emphasized that the answer to racism and all other evils is altruism.

The central basis of Kendi’s book appears to be Critical Race Theory, though I don’t remember him actually writing about that overtly.

In the 3rd section of the book (an era that I know well), I started skimming for key names and actions because his commentary is superficial and distorted of 20th century history and leaders. I do agree with his condemnation of the unjust many of the famous racist leaders.

In conclusion, I am glad I read Stamped, despite its distortions and failures.

I do agree that racism is still with us, and that the long evil shadow of the enslavement past still distorts American culture and society, and that all of us need to work to alter all that is wrong, and that intensive help needs to be given to Blacks and others who have suffered from structural racism of the past.

But the HUGE glaring chasm in Kendi’s book is that he blames only Whites for racism.

He never deals with the fact that Blacks were the ones in Africa who sold millions of other Blacks into slavery, or that long before Europeans came down the coast and started the Middle Passage, Brown Muslims were enslaving millions of Blacks for centuries, etc.

And, most, negligently, Kendi dismisses any Black responsibility for immorality, injustice, and killings. He never deals with Black crime, including the horrific slaughter by Blacks in Chicago, including many children. Instead, he blames everything on white racism!

Kendi also denies that Blacks are responsible for vandalism, abuse, drug-use, prostitution, broken families, missing fathers, illegitimate children, promiscuity, etc. OR sometimes he does even worse, he justifies the immoral and the unjust by Blacks stating that those wrongs aren’t really wrong.

I was tempted to next write that Kendi has done a “white-wash” of American history, but, heck, he would no doubt accuse me of racist speech.


In the Light of Justice, Goodness, and Equality,

Dan Wilcox

Monday, July 27, 2020

Part #3: Significant Influences--Writers Francis Schaeffer and Jack Kerouac's Life Stances

Writers who ‘fathered’ me, giving my young adult self various versions of deep time eyes:

1. Thomas Merton, Liberal Catholic Monk, Meditator, and Social Moralist

2. Friends for 300 Years by Howard Brinton

3. Henry David Thoreau, Transcendentalist who Wrote “Civil Disobedience”

4. ERB, Edgar Rice Burroughs, SF Author of simplistic, but enjoyable stories of Barsoom and other galactic adventures

5. Aldous Huxley, Brilliant Author and Thinker of Brave New World, Island, and Point Counter Point

6. C.S. Lewis, Ex-atheist Liberal Christian Thinker and Fiction Writer

7. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Christian Leader who Opposed Hitler, The Cost of Discipleship

And there were other writers, whose legacy has been only partially good, because they communicated bad and fallacious views, ideas, and harmful actions. They were bad models for young impressionable Dan:

21. Francis and Edith Shaeffer, famous couple who founded L’Abri. He, at first a missionary to the Swiss beginning in the late 1940’s, later became a Christian philosophical apologist and she wrote a famous biographical, inspirational book about their famous Christian community and intellectual center in Switzerland.

In my young adult years, I avidly read most of Schaeffer’s critiques of secular and atheistic life stances and apologetical defenses of mere Christianity. I was deeply impressed with his insights, artistic interests, and caring views.

His emphasis that every Christian needs to have a total commitment to agape love, the way of Jesus, he presented in his short book The Mark of the Christian.

Schaeffer had a deep understanding of key atheist views, their weak philosophical bases, and their destructive implications for humankind. His writings strongly influenced me and millions of other Christians coming of age in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Two of his best books are
The God Who Is There and Escape from Reason.

What I didn’t know back then, because Schaeffer hid this, is that he wasn’t a ‘mere’ Christian (in the sense of C.S. Lewis) like he presented himself, but a hardline Calvinist!

I still find that hard to understand or square with his more liberal artistic and moral views. It turns out, that he was a member of and missionary for an extremely fundamentalistic Calvinistic denomination that had split from a larger conservative one.

This all only came to light later in the early 1980’s when I discovered other facts about him that, also, were so contrary to his public image and his reasoning in his books. For example, another horror, I still find inexplicable is that he strongly supported nuclear weapons. Doing so, of course, is grossly contrary to the moral outlook of his book, The Mark of a Christian.

Schaeffer's wife, Edith Schaeffer, wrote L'Abri,a famous biographical story of their outreach community of L’Abri in Switzerland. She greatly inspired and motivated and misled me!

In her riveting, deeply spiritual biography, Edit emphasizes many instances of supernatural answers to prayer. Based upon her book, my dedication to prayer became much stronger, and my belief in miracles increased (though I still had strong doubts about all of that because there were no cases of proven miracles and no evidential cases of prayer actually changing any events).

Years later, when I read the tell-all autobiography by their son, Frank Schaeffer, Crazy for God and other accounts of their famous story of L'Abri, I discovered, that while she may have been sincere in her beliefs, her claims seem to be shown to be false. In fact, it turns out that her husband Francis was given to severe depression, that he verbally and physically harmed her, and that there were other disheartening facts about their story that were contrary to her idealistic presentation in her biography.

So much for the good and bad influence of these two authors on my life in the past.

That was the Christian influence, a mixture of very good and very bad.

22. Jack Kerouac, infamous Beat novelist and poet who influenced 2 generations of young poeple. He wrote life-changing autobiographical novels including On the Road, The Dharma Bums, and Big Sur.

Though I had wonderful experiences “going on the road,” being influenced to study Buddhism, getting a backpack, hitch-hiking like him repeatedly across sections of the U.S. (and later across Europe and Palestine-Israel),
overall Kerouac was a bad influence.

Fortunately, I adopted some of his life stance views and actions, filtered through the lens of my Baptist Christian faith, so I didn’t succumb to any of his vices and immoral actions.

It still astounds me that I read books such as The Dharma Bums, and centered myself only on his exciting nature hikes, work as a U.S. Forest Service fire lookout, and evocations and descriptions of his love for God (which I mistakenly interpreted as similar to my own devotion to God, though his God was considerably different from the one I believed in).

I skipped over his often positive comments about sexual promiscuity, heavy drinking, drugs, irresponsibility, etc. Those down-sides to his life stance, I very strongly opposed but managed to admire him as one of my heroes. This later changed at the University of Nebraska, when an older grad student warned me of the dangers of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and other Beats, explaining how their gross personal lives contradicted their commitment to God, love, and altruism.

Tragically, there was a bad instance of this older students' negative analysis demonstrated when one of Kerouac's and Ginsberg's close friends got a young student pregnant and then skipped town, just after the Beats were emphasizing to be loving to everyone. Too often, their "love" was selfish lust.

I’m amazed that I could become so enamored of Kerouac such a figure and writer whose life stance was so contrary to my own. Basically, I think it was his creativity and his adventure-some actions that hooked me.

Always, I was somewhat of a wild spirit, even as a fundamentalist Baptist kid. My sister used to tell me later how she thought I really was going to live in the forest in a cave when I grew up like I told her when we were kids;-).

My natural inclination was further spurred in opposite direction of my mom who so strongly sought to discipline and direct me into a very ordered, controlled, secure, unadventurous life. And, also, one mustn’t forget, that in my late teens, like most young men, I was feeling rebellious and probably had lots of male hormone coursing through me.

And, I was disconcerted, and disheartened that my dad let my mom control, inhibit, and cow him, and put him down, and disparage him. I really hated that and didn’t want to be like that, under a controlling woman’s grip.

So, enter Kerouac, via another obsessive reader student in our high school philosophy class. This intellectual often read books such as Kerouac’s in particular, The Dharma Bums, even during lectures from our great teacher, Tom Keene!

But that brilliant student wasn’t a good role model either. He suddenly disappeared from class one week and didn’t return. It turned out that he had taken off to travel west, hitch-hiking and riding the rails like Kerouac.

I followed in their steps, hitch-hiking back and forth across parts of the U.S., then across Europe, Palestine-Israel, etc.

Without Kerouac’s influence, I would have still adventured a little, but would have stayed in college (instead of taking 7 years to graduate), would have gotten my teaching degree at 22, instead of at 32!

Then I would have been prepared for adult-married-fathering life in my early 20’s instead of being a late bloomer, in my early 30’s. My wife and I would have been far more financially secure. I would have probably figured out a way to buy a great real estate deal offered to me--the Speer place without lying to the old owner shortly before he died.

On the other hand, would I have missioned at the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, hitch-hiked across the U.S. and Europe, lived in Palestine-Israel on a kibbutz, lived in Haight-Ashbury, etc.?

Long live reading:-)

In the Light of Truth, Justice, Equality, and Altruism,

Dan Wilcox

Sunday, July 26, 2020

How Black Lives Matter as a call for justice is different from some BLM's acts of vandalism and harm

In the news, Giants baseball player, Sam Coonrod, refuses to kneel for racial justice...

Coonrod ought to have separated Black Lives Matter as a very important call to justice and kindness and reconciliation and against racism, from the bad examples of some BLM leaders and protesters who by their calls for violence, and their vandalism, arson, and hitting 49 police officers in Chicago with heavy objects, etc. harm others and the movement.

Maybe, Coonrod had heard statements such as this by Hawk Newsome, a leader of BLM of New York:
"If this country doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system and replace it.
All right? And I could be speaking figuratively. I could be speaking literally. It’s a matter of interpretation...“I don’t condone nor do I condemn rioting,”...Hawk Newsome said during an interview Wednesday evening on “The Story” with Martha MacCallum.

We are living in tragic times now. Most humans are too ideological, too divisive and so many are turning to violence.

Thankfully, however, many are refusing to become ideological and divisive, but kneel, committed to the nonviolent ideals of Bayard Rustin, John Lewis, and other great Civil Rights workers.
FROM "...Coonrod becomes MLB’s Giant target for stance on Black Lives Matter movement"

"LOS ANGELES — Citing his faith as a Christian man and his desire to remain consistent in his beliefs, San Francisco Giants reliever Sam Coonrod explained why he didn’t kneel during a pregame moment of unity at Dodger Stadium Thursday.

“I meant no ill will by it,” the Carrollton native said. “I don’t think I’m better than anybody. I’m just a Christian. I believe I can’t kneel before anything but God, Jesus Christ. I chose not to kneel. I feel if I did kneel I’d be a hypocrite. I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

"Prior to the playing of the national anthem on Opening Night, every player and coach from both the Dodgers and Giants held a long piece of black fabric, and all but Coonrad also took a knee. Coonrod held the fabric along with everyone else but remained standing.

"The moment of silence was intended to support the Black Lives Matter movement, which Coonrod said he has had difficulty embracing.

“I’m a Christian,” Coonrod said. “I can’t get on board on a couple of things I’ve read about Black Lives Matter, how they lean toward Marxism and said some negative things about the nuclear family.”

"Many are supporting Coonrod’s stance. Many are not."

Story by Kerry Crowley of the San Jose Mercury News

In the Light of equality, justice, and reconciliation,

Dan Wilcox

Friday, July 24, 2020

Part #2: "Deep Time Eyes"--Discovering the True MetaStory

In attempting to formulate and promote an evolutionary life stance, a metastory, thinker Micahel Dowd speaks of "deep time eyes."

“Religion has been failing in its most fundamental ask, which is helping us to live in right relationship with primary reality.”
“...I’m an evolutionary theologian...viewing through deep time...”
“I agree with John Michael Greer that there’s two major mythologies that most people are stuck in...the myth of perpetual progress...the other is the myth of the apocalypse...we don’t need to get involved, because the whole thing is going to hell in a hand basket anyway. The truth of the matter is we’re in an evolutionary process...”
We currently have a democracy; a democracy is a conspiracy against the natural world.”

Not true. We human primates are part of the natural world, are part of natural selection and its ruthless slow juggernaut.
Here's a powerful case of a thinker who has insight into the nature of metastories, but whose own metastory has severe problems.

All humans live by metastories. However the most difficult task in existence is figuring out which one (or more) is the True MetaStory, the account that is closest to what is real, to what is good, to what is just.

So, yes, we do need "deep-time eyes." But first we need to eliminate illusions, delusions, errors in judgment, reductionism, the human tendency to jump for simplistic answers when we as a species are only just getting started, having only existed as homo sapiens for about 300,000 to 500,000 years.

Most of that deep time was taken up with basic survival. Not until approximately around the era beginning in 600 BCE with the pre-Socratic philosophers, Plato, Socrates, the Buddha, Zoroaster, Isaiah and the writer of Job, etc. do we find human thinkers searching out the nature of reality, seeking to deeply understand what is moral and immoral, just and unjust, to explain what the Good is.

in process

Monday, July 20, 2020

How Good Writers Influence us—a parable, then examples

Another dead-beat dad abandoned his family before his son was born. Do these tragedies ever end?

A Parable: The small boy clung to his mother, but then she died of breast cancer when he was 6. In mostly bad foster houses where he grew up, he found solace and hope in books, safe at the library. Books gave him wings to escape dysfunction, loneliness, and the death traps of having no father.

When he reached young adulthood and became a writer, after graduating from the University of Michigan, he searched and searched for years looking for any trace of his absentee father, (while still grieving for his gone mother).

Finally, 3 decades later after years of diligent effort, a hire-detective located the man who was now living in Portland, Oregon, married to another woman with 3 offspring who he was ignoring, too.

The fatherless son drove across our troubled, divisive land of the U.S. to Portland, Oregon, where violent protesters were attacking businesses and police. He avoided all of that uproar and hatred, intent only to get past that craziness and tragedy, anxious to meet his unknown dad.

But when he got to downtown, he felt ambivalent and sat down in a graffiti-scrawled park, where vandals had burned the base and statue of a large elk, wondering whether he really wanted to meet this ‘father’ who had deserted his mother and him so many years ago.

Out on the rough dark waters of the Columbia River, huge ships and small boats moved by. Fog shrouded the opposite shore of Washington State.

Following directions, the investigator had given him, the adult orphan took a taxi to the luxurious address soon after dawn, on a drizzly morning, and walked up and down a wide, slick sidewalk out in front of a large mansion. The man-boy kept staring up at the immense locked door wondering if his absent father was in there.

Suddenly its owner--evidently his father--came out slamming the door behind him, and hailed the orphan’s waiting taxi, not even looking at the stranger in front of his gate, got in and sped away. Not so different from years ago.

Again, that abandoned son of so long ago was left. Only now that orphaned boy is an accomplished writer.

The abandoned son: "I stood there at the gate for hours. Only delivery men and the mail carrier came by.

After remembering years past, I reflected on that man's build. It was all wrong, stocky and overweight; and he had walked with a lunge, as if about to attack some invisible enemy. His face was grim, and with a large nose.

Not at all like me—with a skinny frame and my face with prominent cheeks and a pudgy nose; I must have gotten my body from my mother.

Suddenly, a deep knowing clobbered the seeking boy within me. That grim stranger may have spermed me, but he wasn’t my dad, not my actual father, never had been.

I may have gotten a genetic link from this total stranger, but my real father—fathers are the good writers I read growing up in those dysfunctional foster houses.

The authors who are brilliant, creative thinkers who guided me when I had no father and had lost my mother."*

*Idea for story from educator Jim Burke

My Response:
Unlike this orphan, I did have a very dear father, one who used to take me fishing, hunting, and traveling, and guided me as to what was right and helped me later with major decisions. A man who stood by me, a real friend.

And a warm idealistic mother, (very hard-working like my dad, too) who gave me and my sister a deep sense of equality and justice and diligence.

But in another sense, some of the authors I have read over the years have ‘fathered’ (and/or 'mothered') me. Maybe even more deeply than my father and mother who gave me birth and guided me when I was young.

For instance, think of how many scientists got their start as star-eyed kids because of love of and inspiration from science fiction and speculative literature.

And think of famous humanitarians and Enlightenment justice advocates who were first inspired by idealistic heroes in suspenseful stories as children.

For good or for ill, for joy and zest or sadness and some thinkers have stated, envisioning is the creator of our humanity’s future, not mere matter of facts.

Facts are only building blocks to create what isn’t yet. Our creativity and hopes and goals are the schematics, the structures for bringing into being our creative future.

Where would we be without Verne, Wells, Kant, Descartes, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Voltaire, Jefferson, Paine, Shakespeare, Eliot, Huxley, Orwell, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Hugo, Basho, Blake, Whitman, Owen, Twain, Melville, Conrad, Kafka, Bradbury, Gandhi, Hegel, Marx, Hume, James, Locke, Darwin, Sagan, Gould, Rustin, King, Farmer, etc.?

Where would I be without Thoreau, Bonhoeffer, Hawthorne, C. Bronte, F. O'Connor, Lewis, Nouwen, Merton, Tillich, Wiesel, Camus, Poe, Vonnegut, Thich Nhat Hanh,
even writers of the darker side, sometimes immoral and unjust, such as Millay, Kerouac, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Simmons?

Take time to consider: What authors have 'fathered' and/or 'mothered' you in your life?

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Guest post: CRISIS DIVIDE: The Righteous and the Woke--Why Evangelicals and Social Justice Warriors Trigger...

Guest Post on current CRISIS DIVIDE IN THE U.S.
The Righteous and the Woke – Why Evangelicals and Social Justice Warriors Trigger Me in the Same Way
by Valerie Tarico,
Seattle psychologist and writer.

"I was Born Again until nearly the end of graduate school, a sincere Evangelical who went to church on Sunday and Wednesday with my family and to Thursday Bible study on my own. I dialed for converts during the “I Found It” evangelism campaign, served as a counselor at Camp Good News, and graduated from Wheaton College, Billy Graham’s alma mater. I know what it is to be an earnest believer among believers.

"I also know what it is to experience those same dynamics from the outside. Since my fall from grace, I’ve written a book, Trusting Doubt, and several hundred articles exposing harms from Evangelicalism—not just the content of beliefs but also how they spread and shape the psychology of individuals and behavior of communities, doing damage in particular to women, children, and religious minorities.

It occurred to me recently that my time in Evangelicalism and subsequent journey out have a lot to do with why I find myself reactive to the spread of Woke culture among colleagues, political soulmates, and friends. Christianity takes many forms, with Evangelicalism being one of the more single-minded, dogmatic, groupish and enthusiastic among them. The Woke—meaning progressives who have “awoken” to the idea that oppression is the key concept explaining the structure of society, the flow of history, and virtually all of humanity’s woes—share these qualities.

To a former Evangelical, something feels too familiar—or better said, a bunch of somethings feel too familiar.

Righteous and infidels—There are two kinds of people in the world: Saved and damned or Woke and bigots, and anyone who isn’t with you 100% is morally suspect*. Through the lens of dichotomizing ideologies, each of us is seen—first and foremost—not as a complicated individual, but as a member of a group, with moral weight attached to our status as an insider or outsider. (*exceptions made for potential converts)

Insider jargon—Like many other groups, the saved and the Woke signal insider status by using special language. An Evangelical immediately recognizes a fellow tribe-member when he or she hears phrases like Praise the Lord, born again, backsliding, stumbling block, give a testimony, a harvest of souls, or It’s not a religion; it’s a relationship. The Woke signal their wokeness with words like intersectionality, cultural appropriation, trigger warning, microaggression, privilege, fragility, problematic, or decolonization. The language of the Woke may have more meaningful real-world referents than that of Evangelicals, but in both cases, jargon isn’t merely a tool for efficient or precise communication as it is in many professions—it is a sign of belonging and moral virtue.

Born that way—Although theoretically anyone is welcome in either group, the social hierarchies in both Evangelical culture and Woke culture are defined largely by accidents of birth. The Bible lists privileged blood lines—the Chosen People—and teaches that men (more so than women) were made in the image of God. In Woke culture, hierarchy is determined by membership in traditionally oppressed tribes, again based largely on blood lines and chromosomes. Note that this is not about individual experience of oppression or privilege, hardship or ease. Rather, generic average oppression scores get assigned to each tribe and then to each person based on intersecting tribal identities. Thus, a queer female East Indian Harvard grad with a Ph.D. and E.D. position is considered more oppressed than the unemployed third son of a white Appalachian coal miner.

Original sin—In both systems, one consequence of birth is inherited guilt. People are guilty of the sins of their fathers. In the case of Evangelicalism, we all are born sinful, deserving of eternal torture because of Eve’s folly—eating from the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. In Woke culture, white and male people are born with blood guilt, a product of how dominant white and male people have treated other people over the ages and in modern times, (which—it must be said—often has been unspeakably horrible). Again, though, individual guilt isn’t about individual behaviors. A person born with original sin or blood guilt can behave badly and make things worse, but they cannot erase the inborn stain. (Note that this contradicts core tenets of liberal, humanist, and traditional progressive thought.)

Orthodoxies—The Bible is the inerrant Word of God. Jesus died for your sins. Hell awaits sinners. Salvation comes through accepting Jesus as your savior. If you are an Evangelical, doctrines like these must not be questioned. Trust and obey for there’s no other way. Anyone who questions core dogmas commits heresy, and anyone who preaches against them should be de-platformed or silenced. The Woke also have tenets of faith that must not be questioned. Most if not all ills flow from racism or sexism. Only males can be sexist; only white people can be racist. Gender is culturally constructed and independent of sex. Immigration is an economic boon for everyone. Elevating the most oppressed person will solve problems all the way up. Did my challenging that list make you think you might be reading an article by a conservative? If so, that’s exactly what I’m trying to illustrate.

Denial as proof—In Evangelicalism, thinking you don’t need to accept Jesus as your savior is proof that you do. Your denial simply reveals the depth of your sin and hardness of heart. In Woke culture, any pushback is perceived as a sign of white fragility or worse, a sign that one is a racist, sexist, homophobe, Islamophobe, xenophobe, or transphobe. You say that you voted for Barack Obama and your kids are biracial so your problem with BLM isn’t racism? LOL, that’s just what a racist would say. In both cultures, the most charitable interpretation that an insider can offer a skeptic is something along these lines, You seem like a decent, kind person. I’m sure that you just don’t understand. Since Evangelical and Woke dogmas don’t allow for honest, ethical disagreement, the only alternative hypothesis is that the skeptic must be an evildoer or bigot.

Black and white thinking—If you are not for us, you’re against us. In the Evangelical worldview we are all caught up in a spiritual war between the forces of God and Satan, which is playing out on the celestial plane. Who is on the Lord’s side? one hymn asks, because anyone else is on the other. Even mainline Christians—and especially Catholics—may be seen by Evangelicals as part of the enemy force. For many of the Woke, the equivalent of mainline Christians are old school social liberals, like women who wear pink pussy hats. Working toward colorblindness, for example, is not just considered a suboptimal way of addressing racism (which is a position that people can make arguments for). Rather, it is itself a symptom of racism. And there’s no such thing as a moderate conservative. Both Evangelicals and the Woke argue that tolerance is bad. One shouldn’t tolerate evil or fascism, they say, and most people would agree. The problem is that so many outsiders are considered either evil sinners or racist fascists. In this view, pragmatism and compromise are signs of moral taint.

Shaming and shunning—The Woke don’t tar, feather and banish sinners. Neither—mercifully—do Christian puritans anymore. But public shaming and trial by ordeal are used by both clans to keep people in line. Some Christian leaders pressure members into ritual public confession. After all, as theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin.” Shaming and shunning have ancient roots as tools of social control, and they elevate the status of the person or group doing the shaming. Maoist struggle sessions (forced public confessions) and Soviet self-criticism are examples of extreme shaming in social-critical movements seeking to upend traditional power structures. So, it should be no surprise that some of the Woke show little hesitation when call-out opportunities present themselves—nor that some remain unrelentingly righteous even when those call-outs leave a life or a family in ruins.

Selective science denial—Disinterest in inconvenient truths—or worse, denial of inconvenient truths, is generally a sign that ideology is at play. Most of us on the left can rattle off a list of truths that Evangelicals find inconvenient. The Bible is full of contradictions. Teens are going to keep having sex. Species evolve. The Earth is four and a half billion years old. Climate change is caused by humans (which suggests that God doesn’t have his hand on the wheel). Prayer works, at best, at the margins of statistical significance. But evidence and facts can be just as inconvenient for the Woke. Gender dimorphism affects how we think, not just how we look. Personal responsibility has real world benefits, even for people who have the odds stacked against them. Lived experience is simply anecdotal evidence. Skin color is often a poor proxy for privilege. Organic foods won’t feed 11 billion.

Evangelism—As infectious ideologies, Evangelicalism and Woke culture rely on both paid evangelists and enthusiastic converts to spread the word. Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) and related organizations spend tens of millions annually seeking converts on college campuses. But many outreach activities are led by earnest student believers. Critical Oppression Theory on campus has its epicenter in gender and race studies but has become a mainstay in schools of public health and law as well as the liberal arts. Once this becomes the dominant lens for human interactions, students police themselves—and each other. Nobody wants to be the ignoramus who deadnames a transgender peer or microaggresses against a foreign student by asking about their culture.

Hypocrisy—Christianity bills itself as a religion centered in humility, but countervailing dogmas promote the opposite. It is hard to imagine a set of beliefs more arrogant than the following: The universe was designed for humans. We uniquely are made in the image of God. All other creatures are ours to consume. Among thousands of religions, I happened to be born into the one that’s correct. The creator of the universe wants a personal relationship with me. Where Evangelicalism traffics in hubris cloaked as humility, Woke culture traffics in discrimination cloaked as inclusion. The far left demands that hiring practices, organizational hierarchies, social affinity groups, political strategizing, and funding flow give primacy to race and gender. Some of the Woke measure people by these checkboxes to a degree matched in the West only by groups like MRAs (Men’s Rights Activists) and white supremacists. The intent is to rectify old wrongs and current inequities–to literally solve discrimination with discrimination. One result is disinterest in suffering that doesn’t derive from traditional structural oppression of one tribe by another.

Gloating about the fate of the wicked—One of humanity’s uglier traits is that we like it when our enemies suffer. Some of the great Christian leaders and great justice warriors of history have inspired people to rise higher (think Desmond Tutu, Eli Wiesel, Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela). But neither Evangelicalism nor Woke culture consistently inspires members to transcend tribal vindictiveness because neither, at heart, calls members into our shared humanity. Some Christian leaders have actually proclaimed that the suffering of the damned in hell heightens the joy of the saved in heaven. Some of the Woke curse those they see as fascists to burn in the very same Christian hell, metaphorically if not literally. They dream of restorative justice for criminal offenses but lifelong, ruinous retribution for political sinners: Those hateful Trump voters deserve whatever destitution or illness may come their way. Unemployed young men in rural middle America are turning to Heroin? Too bad. Nobody did anything about the crack epidemic. Oil town’s on fire? Burn baby burn.

I know how compelling those frustrated, vengeful thoughts can be, because I’ve had them. But I think that progressives can do better.

Ideology has an awe-inspiring power to forge identity and community, direct energy, channel rage and determination, love and hate. It has been one of the most transformative forces in human history. But too often ideology in the hands of a social movement simply rebrands and redirects old self-centering impulses while justifying the sense that this particular fight is uniquely holy.

Even so, social movements and religions—including those that are misguided—usually emerge from an impulse that is deeply good, the desire to foster wellbeing in world that is more kind and just, one that brings us closer to humanity’s multi-millennial dream of broad enduring peace and bounty. This, too, is something that the Righteous and the Woke have in common. Both genuinely aspire to societal justice—small s, small j—meaning not the brand but the real deal. Given that they often see themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum, perhaps that is grounds for a little hope.


Note: In this article I didn’t address why, despite these discouraging social and ideological dynamics, I continue to lean left. In the frustration raised by excesses of Woke culture it is easy to lose sight of more substantive issues. Here is some of my list: The best evidence available tells us climate change is human-caused and urgent. Market failures are real. Trickle-down economics has produced greater inequality, which has been growing for decades. Inequality is a factor in social instability. Social democracy (the combination of capitalist enterprise with a strong social safety net) appears to have produced greater average wellbeing than other economic systems. Investments in diplomacy reduce war. Reproductive empowerment is fundamental to individual political and economic participation. The Religious Right more so than classical liberals control social policy on the Right. Government, when functioning properly, is the way we do things that we can’t very well do alone.

I would like to thank Dan Fincke for his input on this article, and Marian Wiggins for her generous editorial time."


Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington. She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of Her articles about religion, reproductive health, and the role of women in society have been featured at sites including The Huffington Post, Salon, The Independent, Free Inquiry, The Humanist, AlterNet, Raw Story, Grist, Jezebel, and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. Subscribe at