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Woke anti-racism constitutes new religion

Michael Barone on

It's all about religion, isn't it? "(W)e have the cult of social justice on the left," Andrew Sullivan wrote in New York Magazine, "a religion whose followers show the same zeal as any born-again Evangelical."

Linguist John McWhorter elaborated on that theme in The Atlantic. "(A)ntiracism," he wrote, "is a profoundly religious movement in everything but terminology."

McWhorter likened the notion of "white privilege" to original sin, argued that the hope that Americans will "come to terms with race" is as vague as hopes for Judgment Day and observed that the faithful on the lookout for "that which may be blasphemous" resort to social media shaming tantamount to "the excommunication of the heretic."

You could be pardoned for supposing that Sullivan and McWhorter were reflecting on the past week's events -- the epidemiologists piously proclaiming that participating in crowded protests of police racism was more important than the otherwise sacred duty of social distancing, the chastened suburbanites in Bethesda, Maryland, kneeling before and asking forgiveness of black fellow citizens.

But actually, their quoted comments both appeared in magazines dated December 2018. They nevertheless proved apt as commentary on events no one then imagined.

Sullivan and McWhorter understood that we have been living for two decades in a political era during which the demographic factor most highly correlated with voting behavior is religion, or, within each sectarian group, the degree of religiosity.

 

They observed that the era produced, for the first time in American history, a partisan division between the largest metropolitan areas and the rural and small-town areas outside metropolitan boundaries. Our coastal metropolises voted 3-1 for Hillary Clinton while rural areas north and south, except for Vermont and the Berkshires of Massachusetts, voted 3-1 for Donald Trump.

While non-metropolitan voters, as Barack Obama noted in 2008, still tend to cling to traditional religion, articulate white metropolitanists are increasingly comfortable defining themselves as atheists and characterizing their religion as "none."

They believe instead in Science, with a capital S. Science, they claim, justified the two-month coronavirus lockdowns and the need, until the protests against police misconduct that resulted in the death of George Floyd, to maintain them.

Actually, scientific advice kept changing -- understandably, since epidemiological models of a novel virus made projections refuted by evolving evidence. And epidemiology has an understandable bias toward pessimism, since society wants warnings against unlikely but disastrous downside risks.

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