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Heretics in the Church of Progressive Liberalism

Religions fear heretics more than non-believing infidels because they are, at least on paper, supposed to be closer to the truth than infidels. That’s why intra-religious disputes are often so bloody: between Catholics and Protestants, between Sunni and Shia, between Anglican and Puritan.

Progressive liberalism has dogma and heresy, too. Certain ideas are indisputable. Those who question them are heretics. Dogma and heresy were on display, yet again, this week during hearings of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties as it (once again) considered the idea of (still more) reparations for slavery.

In this case, the dogma states that all material differences in outcomes among races are, a priori, caused by discrimination alone. This is particularly true when there are differences in outcomes between African Americans and other Americans—especially white Americans. Those differences must be attributed to slavery and Jim Crow alone. Coleman Hughes and before him, John McWhorter, have violated this dogma by questioning both its truthfulness and its effectiveness in improving outcomes for black Americans. Despite being self-professed liberals, despite being African American, despite voting for Democrats, or perhaps because of these facts, they are treated as heretics.

Progressive liberalism is, in truth, a religion since it unmistakably acts like one.

“Black people don’t need another apology,” Hughes said during Wednesday’s hearing. “We need safer neighborhoods and better schools. We need a less punitive criminal justice system. We need affordable health care. And none of these things can be achieved through reparations for slavery.”

Hughes condemned the idea of reparations as an “insult” to “many black Americans by putting a price on the suffering of their ancestors . . . (turning) the relationship between black Americans and white Americans from a coalition into a transaction.” The audience booed him. Subcommittee Chairman Steve Cohen had to bang the gavel, admonishing the crowd to  “Chill, chill, chill, chill!”

Hughes isn’t the first African American heretic from within the Left who has run amok with this particular dogma. Progressives continually revisit slavery and Jim Crow because it is the nexus around which much of their entire political, social, and linguistic universe revolves. Enter John McWhorter, who criticized this unseemly obsession with the past and the poisoned fruits it leads to, like affirmative action. McWhorter’s writing draws from the long history of black success which, rather than being dependent on white guilt and state intervention, is the kind that comes from within and takes root.

McWhorter pointed out that affirmative action is bad both for black and for white kids—causing self-doubt among the former who don’t know if they have actually succeeded on their own merits and resentment among the latter, especially if they are rejected from jobs or colleges while seeing demonstrably less-qualified people being accepted.

For these reasons, among others, McWhorter argues for ending racial preferences. This turned McWhorter into a heretic among progressive liberals. Ismael Reed, a professor at Berkeley, denounced him saying, “You have these academics who are removed from the African American community who use anecdotes and gross generalizations to make a career for themselves . . . He is sort of like a rent-a-black-person.” Reed was responding to McWhorter’s 2001 book, Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America. That ought to show the timelessness of this dogma whose durability will continue as long as the public is eager for the liberal white guilt and liberal black resentment on which this dichotomy feeds.

Slavery and Jim Crow is, to the Left, a sort of supercharged original sin. Except unlike the Christian version of original sin, which was paid off with Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, this racialized version of original sin created a debt that can never be paid. Nothing can pay the debt—not the hundreds of thousands of white men who died ending slavery in the Civil War; not the billions spent by the Union to prosecute it; not the trillions of taxpayer dollars sunk in the decades since Lyndon Johnson launched his war on poverty; and not even affirmative action.

It is a fool’s errand to believe that still more reparations can pay off this debt or ever reduce the culpability and victimhood that progressive liberals wish to foist on those who were not alive either to be culpable for or victims of the crime. It is unthinkable that one could question the efficacy or truth of this dogma. That’s what dogmas are, unquestionable first principles.

The inquisitors of this Trojan horse religion are so nervous about the likes of Hughes and McWhorter because they are close enough to the orthodox “truth” to deceive the faithful. It’s easy enough to dismiss a white Southerner like Mitch McConnell for being opposed to reparations or racial preference programs. He’s a white conservative; they’re supposed to think that way because white conservative equals racist. But people like Hughes and McWhorter threaten to upset that Manichean dichotomy of white oppressors and black victims which is the raison d’être for much of the progressive liberal worldview.

Like Galileo Galilei and the parade of historical heretics who have come before, the progressive liberal religion—like all other religions—expects heretics to remain silent or be punished for deviating from dogma.

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