In Christianity, original sin is the first cause which allowed evil to enter the history of mankind. While progressive liberals basically reject traditional Christianity, having their own origins so intimately tied up with those of Christendom, they cannot escape similar patterns of thought. They have their own versions of original sin which are the lens through which they see the world. This was on display once again as Marianne Williamson called for reparations during the Democratic primary debates last week. For the Church of Progressive Liberalism, slavery is an original sin, the first cause from which racism entered the body politic of the United States and Western Civilization in general.
Racism saturates the universe of the progressive. Former President Barack Obama said as much in a 2015 speech: “The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of our DNA, that’s passed on. We’re not cured of it . . . Societies don’t overnight completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.” (Emphasis added.)
What makes this original sin concept so attractive to the progressive liberal believer is that the history is all true. Europeans did engage in the slave trade. African slaves were brutalized for four hundred years. Jim Crow happened. European imperialism and colonialism happened. All of these are incontrovertible facts, and thus they form a solid foundation upon which to build the racism-as-original-sin structure.
Be that as it may, these facts do not change how perverse, unjust, and arbitrary this new conception of original sin is in its thinking and practice.
In traditional Christianity, the concept of original sin affects all humans alike. Mankind is fallen. But the racialized original sin of progressive liberals doesn’t apply to all humans equally. Some are more guilty than others, though all of the actual perpetrators are dead. Writing for the Daily Beast, Columbia University linguist John McWhorter sums it up:
The Antiracism religion . . . has . . . a conception of Original Sin . . . One is born marked by original sin; to be white is to be born with the stain of unearned privilege . . . The proper response to White Privilege is to embrace . . . the understanding that you will always harbor the Privilege nevertheless. Note that many embrace the idea of inculcating white kids with their responsibility to acknowledge Privilege from as early an age as possible, in sessions starting as early as elementary school.
Look into the overwhelmingly white and liberal professors and educators of the university and K-12 schools and you’ll see people who take racism seriously and have a well-formed race-based metaphysics.
In one lesson taken from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Teaching Tolerance” website, we get a glimpse of this metaphysical approach to racialized original sin through the doctrine of “White Privilege.” Teaching Tolerance is used by thousands of American teachers in front of tens of thousands of students every year. The lesson claims it is not about shaming anybody: “having white privilege and recognizing it is not racist. But white privilege exists because of historic, enduring racism and biases. Therefore, defining white privilege also requires finding working definitions of racism and bias.”
Perhaps the most important lesson about white privilege is the one that’s taught the least. Teaching Tolerance explains:
The “power of normal” and the “power of the benefit of the doubt” are not just subconscious byproducts of past discrimination. They are the purposeful results of racism—an ouroboros of sorts—that allow for the constant re-creation of inequality. These powers would not exist if systemic racism hadn’t come first. And systemic racism cannot endure unless those powers still hold sway. You can imagine it as something of a whiteness water cycle, wherein racism is the rain. That rain populates the earth, giving some areas more access to life and resources than others. The evaporation is white privilege—an invisible phenomenon that is both a result of the rain and the reason it keeps going.
First, notice how “white” is used as a slur, a pejorative. Second, and most important, notice the use of the word “ouroboros.” An ouroboros is a snake eating its own tail. It means something which is infinite. In other words, this idea of racialized original sin goes back forever—and crucially, will go on forever. Ending white privilege, to use Teaching Tolerance’s own words, is as likely as ending the rain. There is no reconciliation. No redemption. No escape.
This point is vital. It means the policies meant to “remedy” the original sin of white privilege—reparations, apologies, preferential hiring—will never allow the living to make a clean break from the deeds of (some of) their long dead ancestors. Instead, it will live on through successive generations the way some Christians saw the crime of deicide embodied in living Jews over 1,000 years after the Crucifixion. Unlike the practice of baptism, which allows the Christian to escape the penalty of the Fall once and for all, no such mechanism exists within the progressive liberal religion.
A racialized conception of original sin is not confined to African slavery. It is easy to find well-meaning (usually white) progressive liberals writing pieces in the style of the salvation testimony declaring the need to re-educate the benighted youth about America’s “original sins.”
Consider James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, a bestseller that has sold over 2 million copies. It was used in my university’s school of education for teacher preparation. Loewen’s chapter on the conquest of the Americas is titled “Red Eyes.” What do you get after you’ve come home in shame and tears? Red eyes. Recall how Teaching Tolerance said learning about white privilege wasn’t about shame. This is a lie. Loewen begins “Red Eyes” with this quote: “There is not one Indian in the whole of this country who does not cringe in anguish and frustration because of [American history] textbooks. There is not one Indian child who has not come home in shame and tears.”
Loewen’s remedy for this? Convicting the descendants of those who perpetrated these sins of their guilt and sending them home from school ready to repent.
Loewen explains, “what we have done to the peoples who were living in North America” is, according to anthropologist Sol Tax, “our Original Sin [emphasis added] . . . If we look Indian history squarely in the eye, we are going to get red eyes. This is our past, however, and we must acknowledge it. It is time for textbooks to send white children home, if not with red eyes, at least with thought-provoking questions.”
Karl Marx, in the Communist Manifesto, said, “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” There are numerous other original sins: patriarchy and sexism, heteronormativity and homophobia, cis-privilege and transphobia, Christian privilege and Islamophobia, and on it continues ad infinitum. Progressive liberalism is appropriating traditional Christianity and building an entirely different superstructure on top of its vandalized foundations.
National Review’s Michael Tanner argues that “issues like (reparations) are about more than politics, and the animating sentiment behind reparations is not one that can be easily dismissed.” Tanner is right, the animating sentiment behind these issues is definitely hard to dismiss. But why is it so hard to dismiss? Why can’t we finally be up and done with this? Because this issue of reparations is a religious dogma in essence.
The real question is: should progressive liberals be able to use state power to enforce what amounts essentially to a religious doctrine on those of us who do not accept this surreptitious new religion?
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