Voltaire, we are told, once said, “If God didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him.” I don’t know if Voltaire uttered these words, but he might have. For they reflect an opinion he held that went something like this: “It’s all very well for us intellectuals to be atheists if we like. We’re rational enough to realize that morally decent behavior is a personal and social necessity regardless of whether God exists. But atheism will never do for the masses. They’ll only behave decently if they believe that the rules of morality are imposed on them by a Divine Lawmaker and enforced with great rewards and severe punishments by a Divine Judge. If you wish to say a few words on behalf of atheism, please do so only when the servants are out of the room.”
In America today, many people seem to want to say, “If white racism didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.” And so, since it no longer exists in any really serious form, they are inventing it.
I’m an old man – old enough to have clear memories of the days when the U.S. actually was a racist county. In my boyhood, immediately following World War II, it was understood by everyone, even outside the South (I myself grew up in New England), that blacks (or Negroes or colored persons) were second-class citizens. They should be treated with respect and kindness, but in return they should be mindful of their inferior status.
All this ended rather dramatically in the 1960s, largely owing to the efforts of Martin Luther King and President Lyndon Johnson. There was the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. I vividly remember LBJ telling a joint session of Congress, “We shall overcome.” And in 1969, under President Richard Nixon (!), we initiated a policy of affirmative action.
Needless to say, these legal changes happened only because a great change of mind and heart had taken place among the masses of white Americans. We were persuaded that race discrimination (in employment, education, housing, voting, etc.) was un-American, as was the race prejudice that underlay it. It was time for racism to go. And so, at long last, anti-black racism in America was largely defeated.
Of course, there were still some “mopping-up” operations needed. There were some people who were too old and too stubborn to change; we had to wait for them to die off, which they did. And we had to make sure that children were instructed in the new and better ways, and, for the most part, they were. But there will always be bitter-enders; a handful who will never give up. In Germany, there are, to this day, some people with nostalgia for Nazism, and in Brooklyn, people with nostalgia for Communism.
In my lifetime, there have been two great moral revolutions in America. One, the revolution I have been talking about, is the one that repudiated racism. The other is the sexual revolution that repudiated age-old Christian sexual values, introducing instead such innovations as almost-universal fornication, pornography, semi-casual divorce, unmarried pregnancy and motherhood, abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism.
In my view, and in the view of many other old-fashioned Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, these revolutions contradict one another. For the one pertaining to race seems to be an affirmation of Christian values of justice and love of neighbor, hence an affirmation of Christianity itself. But the other, in repudiating the ancient and essential Christian virtue of chastity, seems to be a repudiation of Christianity itself.
Is there something the two revolutions have in common? Yes, a spirit of tolerance. The one involves a willingness to tolerate persons of any race or ethnicity. The other involves a willingness to tolerate any and all sexual practices – except for a few that lack consent (e.g., rape), which do obvious and immediate harm to unwilling victims.
But doesn’t abortion do “obvious and immediate harm to unwilling victims”? Yes, but the champions of sexual tolerance would prefer not to talk about that.
This spirit of generalized tolerance is an almost inevitable byproduct of a great commercial (or bourgeois) civilization whose fundamental value is the freedom to buy and sell in countless marketplaces. We Americans live in, or (more accurately) we constitute, such a great commercial civilization. As long as something isn’t bad for business, we are perfectly happy to put up with it. Racial tolerance isn’t bad for business, so we tolerate it. Tolerance of abortion, same-sex marriage, etc. isn’t bad for business, so we tolerate it.
Although the bourgeois mind has gradually undermined and, unless some drastic change intervenes, will eventually destroy Christianity, some remnants of the old religion remain. One of these is the old Christian idea of Original Sin. Our modern-day enthusiasts for the maximization of tolerance are persons who, for the most part, are either non-Christian or anti-Christian. So they cannot fall back on the Biblical story that Original Sin can be traced to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.
And so they have been forced to invent a new Original-Sin myth. According to this secular myth, the first act of sin was the enslavement of blacks by whites in the year 1619. And to this very day white Americans carry the sin of racism in their wicked hearts, a sin that manifested itself for most of American history in very open ways (e.g., slavery and Jim Crow) but in recent times has tried to hide itself from view. Whoever looks closely, however, will still be able to find it almost everywhere, especially in two forms: systemic racism (practices that have a differentially negative impact upon blacks) and unconscious racism.
According to this novel myth, only we whites are now drenched in Original Sin. Who will be our Redeemer? According to the anti-racist racists, not Jesus, but they themselves. To judge by what they’ve been doing, though – spreading vitriol and intolerance – we’re better off sticking with the original Original Sin and Jesus.
*Image: The Savior by Henry Ossawa Tanner, c. 1900-05 [Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.]