No Escaping The Eyes Of God
If you haven’t seen my post from last night, Smith College Hates The Working Class, please do read it. It’s based on a long piece in the NYT about the atmosphere at the elite liberal arts college, the one that led to Jodi Shaw’s threatened lawsuit. It told me things I did not know about the situation there. I knew that there had been a controversy on campus a couple of years ago, when a janitor called campus police on a black student he saw in a place where she wasn’t supposed to be. The campus cop recognized Kanoute, the student, as a student, and apologized for bothering her. Kanoute recorded this interaction, which the Times described as a “polite” exchange. Later, Kanoute started a social media campaign painting herself, a student at this $78,000 per year college, as a victim of racism. Predictably, this caused Smith to engage in a spasm of “antiracist” activism, including from the administration.
What I didn’t know until I read the Times piece is that an independent investigation of the incident found that the janitor and the cop had done nothing wrong. The janitor, an older man with poor eyesight, had done exactly what Smith policy required him to do: if you saw someone you didn’t know in a place they weren’t supposed to be, you’re supposed to call the campus cops. Well, as the NYT piece details, this whole controversy ended up punishing both the janitor and a cafeteria worker that Kanoute wrongly believed alerted the police. Both are working-class people with health problems, making significantly less than a single year’s room and board at Smith. They were berated by students with accusations of racism. It was horrible what was done to them. The story makes it clear that the liberal elites who study at Smith, and who run Smith, are perfectly willing to run roughshod over working people, in an effort to achieve their idea of social justice. As one editor put it:
I liked this observation by the black writer Thomas Chatterton Williams:
The problem is not just one of young, individual non-whites, but of all young people indoctrinated by our academic class. This morning I was e-mailing with some people about Dante, and mentioned a lecture I gave a few years back, in which, during the Q&A period, a young woman asked me earnestly if I really thought that we have anything to learn from a white European man who was the product of an oppressive society. I was nonplussed by this, because it was at a Christian event in Wichita. A professor approached me after the talk and said that this is how young people are all taught these days.
That young woman is a victim of an ideological pedagogy that trained her to regard something as complex as the poetry of Dante Alighieri as nothing more than the product of a privileged white male elitist. Never mind that Dante wrote from the position of someone who had been exiled by the ruling elites of Florence, and lost everything he had. Here is a young woman in 21st century America, the product of the richest and freest society that has ever existed, and such is her intellectual poverty that she can only understand the work of one of the greatest poets who ever lived in crude, culturally Marxist categories. The people who maimed her mind that way ought to be horsewhipped.
TCW’s remark in that tweet highlights a serious problem I see with wokeness, particularly Critical Race Theory, infiltrating and conquering Christian institutions. A central aspect of Christian spirituality is learning that no one is righteous, that everyone has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Being victimized does not give you the right, as a Christian, to hate your victimizers. This is why Dr. Silvester Krcmery, a young Christian physician who was imprisoned and tortured by the Communists in his native Czechoslovakia, had to work hard in his prayer life not to hate his captors and torturers. His Christian faith taught him that to come to hate them means victory for the Evil One. Certainly no ordinary person could have blamed him for despising those who treated him like this, but Dr. Krcmery knew, as all Christians must, that the follower of Christ is commanded by Our Lord to love those who hate him.
It’s a hard commandment to follow. I found myself last night praying for someone who despises me unjustly, and who has damaged me out of that spite. I did it not because I wanted to, but because Our Lord commands me to — and I hope to get to the point, spiritually, where I pray for this person out of genuine Christ-like love. I know several people — all professing Christians — who have allowed themselves to become paralyzed, morally and spiritually, by hatred of people they believe to have wronged them. I’m thinking of one person in particular who has destroyed relationships because of an obsessive hatred, and the compulsion to frame themselves as a perpetual victim.
Victimhood is a source of power within elite culture, but it is a source of crippling weakness in one’s private life. One of the greatest things my father gave me was a hatred of seeing myself as a victim. Most people are victims at some point in their lives, and it was true for me too — I was bullied in late middle school and early high school. That experience defined my understanding of the way the world works. But the Christian faith I came to as an adult teaches me that I have the capacity to become a bully myself, and that I have to fight constantly the temptation to revel in victimhood.
Hear me clearly: I believe that it is important to fight bullies, and I do my best at that on this blog! But at the same time, I have to wage a battle within myself not to hate those who bully, because I could lose my soul that way. When I go to confession, I tell my confessor about instances in which I have harbored hatred towards people who have behaved badly towards me, or towards those I care about. As with so much, this goes back to 9/11 and the Iraq War with me. I allowed myself to become so consumed by anger and hatred of the Islamic terrorists who did that to us that I went along with a war that I should have known was unjust. My righteous anger at these villains caused me to hand myself over to the manipulations of bad men in my own government, who manufactured my support for this cruel and stupid war.
What a lesson that taught me! A side lesson I learned around the same time was that my anger at and hatred of the institutional Catholic Church over the sex abuse scandal cost me my faith. It turned out well for me; I would not have discovered Orthodoxy if not for that. But still, I greatly regret having allowed those passions to get the best of me, and have endeavored to learn from that unhappy experience that hatred of people who deserve to be hated for what they did (in this case, abusive priests and the bishops who covered for them) can destroy one within, and give victory to the Evil One.
I am not a good Christian. I’m still too quick to anger and too slow to forgive. But my Christian faith, insofar as it compels me to combat the drive within my heart to hate bad people, serves as a restraint. Besides, hatred, even hatred justified by evil deeds, can blind you to the humanity of evildoers. I have mentioned in this space before how a therapist I went to in the summer of 2002, after my wife begged me to get help for my overwhelming post-9/11 anger, told me that by the end of our time together, I would understand that under the right circumstances, I could have been Mohammad Atta, in the cockpit of a plane that flew into the Twin Towers.
I angrily rejected the thought. Our therapy ended abruptly that summer, for unrelated reasons. But I kept the therapist’s offensive suggestion in my mind. It took me years to see it … but he was right. And Solzhenitsyn was right when he said the line between good and evil doesn’t pass between races or classes, but down the middle of each and every human heart. Identity politics and the ideology of victimization not only results in bullying of the sort the Times reports on at Smith College, but it also wrecks the consciences of people like that self-righteous student, who could only see a normal human exchange in terms of power, and who saw — as she had been trained to see — mercy as a sign of weakness, of collaboration with evil.
If the Christian churches give themselves over to a Marxist moral analysis of the world, what could possibly stand to restrain the evil that is in the hearts of those who, in setting out to slay monsters, become what they profess to despise? These people think they are achieving moral victories, but in fact they are just rearranging their hatreds. More broadly, the elites of this country, of all races, are getting an education in hating the Other, and calling it virtue. The Other, at Smith College, are working class people who, according to the Times‘s reporting, are afraid to speak out about their mistreatment at the hands of these privileged young women students, out of fear that the youth will accuse them of some identity-politics heresy, and appeal to the Smith administration to destroy them. What is happening at Smith is the poisonous fruit of emotivism (thinking that one’s feelings are always a reliable guide to truth) and a ruling-class ideology that accords privilege by identity group.
Why has there not been a popular uprising against this garbage? In some sense, I suppose Donald Trump’s election was a popular uprising against it. But in his narcissism and incompetence, he did nothing effective to fight it, and probably made it worse. One of the reasons I am eager for the GOP to get past Trump is so that leaders who have the intelligence and moral courage to stand up to this stuff, and do so effectively, with meaningful legislation, can emerge. It seems wrong that if Smith College, and academic institutions like Smith, are to be compelled to change their ways, it will be as the outcome of Jodi Shaw’s lawsuit.
Legal judgments change practices, but they do not change hearts. I can tell you, from my unhappy experience with the Iraq War and the Catholic abuse scandal, that I did not feel empowered by my hatred. I was in fact conquered by it. Seeing myself as in some sense a victim of the Islamic terrorists, and abusive priests and contemptible bishops, made me a prisoner of my passions. In a similar way, I wonder what favor these identity politics exponents think they are doing for poor black people, and other minorities, training them to think that they have no moral agency, and no responsibility for their lives. That they are victims of malign forces beyond their control, and that there’s nothing that they can do to improve their condition on their own. I have seen with my own eyes, in a working-class white extended family I know, how that learned helplessness mires the family in poverty and defeat. If they won the lottery tomorrow, half of them would be dead or dead broke within two years, because their core problems have nothing to do with a lack of money and opportunity.
Being rich doesn’t make you evil. Being poor doesn’t make you virtuous. Nor, in either direction, does being white, black, Latino, Asian, Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or anything else. You cannot hide behind the shield of your claimed identity to escape the eyes of God, which see all. If religious leaders or anybody else prevent you from seeing this, then they are endangering your salvation. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All! That means you and me, and everybody else.
Finally, and once again, because the lesson cannot be repeated often enough, I offer this passage from Live Not By Lies, which tells us where identity politics tied to righteousness ultimately goes:
For example, an American academic who has studied Russian communism told me about being present at the meeting in which his humanities department decided to require from job applicants a formal statement of loyalty to the ideology of diversity—even though this has nothing to do with teaching ability or scholarship.
The professor characterized this as a McCarthyite way of eliminating dissenters from the employment pool, and putting those already on staff on notice that they will be monitored for deviation from the social-justice party line.
That is a soft form of totalitarianism. Here is the same logic laid down hard: in 1918, Lenin unleashed the Red Terror, a campaign of annihilation against those who resisted Bolshevik power. Martin Latsis, head of the secret police in Ukraine, instructed his agents as follows:
Do not look in the file of incriminating evidence to see whether or not the accused rose up against the Soviets with arms or words. Ask him instead to which class he belongs, what is his background, his education, his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. That is the meaning and essence of the Red Terror.
Note well that an individual’s words and deeds had nothing to do with determining one’s guilt or innocence. One was presumed guilty based entirely on one’s class and social status. A revolution that began as an attempt to right historical injustices quickly became an exterminationist exercise of raw power. Communists justified the imprisonment, ruin, and even the execution of people who stood in the way of Progress as necessary to achieve historical justice over alleged exploiters of privilege.
A softer, bloodless form of the same logic is at work in American institutions. Social justice progressives advance their malignant concept of justice in part by terrorizing dissenters as thoroughly as any inquisitor on the hunt for enemies of religious orthodoxy.