+ Your AuthorsArchive @pegobry Fellow @EPPCdc. I occasionally write things longer than tweets. Feb. 08, 2021 3 min read

Ok, so, I'm a huge @JohnHMcWhorter fan, but there's something just wrong-headed about his latest rant against the scourge of Wokism. (Thread.) 

And that is his framing of Wokism, which he calls "Neoracism", as a "religion." Now, as such, there's no problem with that, first of all, because it clearly *is* a religion. And I've myself often commented upon the eerie similarities between Neoracism and the Yankee Puritanism...

...of Colonial America--that is to say, as one specific *kind* of religion. But McWhorter clearly means "religion" in the Dawkins-Hitchens sense: transparently absurd fairy tales that only idiots and nutcases could believe. This is...inaccurate.

And it's analytically uninteresting. One important aspect of reality that this frame misses is that there are many different *kinds* of religion, and that they produce different outcomes. Analyzing Neoracism as a kind of religion could be actually fruitful, if you took the...

... time to actually think productively about what religions are and aren't.

(I wrote this thing about, inter alia, "there's no such thing as religion" )

And yes, by the way, it's insulting. I'm okay with the rough-and-tumble of debate--I love it, in fact--but I doubt that McWhorter wants to gratuitously insult people who aren't involved in this thing at all. He explicitly states that religious conservatives like me aren't ...

... his intended audience, which is completely fine, but again, don't tase me bro. He says he has two audiences in mind. And it's true that his fellow NPR listeners and NYT subscribers probably don't go to church a lot. But at the risk of committing a racism and teaching ...

... McWhorter about the black experience from my position as a white (French) guy, he may consider the possibility that out of his other audience, black people who may be tempted by the Neoracist ideology, there may be a few who do go to church.

I mean, really. Does he think the only way that anyone "operating under the influence of a religion" (!) could respond to the awesome genius that is John Stuart Mill (!!) is by shrieking and turning into a bat?

It leads him to say just inaccurate and ahistorical things. It's pretty well-documented that "the foundations of the American experiment" involved a lot of religion in the schools and in the Ivies. In fact, the Ivies were *founded* as explicitly religious institutions.

(Given how much time John has spent talking--very well--about the 1619 Project, it's probably not a great idea to invent his own revisionist, ideologically-convenient history.)

More importantly, it leads him to outcomes that are presctiptively wrong. As a matter of fact, every day countless "fundamentalist Christians" become atheists because of reasoned argument--just as plenty of atheists convert to a religion because of reasoned argument. There is...

... a very long history of rational apologetics for religion, which includes major figures of the Western intellectual tradition, from Saint Augustine down to Thomas Aquinas, CS Lewis, GK Chesterton, and contemporary figures like Tim Keller and Bp Robert Barron. And these guys...

... wouldn't exist if they weren't successful at least some of the time. People can and do change their beliefs--"religious" or not--through rational argument, all the time! McWhorter's framing of "religion" = "crazy people" = "impossible to talk to them" drives him to accept ...

... Neoracism as an unchangeable act of life, like a hurricane or another act of God (pun intended), when there's nothing a priori to suggest that, or at least that frame couldn't tell you if there were.

Anyway. To be clear, this is not an appeal to @JohnHMcWhorter to placate some constituency because otherwise they might be offended. But his framing IS analytically faulty, in ways that are counter-productive.

Charles with the argument that Neoracism isn't just a dumb religion, but not a religion at all.

You can follow @pegobry.


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