The faith of systemic racism

Enter the radicals, who pride themselves on their atheism. When the radicals declare that there is a mysterious, omnipotent force controlling the whole of America, we are more susceptible to their fire and brimstone than we should be. We believe. Or, at least, many of us do. In the not-so-distant past, we would have relegated religious belief to the realm of the formally religious. We would have intuited that one makes leaps of faith in a church or temple or wherever one does those things. One does not make leaps of faith in, say, a boardroom. Today, we do.

It is—let’s not kid ourselves—a tad embarrassing. The whole world, including many Western countries that have reined in or remained mostly impervious to their more intemperate elements, is watching America and wondering what is happening to us. Most Americans, one hopes, one suspects, are still sober. Most (but not all) of these people are those who retain their religion or some semblance of it, those who grasp that there is value in a confined arationality coexisting with the rationality of modern life, who have not lost sight of the distinction between the religious and the merely spiritual. The religious, or religious-adjacent, know that, in its most distilled form, faith elevates and deepens and forces that great existential confrontation of the self that is a precondition for growth. It propels us. It should, although it often does not, make us better.

But then there is the Plurality of the Unwell. Those who are the loudest and most desperate and dangerous. Those behind the new discourse. Those who corner or lobby the people who make the decisions—the CEOs, university presidents, studio chiefs and so on—to pretend that there is a ghost in the machine. That we are being orchestrated by an unverifiable hate. That it is their role, their mandate, to overthrow the veil of false consciousness and lead us to the light. These people, one suspects, are true believers. Their faith is real, but they do not realize it is faith.