Andrew Sullivan: Is intersectionality a religion?

If you’re surprised I’m about to recommend a piece by Andrew Sullivan, well, so am I. But as Madonna once said, “Beauty’s where you find it.” Or in this case, truth is too. Sullivan has written an interesting and fairly convincing argument that “intersectionality” is a religion or, perhaps more accurately, that it functions as a religion even if its adherents wouldn’t claim it as such.

Sullivan’s jumping off point is the recent incident with Charles Murray at Middlebury college. After watching the full 40-minute video of the protest by students, Sullivan notes some disturbing elements all of which seem organized around the concept of intersectionality which he briefly defines as “an interlocking system of hierarchy and power” involving race, gender, class, etc. He writes:

It is operating, in Orwell’s words, as a “smelly little orthodoxy,” and it manifests itself, it seems to me, almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required.

Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse. It enforces manners. It has an idea of virtue — and is obsessed with upholding it. The saints are the most oppressed who nonetheless resist. The sinners are categorized in various ascending categories of demographic damnation, like something out of Dante. The only thing this religion lacks, of course, is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance, ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.

It operates as a religion in one other critical dimension: If you happen to see the world in a different way, if you’re a liberal or libertarian or even, gasp, a conservative, if you believe that a university is a place where any idea, however loathsome, can be debated and refuted, you are not just wrong, you are immoral. If you think that arguments and ideas can have a life independent of “white supremacy,” you are complicit in evil. And you are not just complicit, your heresy is a direct threat to others, and therefore needs to be extinguished. You can’t reason with heresy. You have to ban it.

When I first read this, my mind suggested a line that should follow at this point: Or burn it. Sullivan doesn’t say that but he really could. Recall that this incident ended with a mob physically threatening Murray and a Democratic professor who said she feared for her life when leaving the building. She didn’t die of course but did end up in an emergency room later after a few of the more zealous members of the crowd yanked her hair hard enough that she needed a neck brace.

If you haven’t seen it before, here’s the video of the protest which shut down the talk.