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Racism and Critical Race Theory

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Philosopher Edward Feser has read the major texts of critical race theory and has some concerns. He joins us for a discussion of his newest book, All One in Christ: A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory.


Cy Kellett:

Hello, and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers Podcast for living, understanding and defending your Catholic faith. I’m Cy Kellett, your host, and maybe we’ll be helping with the living part today because, among the great plagues of the modern world, the many things that make modern life burdensome, is racism. It’s not necessarily a plague that has always plagued humanity. It seems to be a particularly modern affliction. And one we just can’t seem to wean ourselves off to get away from. Emerging now is something called Critical Race Theory, which has, as its stated goal, the ending of racism. But will it work? And is it really humane? Does it really comport with a proper understanding of how human beings should treat one another?

Our guest this hour is the perfect guy to answer these questions and more. He’s got a brand-new book out called All One in Christ, A Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory. Dr. Edward Feser is professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College in Pasadena, California. He’s published extensively, both in academic journals and in the popular press. In fact, the National Review called him one of the best contemporary writers on philosophy.

Dr. Feser, thank you for being here with us.

Edward Feser:

Glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

Cy Kellett:

So, among the things that you start with in the book is an idea that I have to admit I had not thought about, and that is that you could make scientific arguments against racism saying, for example, comparing IQs and saying, “We’re all generally in the same field,” or do doing whatever scientific comparison, genetic comparisons, for example, and all that. But that actually wouldn’t be an adequate basis for making a strong opposition to racism. Is part of what you’re doing here trying to give us a strong foundation on which to rest our opposition to racism?

Edward Feser:

Absolutely. And, as I emphasize in the book, the Church’s own condemnation of racism has always appealed to much deeper considerations than biological science could either confirm or deny. Specifically, the church takes the condemnation of racism to rest both in human nature itself, understood according to traditional Catholic metaphysics as involving human beings being rational animals, where our rationality involves the ability to grasp abstract truths and the power of free choice, free will to choose what the intellect understands as a consequence of that. And it takes this aspect of our nature, our rationality to be immaterial, to be something not reducible to the bodily side of our nature, not reducible in particular, to brain activity. So the idea is that the natural law, including our natural rights and dignity as moral agents, is grounded in this rationality, our nature as rational creatures. And that’s something we have in common with all human beings.

And because this aspect of our nature is something that transcends matter, it’s again something that biological science can neither confirm nor deny. It goes deeper than that. It’s known through philosophical argumentation of the kind we see in thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas. So that’s the foundation in natural law and human nature of our common human dignity and thus of the rejection of racism as contrary to our common human dignity.

Then the second foundation is supernatural rather than natural. And by supernatural, I mean that term is, it’s used in Catholic theology, what’s supernatural is what transcends or rises above our nature. And in this case, what rises above our nature or transcends it is our common calling to the beatific vision, this offer to all human beings that God makes to give us this kind of intimate face-to-face union with himself, which is made possible only by grace, not by our nature, but it’s offered by grace to every human being equally, not just to this group or that. And so that adds to our special dignity as human beings, this supernatural end. And again, it’s a consideration that does not stand or fall with any finding of biological science or any of the other science as it goes deeper than that. It’s a theological rather than a biological consideration.

Cy Kellett:

I remember you quote extensively from Popes in here, and one even referred to the great commission saying, “If we’re sent to evangelize all the nations, then there’s a radical equality among all people.” If all the nations are meant to be called to communion with Jesus Christ, then none can be dismissed as inferior to the other.

Edward Feser:

That’s right. That’s of course the source of the title of the book, All One in Christ, which is a remark from St. Paul in the New Testament. And again, it underlines how, for one thing, the Catholic critique of racism, as I say, is grounded in something deeper than natural science. But it’s also ancient. It’s as old as the church is. And so you have this idea which is, and this is one of the things that I wrote the book to criticize, this idea that the church is somehow a newcomer to these things, is a newcomer and needed to learn from the secular world that racism is wrong. This is ridiculous. The church has always held this. The church has held it from the very beginning. And where specific topics like the evil of slavery is concerned, is kind of a subtopic in the larger topic of the evil of racism.

The church has been condemning slavery as most people understand slavery, chattel slavery, the kind of thing that exists in the American South before the Civil War has opposed that vigorously from the very beginning. And I quote Pope after Pope after Pope who condemns the slave trade, condemns this idea that somehow Africans or American Indians were less than fully human and could be treated as if they were mere property and so forth. This isn’t something that the church only learned in the late 19th century or Vatican too. This is something that goes back to the very beginning of the slave trade. Now it’s true that there were many Catholics then as now who rejected the church’s teaching. That’s true in all kinds of areas. That’s true obviously in contemporary times with regard to sexual morality. There are people who don’t want to listen to the church’s teaching on that.

And centuries ago there were Catholics who didn’t want to listen to the church’s teaching condemning slavery, but that was the teaching. One reason for confusion on this part is that people think, “Well, didn’t the church long regard slavery as part of the natural law?” But what they don’t realize is that the term slavery is ambiguous and it’s got several meanings. So we usually think of when we hear the word slavery as what’s called chattel slavery, to which I referred a moment ago, which involves treating another human being as if he or she were a mere inanimate object or an animal, just a mere piece of property. And again, it’s the kind of thing we usually think of when we hear slavery. The church has never condoned that. The church has always condemned that, but sometimes the term slavery’s been used to refer to other kinds of servitude like penal servitude, which is servitude in punishment for a crime or indentured servitude, which is a prolonged period of servitude as payment of a debt, say.

Now, the church traditionally allowed that those practices are not intrinsically evil because they just involve an extension of punishment or the extension of the payment of a debt. But the view nevertheless came to prevail in Catholic theology that those practices are so problematic and they have a tendency to degenerate a chattel slavery that we’re better off just getting rid of them altogether. But chattel slavery specifically the severe kind that we usually think of, that was always condemned by the church. So when people say, “Oh, the church is a newcomer to this,” they don’t know this history, and they fail to make these distinctions.

Cy Kellett:

Well, first of all, let me say, I think you did a great service in this book, just in that series of starting right at the beginning of the modern… Actually at the end of the medieval period and right through the beginning of the modern era up through the 1890s and even into the second Vatican Council of connecting all those dots that the official teaching has been consistent. And what seems consistent about it in particular is that the church would not accept the idea that a people, say the Native American people or the African people could be said to be fit for servitude in the way that maybe Aristotle might have argued. The church always said, “No, you can’t say that about a people that they’re made to be the slaves of another people.

Edward Feser:

And even in Aristotle, Aristotle wasn’t thinking in terms of racial groups. He was thinking in terms of individuals, but you did have people who tried to spin the Aristotelian idea on this subject into a defense of slavery. But what happened in the early modern period, just as the Popes were hammering this out at the level of magisterial teaching, you found scholastic theologians like Bartolomé de las Casas and Francisco de Victoria, who were at the same time hammering out the theoretical or a philosophical rationale for a condemnation of this idea that any human group could somehow be of its very nature fit only for service. And they give a number of important arguments, which I rehearse in the book for why this makes no sense and is contrary to a scholastic metaphysical principles no less than to scholastic moral principles.

The arguments at the time were controversial among theologians. You did find philosophers and theologians at the time who were trying to find some way to defend the bad treatment that the colonial powers were meting out to American Indians. It’s no denying that. But that position thankfully lost out. And the position of de las Casas and de Victoria is the one that won out. And again, most importantly, it’s the view that prevailed among the Popes.

Cy Kellett:

Well, that is striking how the Popes were very solid on this point. But I do think one of the ways that it may, and I want to ask you about this, it may appear to people that lots and lots of Catholics, scholars, professors, philosophers like yourself, theologians did in fact defend chattel slavery and did in fact find their defense in places like Aristotle, but also in the Bible. And so I think what they might miss is that everybody on every side of the argument, for example, when it was being argued in the Spanish empire, was Catholic. So of course you’re going to get lots of Catholics arguing because everybody in the argument was a Catholic, including the people who were building the economies or whatever they were building, and that enslaved other people and profiting from those things.

Edward Feser:

Yeah. Well, so here you see an instance of what we see throughout church history, which is people who abuse one part of the church’s teaching in order to justify evil actions. So you have people who are profiting from chattel slavery. You have people who are profiting from this mistreatment of the American Indians and of African slaves and so forth. And so they look for superficial similarities between these evil practices and things that the church allowed were in principle legitimate. And so they also traded. So you find this tendency to trade on ambiguities both among critics of the church and among those who are trying to use the church’s teaching to justify slavery. So just as you now get people who say, “Oh, the church used to condone slavery, the church used to think it was fine, and they failed to make these nuanced distinctions between, ‘Well, chattel slavery is what we’re talking about,’ the church never condoned that.”

But then you had people in earlier centuries who were trying to rationalize and justify slavery by saying, “Oh, well the church says slavery’s okay, so we can justify the way we’re treating Africans and Native Americans.” That doesn’t follow at all because they too, were failing to make these crucial distinctions between say, indentured servitude and penal servitude on the one hand, which were totally irrelevant to what was going on with the African slave trade or with the treatment of the Native Americans. And so they try to use that to justify chattel slavery. And it’s simply the same logical fallacy as those now who claim that the church condone these things we’re making. It’s just as today when people say, “Well, doesn’t the church emphasize mercy and forgiveness?” Absolutely. So doesn’t that mean that we shouldn’t be so hard on things like abortion or that the church should soften her teaching on sexual morality?” That doesn’t follow at all, right?

Evil things remain evil even if we ought to show mercy to those who are repentant. So in the same way, you had people trading on sloppy use of language or sloppy argumentation saying, “Well, I mean indentured servitude and penal servitude, those things are in principle, legitimate in theory so doesn’t that mean that we can justify this treatment of African and Native American slave?” That doesn’t follow at all. And the church actually from the start when the Popes said, “That doesn’t follow,” and condemned this idea. But it took a long time for the practice of many Catholics on the ground, as it were, unfortunately, to catch up to what the church had always been teaching from the beginning.

Cy Kellett:

And if you like a nice, concise, very helpful timeline with the quotes, it’s right here in this book from Dr. Edward Feser, from Ignatius Press, All One in Christ, a Catholic Critique of Racism and Critical Race Theory. So before you get to the Catholic part though, you kind of do a philosophical critique of critical race theory, kind of social science-based critique. So where we’re moving in all this is first to say, well, the Catholic church is not the newcomer here. You didn’t just wake up one day and go, “Oh, we just discovered Martin Luther King Jr.” or something. Well, the churches had this consistent position about the dignity of each and every human person from its very beginning. Before we come back to the Catholic church, you give us the philosophical and the social science stuff. The longest chapter I think in the book is on the philosophical. So specifically as to critical race theory then, could you let us know what your understanding of critical race theory is? What is it? And what are its philosophical shortcomings?

Edward Feser:

Yeah. So I would say that the central idea of critical race theory is that racism absolutely pervades every nook and cranny of Western civilization and the psyches and assumptions and view of the world of every citizen of Western civilization, even those who self-consciously think of themselves as opposed to racism. So this idea of critical race theory is a radical, massive expansion of the idea of racism to include things that nobody heretofore would’ve thought of as counting as racism, and even to include things that most people would regard as the opposite of racism. Okay, so what does that involve?

Well, for critical race theorists, for example, even people who think of themselves as politically liberal and who would never vote for a conservative candidate who think of themselves as being anti-racist to the core and as motivated by a desire to stamp out racism and so forth, and who interpret that in light of the traditional civil rights movement in terms of things like the idea that the law should be colorblind, that it should treat all citizens the same way regardless of race or ethnicity, that there are neutral standards of rational discourse that people of every race can appeal to to resolve their disagreements and so forth for critical race theory, all of that is a lie. And indeed, all of that is really just a smoke screen for racism. It really just upholds the racist power structure, the so-called white supremacist power structure. And so traditional civil rights discourse is as much a part of racism in this extremely expansive conception as Jim Crow laws, as cross burning and all this stuff.

Now, this is the kind of thing that a lot of people don’t realize. They hear the rhetoric of critical race theory and they think, “They’re told, oh, it’s just about teaching history. It’s just an abstract legal theory that nobody outside of law school seminars would know anything about.” All of that is a lie. All of that is nothing but marketing.

And this is why in the book I provide generous quotations, both from the currently best known popularizers of critical race theory, people like Ibram Kendi and his book, How to Be an Anti-Racist, people like Robin de Angelo and her book White Fragility. And also from the more academic theorists who are supposedly more serious and sober minded in these people, but they aren’t really. I mean, it’s a little more high toned, but the content’s very similar. I provide generous quotations from all these writers so that the reader can see that this is not some scare manufactured by right wing apologies or something. It’s right there in the texts of these books. And nobody who reads my book can deny that. That’s why I provide generous quotations. This is what they say, this isn’t me making it up. This is what they say.

Cy Kellett:

If I may interrupt you right there, I was actually startled, I don’t want to say shocked because there’s not much that can shock you anymore, but startled by some of those quotes, those extensive, including quotes that are quite openly advocating for discrimination, for example, when we always thought that ending discrimination was the goal. This is a theory that is at least in the mouths or at the end of the pen of some of its proponents. It’s quite explicitly in favor of discrimination.

Edward Feser:

Oh yeah, for sure. Yeah, they’re very straightforward about that. And you read someone like Kendi, and he’s very straightforward that what we need is discrimination. We need discrimination against whites who have benefited from their so-called white privilege, et cetera, et cetera. And we need to keep discriminating until full equity is achieved. And what’s equity? Well, I mean the basic idea is simple enough though the application is left fairly vague and inconsistent, but the idea would be illustrated by the thesis that if you’ve got, say 10% of a certain population of a country is of a certain race, but less than 10% of the stockbrokers are of that race, that’s inequity. That’s an imbalance that can only be counted as racism. I mean, people like Kendi and de Angelo are quite frank about this. They say, “That’s racism. If you say it’s anything other than racism… If you say, ‘Well, maybe this reflects cultural differences between ethnic groups, maybe this reflects historical circumstances, they don’t really themselves have anything to do with racism.’ All they do is scream racism back at you.”

It’s that simple minded and dogmatic. I mean, if you read Kendi, it’s just page after page after page of this guy ranting and calling anybody who doesn’t agree with him racist. It doesn’t rise above the level of that. So what that means… Now this isn’t consistently followed through because if the so-called inequities are on the other side, if you find Black people say overrepresented in basketball or something, right, Kendi doesn’t say, “Oh, that’s the inequity, that’s racism.” He has no problem with that, which is fine, I have no problem with that. Who cares? But it shows you how arbitrarily the standard is applied when it’s an inequity that someone like Kendi or de Angelo can kind of spin into so-called evidence of racism. They’ll just hammer on it. That’s racist, racist. Now if you don’t agree, you must be a racist. And when it doesn’t serve that cause they just ignore it. I mean, this reflects one of the many philosophical problems with the view, which is that it’s just extremely low quality, intellectually speaking, the quality of argument is that bad. I mean-

Cy Kellett:

This is more intimidation than argument in many places to say, well here’s my point. I disagree with your point. That’s my point. You’re a racist.

Edward Feser:

Exactly. Yeah. With someone like Kendi, it really doesn’t rise above that level. And he’s quite clear in the book, I mean explicitly states this in his book that he’s not interested in persuasion, that what his movement is about is gaining power. He even uses the phrase “craving for power,” which he thinks is the only thing that should motivate the so-called anti-racist activist and not absolutely. Yeah. I mean, it’s not even disguised. And he’s totally dismissive of the idea of trying to win over hearts and minds. He has contempt for that. And says none of that stuff ever… And of course it doesn’t work because the ideas are so lunatic that you’re not going to win over hearts and minds if you tell people that they’re racist for disagreeing with you. And if they try to calmly and soberly give you considerations and arguments on the other side, you just, “Well, I’m not going to listen. You’re a racist.”

 Of course, you’re not going to persuade people. Don’t even try to persuade them. So he’s quite frank, he’s not interested in that. He thinks the movement should simply seek power and impose its policy proposals just by brute force. Now this is one of many ways in which this position is simply not compatible with Catholic doctrine. It’s basically a riff on what in the 1980s, Pope John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI condemned under the label of liberation theology. And where critical race theory touches on matters of theology, people like Kendi have been quite frank about this. I mean, Kendi says, “Look, there’s liberation theology and there’s,” what he calls savior theology. And with savior theology, he says, “Well, savior theology is this idea that human beings are sinners, they are in need of salvation. And so Christians ought to go out and preach the gospel and get them to convert and get them to seek forgiveness of their sins.”

Okay. Everybody else in the world calls that just Christian theology. But Kendi calls that quote “savior theology,” and he says, “Well, that’s racism. That just aids and abets racism because it distracts people from seeking his version of social justice.” What he thinks is the only legitimate Christian theology is what he calls by its traditional and liberation theology, which is a complete politicization of the gospel. And the idea that Christianity is really about changing social structures here and now, redressing economic inequities and also into the bargain because critical race theory is allied with so-called liberation movements of an LGBT sort feminism and all that. All of this is part of one intersectional set of oppressions. And so liberation theologies about eliminating all that through the political process, through gaining political power. And that Kendi says is the only kind of non-racist sort of Christianity that he will recognize.

Cy Kellett:

It strikes me as a bit collegian in that it’s mans saving himself by doing these virtuous acts of liberation.

Edward Feser:

Well, it is. I mean, to the extent that it’s intended as a serious theological proposal at all. Now, I don’t think it really is. I don’t think Kendi could care less about Christian theology. I think he’s just… If he can attract Christians over to his cause by saying that, “Oh, what you folks are up to is great, as long as it’s liberation theology,” then he’ll use that as a kind of a rhetorical tool. But he is clear that that’s the only kind of theology that he considers respectably anti-racist.

But it’s exactly the conception of the gospel, which Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI explicitly condemned as utterly incompatible with the Catholic faith. And one of the reasons for it, and I’ll, just to wrap this particular point up and tie it into what we were saying a moment ago, one of the reasons for it is that as then Cardinal Ratzinger emphasized, liberation theology tends to be radically irrational in its methodology, does not want to meet other human beings as fellow creatures to have a dialogue with. But as simply it dismisses out of hand any disagreement as somehow inherently a mask of oppression.

And that attitude is one that’s not compatible with the Catholic conception of human beings as rational animals who need to engage one another, rational creatures who need to engage one another at the level of reason not force.

Cy Kellett:

So then you have a section on social science against critical race theory. Why? Why did you want to turn to the social sciences here?

Edward Feser:

Well, the reason for that, and I address a number of issues in that context, but the reason for that is that critical race theory makes claims that on the surface at least seem to be social scientific claims. And if you’re going to say that these inequities exist and these inequities are manifestations of racism, that sounds like a causal claim. It sounds like a claim that there’s some sort of racist activity or racist policy that has generated such and such inequities. And there’s no other explanation for that. As I show in the book, they give no evidence for that. It’s not actually an empirically supported claim. It’s just a dogmatic kind of strange metaphysical claim. They just define racism in such a way that any inequity that they dislike counts as racist. It doesn’t really go any deeper than that. So that’s why in the book I address, well, if you’re looking at these things from an actual social or scientific perspective, are there alternative explanations?

And of course there are. And I note the ways in which social scientists would attribute certain economic outcomes to differences in culture. Some of them have to do with the breakdown of family structure. I also note the ways in which there are social scientific problems, and particular since psychology is a social science, psychological problems with the methodology by which critical race theory tends to get people to try to look at these social issues. As I note there, if you… And this is not a point original with me, others have made this point that if you look at what cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, describes as destructive habits of mind, paranoia, mind reading, that is to say attributing to others negative motivations in a way that goes well beyond the evidence and so forth, negative filtering, which involves only seeing evidence of a negative sort and not looking at positive disconfirming evidence and so forth, you find that these bad habits of mind, which can degenerate neurosis, anxieties, depression, and so forth.

And cognitive behavioral therapists will tell their patients, “Look, you need to wean yourself out of these bad habits of mine because they’re generating anxiety and depression.” But critical race theory actually fosters these habits of mind. It fosters this very paranoid, negative bitter view of the world that sees racism everywhere, even in what most people regard as perfectly innocuous behaviors. So you have, for example, this idea of microaggressions in critical race theory, which are supposedly acts of racism that are so subtle that even those who commit them are not aware they’re doing it. And examples would be if somebody passes a jogger of another race and doesn’t smile, that’s a microaggression that stems from some kind of deeply unnoticed racism.

Now if you look at the world that way, or in terms of the idea of implicit bias, this is another buzzword that biases that run so deep that even people who think of themselves as being hostile racism don’t realize they’re harboring these so-called racist biases. If you look at the world that way, if you start thinking that everybody around you is harboring implicit biases against you, everyone around you is… If someone’s a little bit rude to you, they’re having a bad day, that’s really a microaggression. They’re racist and they hate you, they’re hostile to you. They want to exclude you from society, of course you’re going to be miserable. You’re going to see racism everywhere. And it’s a recipe for divisiveness and hostility rather than reconciliation. But it’s also a recipe for bad mental health.

Cy Kellett:

So now we come to the heart of the matter more towards the end of the book, which is kind of just what you promised, a Catholic critique of racism and critical race theory. Does Catholicism have an answer to racism?

Edward Feser:

Well, Catholicism does have an answer to racism, and it’s the answer it has to every moral problem. And that is the reformation of the individual human soul through grace, through repentance, through conversion. It’s the same thing as what we need to remedy addictions, to remedy the sins we fall into, whether they’re adultery or theft or what have you. Racism isn’t some special sin that’s like the super sin that somehow requires some greater political remedy than others. It’s the same as these other sins. The remedy is repentance and penance and the conversion to the Catholic faith and so forth. But critical race theory not only is not a remedy, it exacerbates it. And one of the points I make in the book is that what you find in Catholic social teaching is among other things, a deep and principle opposition to the idea that the social order is made up of groups that are inherently hostile to one another.

It’s by no means the only, but it’s one of the key criticisms that the church raised against Marxism because the Marxist idea is that all of human history is really a conflict between mutually opposed, inherently opposed economic classes. And the church says, “No, this is a perverse way of looking at the social order.” The conflicts that exist in the social order are conflicts between parts that ought to be in harmony, just like the parts of the body are in harmony so that no social class or group is of its very nature at odds with another. So this was one of the reasons why, again, the church condemned the Marxist view, the Marxist analysis of human social relations as somehow a war of inherently opposed classes. But that condemnation can hardly apply any less to the idea that society is made up of inherently hostile races or ethnic groups.

But that’s precisely one of the central themes of critical race theory that the white race, that whiteness to use the jargon is of its very nature, hostile to every other race, of its very nature, it’s inherently racist. It’s inherently anti-black as people like Robin de Angelo claim. So that you have this model of social relations and analysis of social problems that’s essentially like the Marxist analysis, but it replaces the concept of race for the concept of class. And I know it’s people, they resort much too quickly, especially on social media to Nazi comparisons. But you can’t blame the messenger because if you look at critical race theory and you’re looking for some ideological parallel to it, the closest parallel is not actually Marxism, it’s actually national socialism. Because where are you going to find in the history of the last 100 years or so, an ideology that says that there’s one racial group that is somehow inherently of its very nature, oppressive and makes war on all the others and is a kind of cancer to the rest of society. You find that in Nazi ideology, that’s what was said about the Jewish people.

But if you take the works of critical race theory and you replace references to whiteness and white supremacy and white privilege and so forth with references to Jewishness and Jewry and all this kind of thing, it would sound exactly like a piece of national socialist propaganda. And again, don’t blame me. I mean, you just read this stuff and replace it, you’ll see that’s exactly what you get.

Cy Kellett:

So Pius XI critique of Nazism comes down to this. It’s a racist ideology and you can’t be a Christian and hold a racist ideology. So it does sound like what you’re saying is that critical race theory is a racist ideology.

Edward Feser:

It is. It is a racist ideology. It’s opposed to racism except the kind of racism that it’s pedaling, which is basically anti-white racism. And it posits again that there’s this inherent… It doesn’t say that it doesn’t posit a sort of natural harmony between groups that it wants to restore. It pauses that there’s something in the very nature of so-called whiteness that makes it inherently hostile to other races. Well, that’s no different than the Marxist idea that one class is inherently at odds with others. It’s replaced economic class with the notion of race. And so if the one is explicitly contrary to Catholic social teaching, so too is the other.

Cy Kellett:

So I have to say, I am convinced by your assertion that critical race theory makes racism worse. It exacerbates the problem. And I think it’s for a whole variety of reasons that it does that. And that may even be what it is designed to do, that the claims of anti-racism are a cover for a desire to see greater racial strife. I think that is in fact quite likely given the disposition of some of what’s said in these books. All of that being said, that does seem to me that we’re used to this in Christianity, for example, when we have talked for centuries and centuries about the traps of sin and if racism is a sin, it’s also a trap. And traps are really hard to get out of. And among the ways that you get trapped into sin is you get convinced that the way out, for example, the sin of lust, we even have a German theologian saying this week that the way to deal with that is essentially through the use of lots of pornography and masturbation, because that reduces lust.

So you just dig yourself deeper into the sin in order to overcome the sin. That does seem to me analogous to what is being claimed here, that the way out of racism is to intensify racism. So that’s why I wanted to ask you about what the Catholic Church’s prescription is. And it does seem now so intractable, this, especially here in the United States, this racial strife, this racial mutual suspicion, all of that. Where do you find hope in this? I mean, what’s the hopeful way out?

Edward Feser:

Well, I think your analogy is an interesting one. And if someone’s struggling with sexual sins, the last thing they need to do is to obsess over sexuality. Stop thinking about it constantly, stop talking about it constantly and move on to something else, something more healthy. Sort of wallowing in it is a recipe for making the problem worse. Now, I think there is actually a parallel here with racism, and part of the reason that the racial strife only seems to get worse rather than better, is people keep talking about it and going on and on and on and on and on as if everything boiled down to racism. And that’s the central thesis of critical race theory, that everything somehow boils down to the oppression of the white supremacist and so forth. So naturally, if you have this ideology that tells you it’s everywhere, you’re going to start seeing it everywhere, including where it isn’t, and you’re going to become angry, you’re going to become bitter, you’re going to become divisive.

And what happens is, if you’re going to take this position that somehow whiteness is of its very nature oppressive, it’s very nature, it’s evil and it’s an identity that every white person must come to own up to and then feel guilt about, what you’re doing is, I mean, this is a recipe for increased white identity rather than less. You’re going to get people who think, “If you’re going to call me, if you’re going to tell me that I and my children and my family we’re all racist,” and so forth, and we’re part of this identity that is inherently oppressive, you’re going to get some people who embrace that identity and then they’re going to turn the tables and say, “Okay, if you want to call me a racist, then I’ll be one right? If you’re going to say that races are inherently at odds, then I’ll pick mine and let’s go to war.”

It’s a recipe for increasing this sort of racial identity and sense of grievance on the part of all groups, including whites. So ironically, critical race theories actually much more likely to increase racism among whites than to decrease it. Because when you tell people, “they’re evil, they’re wicked, they’re guilty, they’re scum,” and so forth, there’s going to be a kind of defensiveness and a tendency to kind of, “Well, you’re saying this about my group, so you’re going to increase group identity.” And you mentioned that maybe this is precisely the point. I think it is in part just as in Marxism, there was this tendency to try to heighten the oppositions between the allegedly inherently opposed forces society to foment revolution. I think some of that’s going on.

I think some of these writers know what they’re doing. They know they’re increasing divisiveness and tension, and that’s for them a feature, not a bug. I think with some of it though, it’s not even… I mean that, it’s not even as planned out as that. It’s just people who are angry and venting and they don’t really have any sort of end game in mind. There’s a certain kind of mindset that just wants to tear down and do dirt on things rather than promote some kind of constructive vision. So I think it’s a mishmash. I think you get both sorts of mentality within the larger movement.

Cy Kellett:

We want a world that we don’t have at the moment. And we know that the horizon of this world is not the ultimate horizon, but we still, within the horizon of this world, we could have a place where, for example, I always think of this image of the young Black man or young Black woman who actually feels uncomfortable in their own society. And some of that is probably coming from this heightened sense of being aware of something that might not be there. But also it is there in a lot of places. So I suppose the vision, the Christian vision would be one where that young man or that young woman feels welcome, loved, valued by American society, by the churches, by schools and all of that. Do you have hope that we could get to that point where the current state of affairs can be overcome, at least to that degree in this world?

Edward Feser:

I have hope insofar as I have hope in for a moral reformation in general. But I think it can come only as a result of a kind of re-evangelization and an awareness among Catholics that the most important thing on this issue as every other, is to get people to repent and accept the gospel. It’s the great commission. And once you do that, these other problems tend to take care of themselves because you start living by the teaching of the church, the teaching of the gospel and so forth, which includes treating human beings decently. And it doesn’t require some special focus or emphasis constantly on race and it’s not going to come primarily by political action. I’m not saying there’s no political action that’s appropriate and so forth, but at the end of the day, the social problems we have stem from sin. They stem from the fact that people, they lie, they cheat, they commit adultery, they’re not faithful to their spouses, they’re not doing right by their wives and children.

They’re not doing right by their husbands, they’re not doing right by their friends. This is true of everybody, of every race. And the church has always understood that the foundation of the social order is the health of the family and the health of local communities, churches, and so on and so forth. There are things that could be done at higher social levels, but all of that’s going to be in vain if the basic cell of society, the family, is not healthy. And so the focus ought to be on that. It ought to be on issues that too many Catholics and churchmen do not want to talk about. And it’s because we have not been talking about them that we’re in this bizarre situation right now where even the objective difference between men and women is denied. And if you insist on it, you’re called a bigot and transphobic and all this kind of stuff.

And so the preconditions of a healthy social order, which is the health of the family, are being attacked more than they ever have been in the history of human civilization. And as long as that’s the case, every other social problem is going to be exacerbated as a result. If the cell of all of human society is not healthy, namely the family, nothing else is going to be healthy. So this is one of many areas in which the emphasis needs to be on Christian morality and the rest of the problems in the social order will take care of themselves as a byproduct of that. I’m not saying exclusively from that, but that has to be the emphasis, that has to be the focus, repentance and penance and moral reform on the part of individuals of every race.

Cy Kellett:

Dr. Edward Feser, thank you very much. The book is All One in Christ, a Catholic Critique of Racism and critical Race Theory. As I was telling you before we started this interview, I was a little intimidated to start reading it because you’re a renowned philosopher and I’ve actually read some of your philosophy and you’ve written academic papers that hurt my brain a little bit, but this didn’t hurt my brain at all. This is quite accessible and it’s got a wonderful bit of history in it. A kind of review of Catholic history in regard to racism. Very, very helpful, but quite a readable book. Anybody can pick this up and benefit from it, I think, and reading it, I think, will be a benefit to everyone. So thank you very much and congratulations on the new book.

Edward Feser:

Thank you. Appreciate it.

Cy Kellett:

And thank you for joining us. If you’d like to send us a comment, send it to [email protected] That’s our email address, [email protected] You can maybe send an idea for a future episode, maybe you have something you’d like more information or you want to criticize us about this episode. We’d love getting those because that allows us to project into the future how we can do better next time. Maybe you know, “Cy, you misspoke when you said this or that.” Fine, whatever. Whatever you got, we’d love to receive it. [email protected] If you’d like to support us financially, you can do that by going to givecatholic.com. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make this podcast, but it takes some. And so if you’ve got a little bit you want to share with us, givecatholic.com.

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