Would centuries of oppression be OK if Jesus would only forgive us?

This guy, Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, has a weird take on Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates would be less pessimistic if he weren’t an atheist, and that pessimism, somehow, is a problem.

Coates’s belief that white supremacy is fundamentally woven into the fabric of the United States is built on a larger metaphysical assumption that without the existence of God the entire world bends towards injustice. He points to the egregious history of racial injustice in this country, and the atrocities committed by the Nazis and Soviets, through the books of Judt and Snyder, to prove his point.

The real problem for Coates, then, might ultimately not be white supremacy, but rather the non-existence of God. It is the non-existence of God, according to his argument, that rules out the possibility of any collective redemption not just in the United States, but the world writ large.

Hang on there, Dan. You got an explanation already — there is an “egregious history of racial injustice in this country”. Coates is aware of this history, and it is that history that leads him to understand that white supremacy is part of the fabric of the United States. His atheism is irrelevant to that specific understanding, since, after all, non-atheists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X also came to the same conclusion.

Steinmetz-Jenkins harps on “collective redemption” a lot, without bothering to explain it. I think he means something like a savior washing away the sins of the past; if only we believed in a magical being who magically blessed America and forgave it its deeply rooted bigotry, then the stain of the KKK, of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing, of centuries of slave ships anchoring on our shores, of the extermination of native peoples, of every crime perpetrated in the name of Whiteness, would disappear, and all the neo-nazis would be allowed to dance in heaven, and our healing would begin.

It’s true, I don’t believe in collective redemption either. I think it’s superstitious ju-ju that tries to paper over serious problems with lies, and that we have to spend all of our lives working to atone for our errors…and that the errors never end. That’s not nihilism, though. Our goal, and the virtue of our goal, is in the process of living and working and striving to better ourselves. The myth that there is a “collective redemption”, where the problems of the individual can be eliminated with a snap of the fingers by a single person or single act, is one of the worst notions to come out of Christianity. It’s popular with people who want instantaneous absolution, and are willing to believe a lie that perpetuates the problem, as long as it makes them feel good.


  1. says

    Nothing will change until white people lose the colonial mindset and deep seated belief in manifest destiny, which is another big christian thing, and look where that got us. Christian thought is useless.

  2. dhabecker says

    The priest absolves you of your sin, but if you don’t obey the “and sin no more” part, what has been done other than ease the conscience of the sinner? There is truth in Coates writing which the sinner hates; best find some angle to tear him down…fucking atheist!

  3. says

    …but if you don’t obey the “and sin no more” part, what has been done other than ease the conscience of the sinner?

    You’ve reinforced their attachment to the cult.

    This is why I think the “it makes people feel better” argument is not only wrong, it’s actively harmful. The very fact that religion makes people feel better creates a dependency. You’re now stuck, addicted to it. If you reject the religion, all those bad feelings you’ve been suppressing come back, so you have to stay. It’s quite vicious, really.

    And then there’s the fact that the victims are pressured into forgiveness also. Framing forgiveness as something relating to god, rather than the people you’ve harmed, completely undermines actual human relationships.

  4. anbheal says

    Quick thought experiment. You’re one of the most famous men of the young millennium, you’re married to a supermodel, you make gazillions of dollars, and your mommy has a common disease among rich old white ladies. You disrupt the Sunday night football pre-game to have the whole stadium kneel and pray for your mommy, that she doesn’t die a couple of years earlier than the age that actuarial tables say rich old white ladies should die at. The pre-game is all about your mommy not dying before rich old white ladies are supposed to. The post-game interviews are all about one old white lady not dying. And everybody takes a knee in empathetic support of the right of one old rich white lady not to die just a little bit prematurely. And Tommy’s Mommy’s death or survival is largely an issue no policy could address, except for maybe more research funding, which the diseases of rich old white people have TONS of.

    But when some teammates ask people to care about all their friends and relatives gunned down in their youth by a callous system where policy could be easily adjusted, as in the “rules of engagement” that all military personnel must follow, Tommy Boy stands apart with his hand on his heart, which he never did until this year, and the fans boo. One old rich white lady with a famous son gets the stadium to kneel, thousands of young dead black men dying due to white brutality get the stadium to boo.

    Now does that sound fair? Tommy Boy and New England kneeling for the sake of one old lady with the healthcare 99 percent of us can’t afford, but jeering at the lives of 12 percent of the population whose daily life-and-death struggles no white person has ever suffered from?

    I’m just asking.

  5. anchor says

    “…without the existence of God the entire world bends towards injustice.”

    Hmmm. Seems obvious to me that thousand of years of that dominating infernal belief-in-god tradition has demonstrated to have done an excellent job of ensuring that the world is not only bent but mangled.

  6. gijoel says

    What makes Dan think that people who can’t share their world with people of colour in this life would be willing to share paradise with them in the next? Not that I believe in an afterlife, but it demonstrates my point.

  7. unclefrogy says

    just another deflection, a diversion, anything to keep from addressing the actual point. racism and bigotry
    uncle frogy

  8. taikonotaiko says

    re. collective redemption, the Chick Tracts which I always found most ridiculous are the ones where someone is horrible for their entire life, but repents and accepts Jesus five minutes before death, and gets into heaven. This leads me to think heaven is full of buttholes. Would rather go to hell, in that case! (Theoretically)

    gijoel – Supposedly, in heaven everyone is a formless blob of god-loving white light, so it’s probably white supremacist paradise. :D

  9. says

    Well, yes. People who are guilty absolutely hate the people who point out the guilt. Whistleblowing of any kind is always a worse crime — according to the Powers That Be — than the crimes exposed in the process, in every context, and shooting the messenger is so popular that I can’t believe the NRA doesn’t have a whole division devoted to capitalizing on it. You’re not miserable because you’re in a violently abusive relationship, you’re miserable because that damned therapist got you to notice the abuse!