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.