Although I chose the word ‘anti-racism’ for the title of this post, the phenomenon being addressed is far broader. I’m referring to the tendency of moderns, especially liberals, to talk about race, nationality, family, sex, etc. as ‘biological accidents’, somehow separate from our true natures. ‘I just happen to be white.’ ‘I just happen to be a man.’
I find this attitude bizarre. It is not rooted in, nor is it compatible with, Orthodox Christian, or even ‘orthodox’ Catholic or Protestant, theology. Nor does it make the slightest sense in a materialist framework. The reason it is incompatible with these it the fact that the underlying assumption behind this idea is that your real identity is separate from or prior to those aspects of yourself that result from the circumstances of your conception and birth.
From a materialist perspective, this is trivially false. I bring up the materialist perspective only because the position I critique is characteristic of the nominally materialist left. Anyway, from their perspective, it is clear that you don’t exist prior to being conceived, and that your identity is largely if not entirely a product of your genetics and environment. It’s true that those things are ‘accidental’ in the sense that you didn’t choose them, but they’re not ‘accidental’ in the philosophical sense; they are essential to your nature. It is an ‘accident’ that Mt. Everest is not a goldfish?
This view is also prevalent among mainstream Protestants, evangelicals, Catholics, and probably the Orthodox too. For them it makes no more sense than for the materialist. Like the materialist, traditional Christians (and even most questionably traditional ‘Christians’) do not consider the soul to pre-exist the body, but rather believe they both come into being together.
In other words, your identity is not, logically or temporally, prior to the circumstances of your conception, to your family, race, nation, or sex.
The pervasiveness of this assumption can be seen every time someone asks you a question like ‘Would you still oppose women’s suffrage if you were a woman?’
The question, of course, is absurd. I am a man. I am not a woman. I cannot conceive of a world in which I am a woman. I can conceive of a world in which my parents had a daughter and she was born around the same time I was in this world, and I can conceive that in that world I do not exist. But that does not make this woman identical to me. I am not prior to my maleness.
Now, I can, in a sense, step outside of myself, and try to determine what is good from a woman’s perspective, and thus say what actual rational women would/should do. But in no sense is this what ‘I’ would do ‘if I were a woman’. The hypothetical ‘if ARH were a woman’ is as meaningless as the hypothetical ‘if Mt. Everest were a goldfish’.
There, is, however, a philosophy, or a theology, whichever you prefer (as I hold that the difference between them is in the method rather than in the actual beliefs they hold), that allows this question to make sense. In fact, there are two families of them.
The first family consists of all those philosophies believing in the pre-existence of the soul; the idea that somehow, your soul existed before your body, or at least prior to being placed in your body, and that therefore all your ‘bodily’ characteristics, like race, family, nation, sex, etc. are mere ‘surface traits’ that don’t have any necessary bearing on your identity. Such ideas are prevalent in Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, through the concept of reincarnation, and have found new life in the last few centuries in America under the name of Mormonism.
The second family consists of those philosophies that need not say the soul pre-exists the body per se, but do believe in a radical separation of the two.
In Christendom, such ideas have historically been denounced as heresies, in particular under the name of Gnosticism, some schools of which, at least (such as the Antinomian) believed in pre-existence, but all of which believed in a radical separation and opposition of the spiritual and material, and the name of Origenism. (The radical separationist tendencies of this movement also call to mind Docetism, which taught that Our Lord did not have a true human body, and Nestorianism, which separated His Divine and human natures to the point where they could be talked about as two persons). And in tradtional Christian circles, such ideas are still considered heretical.
But there are two problems: First, we live in a society that thinks it’s cool to be a heretic. Traditional authority, especially the Church, is despised, and as such, holding heretical opinions is a marker of high status.
The bigger problem, though, as I see it, is what I call insidious heresy. This is a phenomenon whose cause I’m not ready to make proclamations about, though I have my suspicions. What I do know is that it exists, and what it looks like.
Essentially, insidious heresy is the phenomenon whereby professing Christians, if directly asked, confess traditional doctrine, but when not explicitly thinking about the doctrine in question, behave as though heresy were true. The ‘accidentalisation’ of race, family, and sex is an obvious example of this, but there are others. A common, and related, one, is for Protestants who officially believe in the bodily resurrection to talk as though they will live eternally as disembodied spirits in heaven.
We are so surrounded by heresy that even those of us who confess the Orthodox Faith can be infected by it. We can think in heretical patterns while uttering Orthodox formulas. We can, essentially, have a heretical phronema.
The treatment of one’s ethnic, racial, familial, or sexual characteristics as accidental is one aspect of this insidious heresy. It must be combated. Traditional Christianity, especially Orthodoxy, does not separate the mind and body too much. They are different, but complementary. They’re meant to be together; a human being needs both. You’re not a soul trapped in a body that happens to be white, or black, or Asian, or male, or female. You are those things, and that matters. Don’t fall prey to insidious heresy.
–The Avenging Red Hand