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In conversation with Ed Feser about Race

Updated: Feb 8

In the 1990s it seemed de rigueur to ask the question ‘Which 5 people would you invite to your dream dinner party?’ my answer then would leave me stuck talking with a bunch of 1990’s naval gazers now. Not only would I most certainly swap Morrissey for Ed Feser today, but he would also appear on my list of ‘which 5 people would you bring into battle?’

Whilst Feser looks like he might be handy with a bayonet, I am, of course, talking about the battle of ideas.  Edward Feser is an ideas man, and how! He is that rare beast, an intellectual whose eyes are more open, not less. I am usually with Peter Kreeft who says ‘some ideas are so absurd that you need a Ph.D to believe them’.

One set of absurd ideas that Feser leaves ‘out for the count’ in his book All One in Christ, a Catholic Critique of racism and critical race theory (CRT) are those proposed in CRT.

The murder of George Floyd in 2020 opened up the space for Critical Race Theory, an academic concept developed by theorists such as Derrick Bell and Kimberle Crenshaw, to be energetically promoted in the name of antiracism.  Despite the fact that the UK and the US have a very different history of race relations, this tidal wave swept across the Atlantic and hit Britain with unexpected force.  Unsure how to respond, many Catholic schools turned to programmes rooted in CRT and sent leaflets home to families instructing them how to ensure their children are ‘aware of racial hierarchies and white privilege’.

A number of Catholic schools declared on their websites that they fully support the organisation Black Lives Matter (BLM), despite the fact that the BLM movement had clearly articulated aims to ‘disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure’ and ‘affirm all black lives along the gender spectrum’.  Why is it, I asked Feser, that so many Catholics are drawn to these secular notions when the Church’s teaching against racism is unambiguous, deeply rooted in her theology and has been consistently reiterated in her tradition?

‘With some’ he said ‘it will be because they are already otherwise heterodox, at odds with the Church’s teaching more generally and want to move her in what they regard as a more progressive direction. Others will be otherwise orthodox but want to play up those aspects which can seem to be harmonised with the spirit of the age. They go weak at the knees when faced with the self-confidence of those who don’t feel the need to apologise for everything they believe and can’t seem to find the same strength to take these ideas on, despite having far superior armoury’

His analysis reveals a problem that goes deeper than this one issue.  As congregations shrink across the West it is imperative that Catholics ask themselves some serious questions about whether the choice they make to harmonise with the spirit of the age can end up doing more harm than good. Prof Stephen Bullivant observed, when examining rates of disaffiliation, that ‘Those who only inherit a weak or ‘dead’ strain of Catholicism, which means nothing to them, become inoculated against ever catching the ‘live’ strain’

It is clear that the dangers of offering the weak sauce cooked up on university campus over the fire of love given to us by almighty God are of grave and eternal significance. I ask Feser what can be done; ‘like the New Atheists’ [who he also pummelled] ‘these people are a bunch of loudmouths whose ideas are completely worthless but whose extreme self-confidence intimidates people. We have to stop being intimidated and push back with superior intellectual firepower’.

But we’re Christians I say with a mischievous glint, shouldn’t we be nice? ‘The ultimate consequence of coddling people with this emphasis on feelings and non-offence, talking only of mercy and compassion; avoiding anything hard, is that you make people soft, and you make yourself soft too - it’s a self-reinforcing cycle that would be a surprise to the saints. The more we indulge softness and intellectual flimsiness in others, the more soft and intellectually flimsy we become.  If we can’t stand up to this approach you end up with people totally dominated by their feelings who try to shut down any debate.  Once debate is shut down, truth is locked out; that’s not nice, It destroys souls’ After picking Feser’s mic off the ground I went out more boldly than I had arrived, aware that a more vituperative approach is justified when we realise that the false ideas coming for our young people have more force because of the self-confident rhetoric of the people pushing them.  Yes, everyone is welcome under the big tent, but the ringmaster must be unapologetically clear about what awaits. See the full conversation here:

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Good challenging writing . Like it , thanks

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