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Friday, March 22, 2019

The End of Identity Politics

The End of Identity Politics

That title suggests both the place where identity politics will end up—in the slaughter of other identity groups—and (hopefully) the beginning of the end of this chapter in political history. It’s no secret that the New Zealand terrorist (who will deliberately go unnamed) was driven in large part by identity politics. In his case, he was trying to protect his white Christian identity. Other cases across the globe have seen actors violently defend their identity as Muslims or Hindus or French or black or gendered or whatever identity. Many are having an increasingly hard time seeing how this—identity politics—is furthering the human project. This edition of the GR is, for better or worse, a selection of the articles I have found most interesting and/or persuasive lately on this one theme.
No Hate Left Behind” is by New York Times columnist Thomas Edsall (HT to GR reader Eric H). Edsall marshals a great deal of contemporary research that shows how “we” (however we define ourselves) find “them” not just mistaken but actually evil and worthy of, well, extermination.
In “A Perpetual War of Identities, ” Frank Furedi (author of How Fear Works: the Culture of Fear in the 21st Century—one of many books on my to-read pile) argues that “Identity politics is divisive, destructive and anti-human. It must be confronted.”
Moral Zealotry and the Seductive Nature of Evil” in Quillete reminds us that evil is rarely done in the name of evil but only by people who believe they are doing good. Like defending the rights of their class, party, identity, race, religion, or whatever.
In “Against Identity Politics: The New Tribalism and the Crisis of Democracy” Francis Fukuyama, one of the most insightful political scientists (in my view, anyway. I’ve pointed to him before), describes the psychological attraction of identity politics—the yearning for dignity. He concludes: “People will never stop thinking about themselves and their societies in identity terms. But people’s identities are neither fixed nor necessarily given by birth. Identity can be used to divide, but it can also be used to unify. That, in the end, will be the remedy for the populist politics of the present.”
What will unify a multicultural nation, of course, cannot be identity politics as it is presently conceived. It has to transcend the numerically smaller identities of which our nation is made, toward an identity that can bring us together. In the church, that unifying force is a person, Jesus Christ, who insists that all our favored identities (even our blood families!) must be “hated” (Luke 14:26) so that he can be properly loved; only in this way can the genuine unity of humankind can be found (Gal 3:16). But what can bring us together as nations—that is the challenge of the 21st century.
Step One: Repentance
What I like especially about “Moral Zealotry and the Seductive Nature of Evil” above was this line in particular:
The moral of the story is not that we should “call out” our political opponents for their zealotry. This is certain to be rhetorically ineffective. Your interlocutor will say, with justification, that you are begging the question and that if you really understood the issue, you’d see the rightness of his response. The point is rather that we should be watchful. We should on occasion ask ourselves: “What wouldn’t I do in the service of my favorite cause?”
That insight goes hand in hand with a piece by Hans Boersma whose theme is: “Repentance depends on memory. Thus, memorization is a Lenten practice, a repentant turning back to the memory of God. The link between memory and character formation was recognized long ago.” Thus we are prompted not only to a new spiritual discipline—memorization of Scripture especially—but to the core spiritual practice of repentance. (In my case, having hostile feelings toward identity politics extremists!)
Grace and peace,

Mark GalliMark Galli
Mark Galli
Editor-in-Chief, Christianity Today

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