Religious Faith and the Village Atheists

LeoCasey at LeoCasey at
Sat Nov 4 12:13:09 MST 1995

I have avoided this topic, if only because the approach to Marxism often put
forward by a few on our list is one of dogmatic faith in a secular religion,
so sectarian in style that the comments which follow will be considered to be
a form of apostasy, and attacked as such. But as a someone who was born into
a Catholic Church which I long ago left because of its willful complicity in
the oppression of women and lesbians and gay men, and who will go his grave
an agnostoc, I am not particularly cowed by charges of heresy from any
quarter. And now that we have a full fledged Jesuit on the list, perhaps it
is time to break this taboo.

The vulgar approach to questions of religious faith on this list was most
recently exemplified by Rakesh's proposition that Adolph Reed did indeed have
a critique of Cornel West ideas, even if one could not find in that infamous
Village Voice article. This critique, we were told, was to be found in Reed's
book on Jesse Jackson, where he spoke of the need of a secular political
discourse that would replace religious inspired political discourse in the
African-American community, and where he connected religious inspired
discourse to a charismatic politics of personality. Now, let us assume, for
purpose of the argument, that Reed was correct in identifying Jackson's
politics as one in which religious rhetoric and vision were mobilized on
behalf of a charismatic politics of personality, and that this politics has
real limits. (I would also insist -- contra Reed -- that it had certain
strengths, and that for a time, Jackson's presidential campaigns were one of
the few mainstream manifestations of a progressive coalition politics, but
that is another issue for another day.) What allows someone to transfer this
critique to Cornel West, other than the fact that both Jackson and West
profess a Christian faith and base that faith on roots in the
African-American religious tradition? What in West's theology and political
philosophy, both of which are adamant in their dedication to radical, grass
roots democracy (someone might actually try reading his texts), come anywhere
the celebration of a charismatic (and thus necessarily, at least partially
anti-democratic) politics of personality? What allows us to collapse all
expressions of African-American religious faith into one homogeneous
political model? Upon just a little reflection, it becomes clear that this is
not even the semblance of a serious argument against West, but the
unsupported assertion that a profession of religious faith is, by itself,
illegitimate in a liberatory politics. Such an assertion can only be
sustained when one starts from a contrary, competing faith in atheism, a
faith that needs no logical argumentation.

Now at least exponents of liberation theology, which are many and diverse and
include West (but not Jackson),  know when they are engaging in expressions
of faith. Would that the same could be said about those critics, the
reflexive village atheists, who choose to remain blind to their own articles
of faith, and out of that dogmatic myopia, believe that the simple assertion
of atheistic faith against religious faith somehow constitute a serious

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