Identity Politics and Inherited Collective Guilt

There is a Christian theme that proclaims bad news and good news about the human condition.

The bad news is that every human is born guilty of some sin committed by the first humans. Unless some reparation is made for this original sin by someone or some group suffering the pain required as punishment each and every human will suffer a biological death which is total annihilation. (This total annihilation of a living individual is the fate we implicitly attribute to individual mosquitoes whom we swat.) The bad news continues that no individual human or group of humans is capable of making reparation for this sin although some individual human or group of humans are responsible for making the reparation needed to remove this collective guilt.

The good news is that God became incarnate in the human individual Jesus of Nazareth who as both divine and human made this reparation by suffering a horrible crucifixion death in a judicial lynching. As a result each and every human is freed from the punishment of total annihilation at biological death. Instead each and every human individual will live again after biological death as a type of human individual just as Jesus did when he left his tomb shortly after his execution. However, the good news has a downside. Collective guilt has been removed.

As a result of Jesus’ suffering there is only individual responsibility. People have to make reparation for only their own sins and they have a strong tendency to commit sin because although the collective guilt for original sin has been removed the work of Jesus removed only the guilt but not the tendency in human nature which led to their being an original sin. Now with life after biological death humans can be rewarded or punished for the sins they commit in ordinary life.

I hope this synopsis of a fundamental Christian theme does not seem too glib or superficial. Indeed, as a commited Catholic, I take this theme very seriously. My goal here is only to bring out enough of this theme, which is sometimes called the Paschal Mystery, to highlight two concepts which are sometimes cited as showing that the teaching of the Paschal Mystery uses two primitive moral concepts which ought not be used by anyone who hopes to think rationally about moral issues. These are the concepts of a personal guilt which is inherited by virtue of belonging to a type of human and retributive punishment. (The concept of retributive punishment is the thought that reparation requires in addition to repair of any injury the suffering of some pain by the perpetrator of a wrong.)

I submit that these two allegedly primitive moral concepts are used by many of those who are said to practice identity politics or use so-called intersectionality theory to formulate policies on affirmative action.

See: Anthony S. Layne’s “ Social Justice: The Spiritual Dangers of Intersectionality.” For an excellent synopsis of Intersectionality Theory and how its application corrupts a Christian outlook by encouraging anger, resentment and a vengeful attitude.

I will focus only on allusions to white, English speaking males, in the USA who came from a functional two family with an income at least two times above the poverty level and with at least an average IQ. I certainly belong to such a group. Members of such a group are accurately described as privileged. I think that my privileges give me the responsibility to use these privileges for betterment of the human condition. Also I think that society has some weak responsibility to give me the opportunities for social good.

However, identity politicians, as I understand them, think that somehow my privileges were inappropriately acquired because somehow injustices by remote ancestors of my group brought about a society in which I have my privileges. I am guilty for having my privileges because I am the kind of person who did the wrong they did which led to my having the privileges. I not only do not deserve the privileges I have I am also holding them wrongfully. My guilt is holding them wrongfully.

My point in this post is to cite use of the moral notions of collective guilt and retributive punishment by contemporary groups of fairly sophisticated people as evidence that it is legitimate to use these notions. People still need these notions to express their moral thoughts and sentiments. My not dismissing them as primitive moral notions helps justify Christians using them in attempts to articulate the Paschal Mystery.

However, I am not defending identity politics and Intersectionality Theory. Indeed I intend to make a quick Christian critique of identity politics on their application of inherited collective guilt and retributive punishment for that guilt. What Jesus accomplished in the events of the Paschal Mystery was to remove inherited collective guilt. From a Christian perspective the retributive punishment for original sin or sins has been suffered. From a Christian perspective the concept of an inherited collective guilt born by each member of that collective will never have application again.

Christ made possible the situation that those who think the notion of inherited collective guilt is logically absurd and thereby never has application. But it is not logical absurdity that prevents inherited collective guilt from having application; it in fact never has application because Christ suffered the punishment for it.