Recent events have found two members of the Traditionalist Youth Network caught in a scandal with the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Church, and it would seem that no amount of kowtowing will appease the Church leadership. Nothing but completely renouncing any allegiance or loyalty to identity will appease the Church in this case. The Church is wrong with their current ruling on the matter, and you don’t need to be a theologian to see why.
Each of us have a bundle and mass of experiences that have defined us as people and guide our actions, choices, and lifestyle habits. Our individual concept of race and identity is one of these experiences, and it is no less important than our concept of family, religion, and community. What we experience of these things lasts forever even if we stop thinking about it after the moment in which it is actively affecting us.
We talk about the church sermon from last week, a dinner with friends, or the family reunion as if they had happened only just yesterday, but in actuality happened a week or even a year ago. Whether or not it happened happened a day or a year ago doesn’t change the fact that those experiences still guide you in some way. You can’t rightly say that you’re still at the family reunion and sitting across the table from your brothers and sisters, but you can rightly say that you continue to experience it in some way. The same is true of our lived experiences related to race and identity.
I am what is contemporarily defined as being White, and my identity is the product of experiences and teachings that are also contemporarily referred to as being White. Even if I decide that there is no such thing as the White race there are still qualities and peculiarities that are unique to myself and the people of whom I am a product of. My identity is the product of a confluence of experiences, and I cannot disregard these things.
“Feeling White” isn’t something that I do 24/7-365. I don’t roll out of bed in the morning after dreaming of an utopian White Fatherland and say, “holy hell I love being White!” What I experience as a White person is not a constant and unbroken stream of experiences. If the entirety of our experience was a single and unbroken stream of stimulus then we really could eat White, sleep White, think White, act White, dream White! How does a person “eat White”?– with a fork and knife, obviously, but let’s not get wound up over how White people are supposed to eat. However, this poses an interesting problem. How do we individuate the series of experiences that guide and mould us as persons with a racial and tribal identity?
The easiest solution would be to not individuate any experience and instead just refer to every stimulus as being from one agent, God. The second option is to count the stimulus as exceptional and singular. These both sound like strange options, but we’re already doing it, and the reason is more obvious than you think.
We refer to the world of stimulus as being collective and whole when we say, “That’s life”, alternately we individuate experiences into singular and indivisible units when we say “I remember the time that …. “. My guess is that since the powers of human cognition are limited in some way we are forced to lump all of our experiences together for the sake of convenience, and then we ferret out single experiences as we need them to remind ourselves of something important. That is how we never stop being affected by an experience or a stimulus.
Here’s another example for how we never stop experiencing something: Do you remember a time that you grabbed a hot cast iron pan from the stove top? It probably hurt like hell, burned your hand, and made a red swollen blister on your palm. You never really stop experiencing the pain of the burn even though your hand has long since healed, and as a consequence you know why it’s important to always use a hot-mitt when using cast iron cookware. After the experience has served its immediate usefulness you file it away into your massive fishbowl of other experiences so that you don’t have to experience the pain of a burned hand for all time.
The ways that White people observe their identity and religion are not much different in these regards. As with any group of people, the manner in which we exercise our cultural identity and religious rituals is unique and creates experiences that we use to make choices. These experiences are then stored away after the initial moment of occurrence and we then recall these experiences when we need them. One such instance that we recall our values and identity was when we counter-demonstrated a Slut Walk event in defense of modesty and restraint.
The only way we ever really stop experiencing something is to forget about it, and that is when an experience is no longer capable of guiding our decisions or forming our identity. The worst option is to pretend like our lived experiences never happened, and that is exactly what the Antiochian Orthodox Church has asked Heimbach and Parrott to do. Our raced experiences shape us, mould us, and guide us in everything that we do, and our political and religious activism is no exception. Thus, ignorance is to grab the hot pan with your left hand while your right hand is still red and blistered from trying to grab the same pan only moments before.
But, how does any of this relate to the Antiochian Church scandal?
We recognize that we are members of a diaspora of European peoples, and our lifestyles, values, and religious sensibilities reflect that reality in many ways. Whether or not it was our demonstration against Slut Walk that brought the Antiochian Orthodox Church to conflict with us is a moot point. Our customs and identity are experiences that we recall as needed to guide our choices and those of others when trouble arises, and the Church refuses to allow Parrott and Heimbach to use those experiences. The Church is essentially asking them both to live in ignorance of everything that has made them who and what they are.
I am most definitely not a theologian, but I don’t need to be one to know that the Antiochian Church’s decision is flat wrong.
Parrott and Heimbach have been powerful voices for the White Nationalist movement, and it is because the two will not cease calling up their defining experiences that they are being denied communion. Heimbach seems willing to play the Church’s game as long as it takes, so I wonder if the American Antiochian Church community has the mettle to keep pace.
Philosophical Reflections on Theological Problems by Thomas Buhls is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.