Note: The full review is now published.
Recently on Twitter, a Ph.D. student at a Southern Baptist seminary threw shade at Voddie Baucham’s upcoming book Fault Lines for many flaws such as “commitment to innuendo,” riling up a “populist mob,” and lacking integrity. He went so far as to criticize Baucham and his publisher for misspelling J.D. Greear’s name and “linking to the worst kinds of discernment bloggers” because “there’s money to be made.” I’m not going to give his academic snobbery the honor of a link or name drop. For what it’s worth, I have a PDF of Fault Lines (obtained at my own cost), and it’s clear that my copy is different from that of the Ph.D. student. J.D. Greear’s name is spelled correctly, the look of the page is different, and the footnote number that links to a discernment blogger (dun dun dun) per the student’s screenshot is different than what I have in my PDF copy. As it turns out, there’s this thing called an editing process where typographical errors get detected. I still found a few astounding typographical errors myself, such as replacing two hyphens in a YouTube URL with an em-dash and not capitalizing “Accordance,” a Bible software product. Both of these were in footnotes. Scandalous!
I have read 100 pages of Fault Lines so far, and I almost certainly will be endorsing it later on when I finish it. At this juncture, I’d like to do a little style nitpicking of my own. Put simply, it’s time to capitalize the word “Antiracism.”
Like That Kind of Cult?
As he opens the fourth chapter of Fault Lines, Baucham conveys his personal story of being a new believer and meeting a couple of cult members at his front door. After meeting them and feeling like they seemed “off,” he consulted with a couple of his mentors.
When I described my visitors, Max and Brent looked at each other, smiled, then turned to me and asked, “Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses?”
I had no idea what they were talking about. “How am I supposed to know?” I asked in all sincerity.
“Did they have name tags that identified them as ‘Elder So-and-So’?” Max asked.
I told him I hadn’t seen any name tags. They looked at each other again and said in unison, “They were Jehovah’s Witnesses!” and proceeded to warn me about the cultic theology of the JWs. I was astonished! I was also a bit disturbed. How many cults are there? How will I know them? Am I a part of one? [emphasis original]
He conveys how this experience drove him into studying theology deeply. And then, given the topic of this book, he drops the hammer.
That same passion has driven me to explore, analyze, and warn against yet another cult: the cult of antiracism.
Baucham doesn’t leave this parallel between Antiracism and Jehovah’s Witnesses empty; he goes on to explain that Antiracism has its own cosmology, original sin, law, gospel, martyrs, priests, means of atonement, new birth, liturgy, canon, theologians, and catechism. I’ll save explaining this in full for my review and to stay on topic here.
Proper or Common Noun?
Baucham himself is not the first to call Antiracism a religion. The first author he observed do so was John McWhorter, a linguist and professor at Columbia University. One of McWhorter’s writings which Baucham cites is entitled “Antiracism: Our Flawed New Religion.” He opens by explaining an old anthropology article from 1956 that satirically explains a people called the “Nacirema” (“American” spelled backward) as if anthropologists in lab coats were examining such a society from an academic distance.
Did I lose you there? If I did, just pretend that “Nacirema” in the following quote says “Americans.”
Speaking, then, about the anthropologist-observed United States, McWhorter then illustrates:
These days, there is something else about the Nacirema [Americans]—they have developed a new religion. That religion is antiracism. Of course, most consider antiracism a position, or evidence of morality. However, in 2015, among educated Americans especially, Antiracism—it seriously merits capitalization at this point—is now what any naïve, unbiased anthropologist would describe as a new and increasingly dominant religion. It is what we worship, as sincerely and fervently as many worship God and Jesus and, among most Blue State Americans, more so. [emphasis mine]
McWhorter goes on to explain, from his own atheistic standpoint, why Antiracism is a religion, and he capitalizes the term throughout the remainder of the piece. Though revealing his low view of Christian apologetics—”‘Why does God allow such terrible things to happen?’ Well, because we have free will … and it’s complicated but really, just have faith.”—he and Baucham both point out how tenets of Antiracism parallel tenets of religion.
Despite this, Baucham does not capitalize “antiracism” throughout Fault Lines despite capitalizing other proper terms such as Critical Social Justice and Critical Race Theory. I think it would have been helpful to do so, and I think Christians who are concerned about Antiracism should adopt this convention in our own writings on the subject.
Reverse the Rhetoric
Because Antiracism is a definable ideology and new religion, rightly capitalizing it as a proper noun deprives Antiracism of its by-design rhetorical underpinning. In the language of Antiracism, simply being not racist is not enough. Baucham quotes:
“What’s the problem with being ‘not racist’?” asks [Ibram X.] Kendi in How to Be an Antiracist. “It is a claim that signifies neutrality: ‘I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.’ But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’”
If you’re not antiracist, and it’s not enough to be “not racist,” then you’re just racist. Here, Baucham is stuck using “antiracist” in the lower case because he’s quoting Ibram X. Kendi. But if you’re not Antiracist, then you’re…something else. By using Antiracist and Antiracism as proper nouns, we establish that Antiracism is a definable ideology rather than a common descriptor whose opposite is “racist.” And merely not adhering to that ideology doesn’t make one the grammatical antonym of the chosen name.
Clarity for Readers
If we were to grant that God’s name is Jehovah, capitalizing the “Witnesses” in “Jehovah’s Witnesses” has a bigger point than following typical English style or any particular style guide. For our purposes, capitalizing Jehovah’s Witnesses serves not to give the group honor but rather to point out that this is simply the name they have chosen for themselves. You might find it awkward if you wrote for a blog whose style guide mandates you write about “Jehovah’s witnesses” because “They’re not Jehovah’s witnesses!” It makes far more sense to the reader’s eye to write:
- “Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t Jehovah’s witnesses.”
- “Christian Science is neither Christian nor science.“
Simply by capitalizing Antiracism as a proper noun, a definable ideology, we now have:
- “The Antiracists aren’t anti-racist.”
Using antiracism and antiracist as common nouns creates problems for the writer. Twelve times in Fault Lines, Baucham uses the term “cult of antiracism” or “antiracism cult.” So long as we’re maintaining that Antiracism is a cult in an equal sense as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, any reader might find it annoyingly pejorative for a writer to repeat “the cult of Jehovah’s Witnesses”…”the cult of Watchtower”…”the Witnesses cult” throughout a book. When the claim is established and is being substantiated with hard evidence, which Baucham does, the proper noun will do.
A Review Preview
So far, Baucham has done more for me than anyone else to explain the Antiracist ideology. If you remember the list of needed religious tenets from earlier, here’s how Baucham lists them out:
This new cult has created a new lexicon that has served as scaffolding to support what has become an entire body of divinity. In the same manner, this new body of divinity comes complete with its own cosmology (CT/CRT/I); original sin (racism); law (antiracism); gospel (racial reconciliation); martyrs (Saints Trayvon, Mike, George, Breonna, etc.); priests (oppressed minorities); means of atonement (reparations); new birth (wokeness); liturgy (lament); canon (CSJ social science); theologians (DiAngelo, Kendi, Brown, Crenshaw, MacIntosh, etc.); and catechism (“say their names”).
Baucham owes Antiracism no honor, and he’s certainly not alone in not capitalizing its name. But I propose that John McWhorter is correct on this point and the rest of us ought to follow suit.
See you in the full review.
5 minutes of my life I won’t get back. You read 100 pages and your take away is a word should be capitalized??
Hi, John. This was a preview, not review, of the book. The full review is out now. Thanks for reading. 🙂