Misdirected religion and the motives of the “Black Lives Matter” movement

The heresy which this movement now exists to eradicate is the proposition that the inheritance of the West has something to teach us, a terrifying notion for those who do not have the patience to learn and who only possess the impulse to tear down.

A Black Lives Matters protest in Indianapolis, IN. (Image: Hybrid | Unsplash.com)

The late Sir Roger Scruton (1944-2020), perhaps the greatest conservative philosopher of our age (though he often remarked that there was not much competition around), was my mentor. Scruton was my teacher during my Master’s degree and supervised me for my doctorate until his death in January of this year. He and I shared an especial interest in the question of religious feeling and its social role, and spent much time discussing this. It is a particular take of his on this topic I wish to consider here, namely the necessity for religion to be chiefly about concrete things over doctrines and ideas.

For Scruton, religious beliefs were really a private matter. The doctrines to which one truly assented, and how close one was to orthodoxy, was principally one’s own private business. What was not a private matter, and what ought not to be tampered with, was public worship and ritual. The liturgy was the inheritance of the community, and rooted us in a particular place as a particular people, and bestowed upon that community a sense of transcendent purpose it would never possess otherwise:

We instinctively connect the sacred with the transcendental, seeing holy places, times and rituals as windows on to another realm – places in the empirical world where we look out in astonishment at something that we can understand through ritual and prayer, which we try to explain through theological doctrine, but which always in the end eludes our attempts to describe it… Religion is a stance towards the world, rooted in social membership.

As a Catholic, I was never comfortable with the demoted place which Scruton granted religious doctrine. I argued that, though it is true that religion can never be solely about doctrines just as a friendship I enjoy cannot only be about my ideas about my friend, it was nonetheless necessary to have correct ideas about my friend for the friendship to be true. To say that religious doctrines are principally a private matter is comparable to saying that whether I – in the cloister of my own heart – believe truths or falsehoods about my friend does not matter, it will not affect my friendship, and my friend’s friends ought not to mind either.

Scruton’s view of religious doctrine cannot be accounted for merely by reference to his Kantian epistemology, a position which enveloped apparent true knowledge in such a way as to largely exclude metaphysical propositions (though I would suggest that this in fact presupposes certain metaphysical commitments), and definitely excluded any claim to possess revealed religious knowledge. Rather, for Scruton, there was another factor with which I have far greater sympathy, namely that he always believed that religion, once it prioritized ideas, doctrines, or articles of belief, deteriorated into a system of mere abstractions. Religion, in his view, to be a true good, had to be centered on concrete realities: the liturgy, the parish church, the colorful vestments, the local pastor, and the land which such things sought to render sacral. These must form the arena for healthy religious feeling, not a mere system of abstract ideas.

Scruton held that once religious feelings departed from the concrete realities of one’s experience, venturing into a Platonic realm of abstractions deceptively appearing more real than the world to which our senses are privy, those unanchored religious feelings and impulses could easily be transferred onto something else. In Scruton’s view, this was a terrifying prospect: there is ‘nothing more dangerous to the state than the transfer of frustrated religious feeling to petty secular causes.’ If religious feeling, so often characterized by zealousness and fervor, found itself without God as its object, and emancipated itself from the taming channels of the liturgical year, orderly rituals, prescribed prayers, and the watchful community with which one prays, it would wreak havoc.

I do not wish to put words into the mouth of a dead teacher, and I may be wrong, but I suspect this is how Scruton would have analyzed the recent activities of the Black Lives Matter movement. This movement’s most recent manifestation began as a campaign against a particular person (a violent policeman in Minneapolis) or even the ‘systemic racism’ seemingly inseparable from the particular organization of the police force (though Candace Owens has forcefully argued that such a claim does not hold up to scrutiny). This movement has since become a chaotic rallying of zealots whose aggression is aimed at no particular person, organization, or community, but at an abstract idea, the idea of racism. This aggression demonstrates its detachment from reality by finding its only expression in frenzies theatrically directed at inanimate objects, such as old monuments and statues.

One of the proofs that this movement has ceased to be about any concrete reality is its failure to propose anything positive. It does not see itself as contributing, developing, and purifying a settled community and its culture, which certainly possesses features both good and bad. The ‘protesters’ in Bristol, for example, did not arrive with a petition for Edward Colston’s statue to be replaced with one of Mary Prince, William Wilberforce, or Louis Celeste Lecesne. They simply came to destroy. We have seen that this movement will wreck and vandalize, it will call for historical monuments to be taken away, and for words to be prohibited, but it is unable to restore, renew, construct, or create. It is filled only with what Scruton called the ‘power of the negative.’ Observing this movement raging, I have continually called to mind one of Scruton’s oft-repeated aphorisms: ‘conservatism begins with the observation that it is easier to destroy than to build.’

It is the way that Black Lives Matter has manifested itself internationally which causes me to wonder if it actually is about racism at all. Were this movement truly concerned with injustices against people of color, presumably it would be equally concerned with the sort of ‘systemic injustices’ which have led to the deconstruction of the family among black communities, not just in the United States but across the whole world. Surely it would concern itself with the historic and ongoing targeting of the black community by the abortion industry. I presume it would also seek to raise awareness about violence within black communities. Rather than focusing on monuments connected with the historic transatlantic slave trade, an occupation which does not now exist, perhaps it would focus on the existent slave trade operating today on the East African coast, which is as brutal for its victims as it is lucrative for the Arabs who run it. If this movement is so interested in history – which I suppose is a good thing, since historical literacy is at an all-time low – perhaps it would seek to disseminate more information about the slave-based economy of much of the African continent as it was when the European colonizers began to explore it in the latter half of the seventeenth century. Surely the black lives enslaved by Africans mattered just as much as those taken by European slave-traders. Transatlantic slave-traders did not establish slavery in Africa, but took advantage of an already well established African slave trade run by Africans.

Perhaps the members of Black Lives Matter believe that Europeans ought to have known better. If so, I completely agree. They should have known better because they had a whole treasury of wisdom by which to judge the ethics of the situation, from Greek and Roman philosophy to the Justinian Code, from the Common Law tradition to the many papal condemnations of slave-trading since Eugene IV’s 1435 papal bull (Sicut Dudum) condemning Portuguese slave-trading in the Canary Islands. They had centuries of accumulated material to fall back on. They only needed to have a quick read of Francisco de Vitoria to be perfectly clear that what they were doing was evil. And, most importantly, they had the revealed truth of the Christian religion.

Obviously they should have known better. I suspect, however, that with this line of argument I would lose the sympathy of the average Black Lives Matter demonstrator.

Why might such a line of argument be objectionable to the average member of Black Lives Matter? Well, I think it is because this movement, having begun as a response to a concrete event, with an actual person dying by the brutality of another actual person, transformed, as I have said, into a campaign against an idea, the idea of racism; since then, however, it has further transitioned, and now it is about the ‘racist West’ in general. Our entire inheritance must go. Even Stirling’s statue of King Robert the Bruce has been vandalized and spray-painted with the acronym ‘BLM’ (was he racist? toward whom? the English? He was probably born in Essex…).

Everything must be pulled down to get to the ideas – root out those heresies – so that the ‘decolonization of the curriculum’ may begin, for which we have already heard calls. The remedy to our social evils, however, is to attend to that treasury of wisdom, not to scrap it, which would only lead to evils unimaginable. The heresy which this movement now exists to eradicate is the proposition that the inheritance of the West has something to teach us, a terrifying notion for those who do not have the patience to learn and who only possess the impulse to tear down. This is what Scruton really meant by the ‘culture of repudiation’: the frustrated religious impulse directed at an improper object and transposed to a passion where it ought never to be found.

The destructive desire for a utopia, free from history and from received institutions, in which everyone thinks like you and everything is exactly as you would have it, stems from a highly rationalist (and narcissistic) prioritizing of one’s ideas – to which one is fervently committed – over the concrete realities with which one has found oneself in the world. In place of a utopia, which can only belong to the world of ideas (and a very small world that is too), I propose Scrutopia, that world of actual things, from which one dispassionately, patiently, and humbly seeks to learn, sometimes critically, as if at a liturgy.


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About Sebastian Morello 1 Article
Sebastian Morello is a lecturer and formator in London, England. Trained in philosophy by Sir Roger Scruton and Rev. Dr Andrew Pinsent, he is a member of several faculties, a frequent public speaker, and has books published by Routledge and Angelico Press. He lives in rural Bedfordshire with his wife and two children.

20 Comments

  1. A most excellent piece. I would like to see it turned into a full-length book on the topic. When will the author be coming to the USA on a lecture tour? I’ll be there.

  2. The desire to create a utopia, “the Kingdom of God on Earth” (to which Pope Pius XI juxtaposed “the Reign of Christ the King”) is, as Msgr. Ronald Knox pointed out in “Enthusiasm” (1950), an invariable hallmark of the enthusiast and a common feature of American life from the beginning, the desire to found “the City on a Hill” filled with perfect people leading perfect lives. This, of course, is not unique to America, but America was the place where utopian efforts were more easily carried out, whether the Rappites and Owenites at New Harmony, the transcendentalists of Brook Farm, the Shakers, or a multitude of others down to the present day. As Knox noted, the enthusiast longs for a theocracy, ruled by whatever the group or leader accepts as God, be it the Spirit of the Age, Jesus the First Socialist, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Durkheim’s “Divinized Society,” or what Chesterton called “the Inner Light.”

    The common characteristic of all forms of enthusiasm is what Knox called “an excess of charity” that inevitably causes disunity as undesirable elements are purged and the remainder purified . . . leading to the hell on Earth that Fulton Sheen assured us always accompanies these attempts to create a terrestrial heaven.

  3. It must have been a wonderful experience to work under a great philosophical teacher, but how did he reconcile that Christianity is a faith founded from and through love. How do the faithful become transformed into creators of love? The human body seeks to heal itself and often that display can be ugly and messy, all real characteristics of BLM. We should take the time to understand the revolt is one of frustration. A recent movie “Nobody knows I’m here,” graphically displays these symptoms until the truth is revealed. We have to put ourselves in their shoes to understand how their path has been inexorably woven by us, as if we knew better. It is our laws and systems that have created this malignancy, that maintains the unfair realities of our distorted vision. How does any person react to another when they feel that they are not wanted? Our Catholicism is meant to be a trade in love and love brings us into contact with one another, which enables us to give and see with clearer eyes.

  4. BLM are violent, deceitful tyrants.

    It’s publicly stated political aims support Marxist economic destruction, and “queer-ideology” destruction of the family.

    They use race-baiting as a pure political weapon to violently threaten all citizens who dare stand against them.

    Their co-leader Shaun King is an arch-fraud, a web-savvy fund-raiser who used to be a “neo-evangelical” Protestant Church “pastor,” living in Marietta, GA in a 4,000 sq foot house, before he pulled up stakes about 10 years ago and left his church movement, after “financial questions” arose within his “church movement” about where money was going, and why the promised church building didn’t happen. He “cancelled” former church colleagues who asked him simple questions.

    Now he joins the world HQ of money-grubbing elitists frauds, Harvard University (the same money-grubbing Harvard which shamelessly lined up for cash federal hand-outs for COVID, until they were shamed into withdrawing their application), where King is as always “living the high life,” as a paid “writer-in-residence” to win protection for the Cambridge leftist elites.

  5. “Those who do not have the patience to learn and who only possess the impulse to tear down.” Good phrase, and very descriptive of blm.

    Devonere Armani Johnson

  6. Religiosity is inherent in human nature simply because w were designed to worship. Scruton was right in the recognition of a “feeling” associated with ritual, misplaced cognitively in distancing doctrine as Sebastian Morello [a brother in faith not in family] alludes. Man expresses himself spiritually emotively sine he knows through the senses and understands moral truth as an inner sense that is intellectual in nature [Aquinas Sententia Libri Ethicorum]. Grounding in principles of Natural Law, revealed truths direct him toward a due end. Otherwise without we have our current chaos with BLM, Antifa and the like. As Sebastian notes it’s a futile grasp for utopia today preached by the great majority of university lecturers. And why so many of them and their student converts were consistently the more confrontational. If everything is systemically evil [except themselves who like the Matrix protagonists were able to perceive universal systemic racism] it must all be destroyed and replaced. With what? Without those principles mentioned a far worse systemic prejudice even violence against those who hold to true religion and moral permanence. Again Prof Morello perceives this movement as religion. It is indeed a form of idolatrous selfworship.

  7. Immanuel Kant has a work on the Index of Forbidden Books. The idea that any self-identified Catholic could morally believe in his erroneous, false teachings may be heretical.

    The enemy isn’t racism, it is injustice which may and in probably the vast majority of cases has nothing to do with racism. Injustice occurs between individuals. It is true that an organization can treat an individual unjustly, but the accountability is ultimately to some decision making individual(s).

    • Thank you, Shawn. This is where a proper understanding of virtue and vice would help enormously. Injustice has many motives (which may include racial discrimination); moreover it touches on both human interactions and the worship due to God (that Scruton noted shouldn’t be siphoned off to Platonic abstractions).

  8. Immanuel Kant has a work on the Index of Forbidden Books. The idea that any person who identifies as Catholic could morally believe in his erroneous, false teachings is deeply mistaken.

    The enemy isn’t racism, it is injustice which may and in probably the vast majority of cases has nothing to do with racism. Injustice occurs between individuals. It is true that an organization can treat an individual unjustly, but the accountability is ultimately to some decision making individual(s).

  9. You need both the abstract and concrete realities. From what I’ve read the Catholic view of creation is as an incarnated reality. That we see the hand of God in His creation. The Bible starts out with the description of humans as being in the image and likeness of God. This is an abstract assertion. The concrete reality was to be found in the second creation story. God created the animals and Adam named them. None of them were a suitable partner for Adam. The only suitable partner was Eve. Being bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh Eve was the only partner that shared in God’s and Adam’s image and likeness. Eve was consubstantial with Adam, foreshadowing the Nicene Creed. This was a process of discovery where Adam was learning about his, and Eve’s, status and role in God’s creation.

    *
    There is no way to understand the concrete realities without having an abstract framework by which to evaluate them. This is the work that reason plays in the faith. The spiritual realm is the realm that cannot be perceived by our bodily senses. The Nicene Creed states this clearly:
    *
    I believe in one God,
    the Father almighty,
    maker of heaven and earth,
    of all things visible and invisible.
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    The spiritual realm is the invisible realm. Whatever you say about the abstract applies first and foremost to God and His will for His creation. The problem with a horizontal Church of purely concrete realities is that it is for all practical purposes spiritually flatline. It denies the primacy of God in violation of the First Commandment.

    • What?! You say abstract realities cannot be upended by concrete realities, and that “the problem with a horizontal Church of purely concrete realities is that it is for all practical purposes spiritually flatline.”

      Whatever, then, are we to think of the overarching “four principles” of Evangelii Gaudium (2013)!? And, surely a polygon Church is not at risk of becoming a half-way house toward a “horizontal Church”!

      So, what about the “four principles” and polygon synodality? In the wrong hands:

      Is “realities are more important than ideas [abstract realities?]” at risk of flatlining into Nominalism?
      Is “time is greater than space” at risk of flatlining into Historicism?
      Is “unity prevails over conflict” at risk of flatlining into (e.g., Germania’s) “binding” and malignant Majoritarianism?
      Is “the whole is greater than the part” at risk of flatlining into Proportionalism and Consequentialism?

      …..as with the iceberg part upending the whole Titanic (the Barque of Peter), it’s all about the real ghost of Vatican II and today correctly reading “the signs of the times”—-the distress flares.

  10. Europeans might have known better from their own experiences of being kidnapped Africans who sold them into slavery in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. It’s estimated over a million Europeans suffered that fate.

    • Ottoman Empire… Slavery in Europe has been temporarily watered down thirty years ago. Contemporary discussions about “slavery” are curiously blind to the reality of millions of Europeans enslaved under ancient-like Communism reign – reign which owns lives and existences of inhabitants and which in exchange provides them housing and food.

      If there is any European experience it is – no doubt – the ability to recognize this blindness together with the sense for impossibility of any experience transfer.

  11. blm is not a ‘movement’ – It is nothing more than a terrorist cult. To call it a ‘movement’ is to give it an authenticity which it does not merit.

  12. Not much rationalist about this trend, infantilist by the mob driven truck load.
    That’s social media in a nutshell.

  13. BLM’s seeming inconsistencies are not inconsistencies at all. BLM’s actions are perfectly consistent with the aims it professes in its mission statement. See that statement on their website.

  14. S. Morello writes “The late Sir Roger Scruton (1944-2020), perhaps the greatest conservative philosopher of our age…”

    I am sure there are many more philosophers that were/are greater than Scruton that could be mentioned depending on the range of “our age,” but one philosopher born 8 years after Scruton and still going strong is the most solid Conservative and Thomist philosopher known as J. Budziszewski. Moreover, Budziszewski is not infected with any kind of Kantian epistemology that afflicted Scruton and others he influenced in this regard.

    If “our age” goes back into the second half of the 20th century, a few more superior philosophers come to mind as well: Etienne Gilson and Dietrich von Hildebrand. And if we add political philosophy, Russell Kirk is still considered the premier conservative political philosopher of the last half of the 20th century.

  15. Good to see the name of Rev.Dr. Andrew Pinsent there – a priest of fascinating background who can be an inspiration , esp. for many young persons .

    https://strangenotions.com/author/andrew-pinsent/

    ? Next move, to incorporate all the the many sided gifts to become a very good exorcist , to come up with programs to help train many in the way of holiness 🙂

  16. I’m of a more practical mind. The BLM ‘movement’ is, in spite of its cultivated public image of spontaneity, a programmatic one. A script of elevated and sequential objectives and actions had already been written before Mr. Floyd was needed. All that was needed was a sparking event.

    So, who wrote the script? Who developed the organizational chart of movement managers, recruiters, media controllers, hitters to silence or purchase opposing parties, analysts, delegates to allied organizations – and, above all, financiers.

    Puncture the hot air membrane of “movements’ and the above becomes the nitty-gritty of knowledge.

    Politico-religious ‘movements’ must be highly organized and directed in order to succeed. Which is why the most important questions to ask about Marxism, Facsism,the Sexual Revolution (and the many Hydra-headed subgroups of each), are: Who wrote the script? and, Who financed the production, the stage and actors?

    1968/69. I was on the Haight/Ashbury (San Francisco). Even then one was struck by how quickly the venue was transformed, behavioral codes and expected roles were promulgated (everyone seemed to know what was expected in the New Normal of the Haight. There was a kind of discipline about the place. And the mone! It flowed and steamrolled, much beyond the “profit” of drugs – which flowed even more freely down the street.

    The much vaunted spontaneity of the Haight was designed. So, as with BLM, who programmed the operation, staged the hippie drama, opened wide the pipelines?

    As with Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Maoist China, Pol Pot Cambodia, the (multi-staged) Mexican Revolution, the Arab Spring, the Color Revolution – the running sore question on the Haight, then and now, was brought the organizational skills – and the cash.

  17. If BLM were genuine they would have done something to help Vincent Simmons. A true example of genuine racism. #Vincentslifematters

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