Christianity and Critical Theory, Part 4: Is CT Anti-Christian?

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In the following, I intend to make good on my promise to evaluate Critical Theory in light of the Scripture. We have already explained the philosophical roots of Critical Theory, from Marx to Frankfurt, worked through the second and third generation Theorists, and identified, according to modern Critical Theorists’ themselves, what uniquely distinguishes Critical Theory from other and similar traditions. In our last post, we addressed the claim that Critical Theory is uniquely identified by the so-called “oppressor/oppressed paradigm,” and found the claim wanting. As we now move into evaluation, I will first give a historical example, though extreme, of an attempt to weld Christianity with Critical Theory, and then proceed to analyze the distinguishing characteristics we have identified in contrast to the Biblical witness of orthodox Christianity. As per usual, it is a bit long, yet still woefully incomplete given the nature of the subject.

An Example: Ernst Bloch

If we desire to see what a marriage between Critical Theory and Christianity might look like, we need look no further than the work of German philosopher, Marxist, and Frankfurt influence, Ernst Bloch (1885-1977). Bloch, in true historical materialist fashion, was an atheist but believed that embedded within the collective consciousness of these thousands of years of Judeo-Christian religious literature, one can discover the dialectic of tyranny and freedom, Hegel’s “Master and Slave,” played out as humanity longs for that which is beyond its present grasp—even beyond its conscious contemplation. Christianity, similar to every other human social product, is a historical artifact containing within itself a dialectical movement toward the discovery of a “Holy Grail”—an object which does not exist in material fact, but within human consciousness.

The self-consciousness of humanity is the new Holy Grail where people come together around with joy … this is our task: to become knights of the Grail, gird the sword for him and risk our lives joyfully in the last holy war to be followed by the millennial Kingdom of freedom. (Ernst Block quoting Frederic Engels, Romanticism, Marxism and Religion in the “Principle of Hope”, p. 354)

Common to all Marxist analysis (as we have already shown) is the belief that religion is part of the “ideological superstructure,” the historical byproduct of more mundane, material, human endeavors—like producing food, shelter, clothing, and propagating the species. These latter are not, despite appearances, governed by religion. Rather, the modes of production and social order resulting from the historical pursuit of these mundane ends creates and re-enforces the categories, concepts, and ideological commitments which constitute mankind’s religious expressions.

Embedded also within the artifact called “Christianity” are the deep contradictions of historical, dialectical, development. In the existential pursuit of the mundane, men seek control over other men, tyrannizing and exploiting, and ultimately alienating themselves and others from their true humanity, turning subjects into social and economic objects. Nevertheless, this same humanity bears within itself both the recognition of the misery these social relations necessarily produce and the ever-present sense of Utopia, creating a longing and desire that draws humanity forward through the dialectic of history.

From the very opening “myths” of the Scriptures, Bloch sees the “Creator-god’s” tyranny in dialectical tension with the Serpent’s liberation (who falsely offers liberation through becoming tyranny, i.e., “be as gods”). Adam/mankind chooses liberation, but only to become a new tyrant. This tension and corresponding historical syntheses carries the conscious reader through the whole of the various interrelated Biblical stories; through Pharaoh’s tyranny and the Exodus, to Israel’s failed monarchies, to exile and return, and ultimately to the “Creator-god” himself coming down from heaven, becoming the ideal pacifist and all-loving human, and is therefore crucified for his revolutionary radicalism. God, for Bloch, is then truly dead. But he always was. And mankind is on the path to realizing this, pharisees and religionists notwithstanding. The “Pauline myth” of Christ’s resurrection carries on this liberating hope in the hearts of his followers—but only as the human cultural expression of the hope which drives all men through the dialectic. And this dialectic continues until Christ’s return, who “is to be the active principle at the end of time—active in the creation of a new heaven and new earth—and not before” (Atheism in Christianity, p. 147). Between the now and the then, Christianity contains the concepts needed to follow Christ as liberating “Son of Man,” though always in struggle with the tyrant’s “wholly cultic Kyrios Christos.” Christianity, according to Bloch, is therefore true, though properly atheistic; man-in-Christ rejects the oppressive “Creator-god.” “[T]he Christ-impulse live[s] even when God is dead” (p. 167).

What we are left with, according to Bloch’s reading of the Scripture, is the historical and dialectical expression of mankind’s “hope”—a hope embodied in the “God-as-Man” rather than the “God-as-Creator”; a hope which, if contemplated, must necessarily regenerate humanity from a state of mere sub-conscious desire to historical, social, and revolutionary action. To be a Christian is to struggle toward the new heaven and earth, only to be realized through self-consciousness social activism. The “faith” of the religionists is thus superseded by the hope of the historical “Christ-impulse”:

[N]o more faith is needed than faith in discontented hope. Such hope is active: it contains the seeds of a conscious, outward-reaching pact with the objective pole of tendency. (p. 220)

For Ernst Bloch, “Only an atheist can be a good Christian; only a Christian can be a good atheist” (Epigraph).

What Went Wrong?

To be sure, Critical Theory, in its pure form, is much more than just an albatross around the neck of the Church; it is an anti-Christian monstrosity. But is this because it acknowledges oppressors and oppressed? Is it because it seeks freedom and liberation? Is it because it recognizes intersecting identities, interest convergence, or calls for socially transformative action? Of course not. As shown in Part 2 of this series, these are not even what uniquely distinguishes Critical Theory from its emancipatory alternatives. Working from the evaluations of modern Critical Theorists’ themselves, we settled upon four characteristics which identify Critical Theory in contrast to other traditions and systems: (1) Social Pathology, (2) Historical Immanence, (3) Anti-Essentialism, and (4) Social Change as Rational Participation.

Let’s take a look at each to see what does and does not accord with the historic, orthodox, understanding of our faith. (Note: for those who have fully digested Part 2 of this series, the quotations at the beginning of each section are unnecessary and redundant.)

  1. Social Pathology

Critical Theory treats the social ills that confront ordinary men and women as pathological, rather than easily individuized and conceptually isolatable sets of bad actions, ideas, practices, policies, or stereotypes. Just as a pathological liar lies habitually and without even taking note of it, or just as a disease can infect a whole body that yet appears healthy with looming death, so economic exploitation, racism, and sexism can be embedded within whole social systems, producing symptoms that may even seem quite normal and ineradicable, though most feel the existential burdens of its bitter fruit in one form or another.

Further, this pathology affects reason itself, through instrumentalization and socially constructed systems of false conditions (see the last post). Individuals know there is something wrong, but their historical location, with its “ensemble of social relations” and socially constructed set of meanings and values, leaves them often unable (or unwilling) to articulate and contemplate its immanent historical roots. (“Christianity and Critical Theory, Part 2: What Makes ‘Critical Theory’ Critical Theory?“)

As Christians, we should be very aware of the pathological nature of individual and social ills. We call it sin, and we recognize its far-reaching effects. Not only has sin brought about spiritual and physical death, but sin has broken man’s community with God (Gen. 3:24-25), broken his community with neighbor (Gen. 3:16; 4:1-8; Gal. 5:14-15), corrupted his economic activity (Gen. 3:17; Isa. 3:5; Mic. 2:2), corrupted his habitation and environment (Rom. 8:19-21), and has even distorted his very mind and reason (Matt. 15:19; Rom. 1:28; Eph. 2:1-3; 4:18). The Scripture shows that this corruption of mind and reason is in fact much more radical than even the “instrumentalized reason” of the Critical Theorist, such that we are commanded,

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)

Our minds must be “renewed” in order to escape conformity “to this world.” This “world,” in the Scripture, comprises not only individual sinful acts but corrupt interpersonal relationships, oppressive political and economic structures, and even systemic sins which characterize whole churches (Rev. 2-4) and nations (Tit. 1:12). The “world” is the global systems, patterns, powers, and principles (Col. 2:8) under the tyranny of the “Prince of the power of the air” (Eph. 2:2) who claims to have all its kingdoms at his disposal (Matt. 4:8). Albert M. Wolters argues that the “world” “designates the totality of sin-infected creation. Wherever human sinfulness bends or twists or distorts God’s good creation, there we find the ‘world’” (Creation Regained).

James also writes of this “world” in his Epistle:

You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (Jas. 4:4)

And what is the immediate context of this passage? Humanity’s unbridled passions, greed, and pride:

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (4:2-3)

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. (4:6)

As the Apostle John tells us, “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn. 2:16).

If we widen the aperture to capture the whole context of James 4 and “friendship with the world,” we see that his warning includes the contrast between the rich and the poor, the high and the lowly, in chapter 1; we see partiality against the poor condemned, the rich called oppressors, Christ’s “blessed are the poor” interpreted as literal poverty, and verbal blessings to the poor, without action to change their physical circumstance, analogized with “dead faith,” all in chapter 2; we see “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” condemned in chapter 3; we see sharp warnings to the rich, the impermanence of their physical gain, their frauds and oppressions of the laborer, and their presumptuous expectation of profits without God, all condemned in chapter 5. This is “the world” according to James, and friendship with its systems and its oppressions is enmity with God. And we should also note that, much like in Critical Theory, these many individual acts of sin each bear within them a whole historical narrative of fall, curse, corruption, rebellion, the oppressive slavery of the devil, our own inordinate passions, and the structure of “this world.”

Last, we Christians are often heard speaking of cultural and society-wide sins in terms of pathology. We hear of “the culture of death,” “the sexualization and pornification of society,” “the culture of victimhood,” “the culture of dependency,” “the feminized society,” and even such social ratiocinations as “they were men of their times.” Are not “the commodification of society,” “the exchange society,” “the racialized society,” or “the culture industry” equally valid subjects of social critique? They too are part of this fallen “world.”

Where the “Social Pathology” principle of Critical Theory runs afoul of orthodox Christianity is not in its insistence that individual and social ills are properly pathological (in the sense defined above), but in its rejection of the Word of God as the final arbiter of what is properly pathological and what constitutes individual and social ills. Recognizing the existence of oppression, subjugation, and tyranny is one thing, and is found within many systems of thought, including the Bible; but making apparent pathologized relations of oppression itself the metric for what morally requires corrective social action will often leave fallen humanity calling “evil good and good evil,” putting “darkness for light and light for darkness,” and “bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20). Why? Fallen humans are pathologically “wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight” (v. 21) and are just as often not conscious of their own personal or social sins, let alone the root cause of their own actions (Jer. 17:9); that is, sin is pathological.

  1. Historical Immanence

Though rarely couched within the language of “dialectics” in modern Critical studies, the underlying idea that the roots of pathology, as well as the means for its cure, reside in the everyday facts of life and are discoverable in its seemingly mundane artifacts, yet remains. For example, just as Marx argued that the central cause of infant mortality was not to be located in lack of money or poor hospitals, but rather in the current historical system of production that relegates individuals to mere objects of the social calculus of capital formation.

Or, to take a more current example, Critical Theorists do not look at the murder of Treyvon Martin as a mere neighborhood scuffle in the street between a “trespasser” and a man concerned for his safety, but rather see it as an event which manifests local (and society-wide) racial assumptions, fear of the other, white flight, prejudicial public school policies, and a legal system designed to benefit the enfranchised. The “event” was just the immanent artifact of the social system that produced it. We could, of course, even go further and ground this instantiated complex social event in the United States’ own history of production and the intentional racial marginalization it both relied upon and produced.

Last, this immanence eschews transcendence. Though it often relies on transcendental arguments—“y is a necessary precondition for the existence of x, x exists, therefore y exists”—it does not rely on transcendental explanations nor transcendental prescriptions. Human experience exists in human history; this history contains both the problems and the solutions and they mean very little when abstracted from it. (Please see last post for more on this.) (“Christianity and Critical Theory, Part 2: What Makes ‘Critical Theory’ Critical Theory?“)

As stated before, without ignoring or countenancing the vast evils spawned by his revolutionary ideas, the lasting brilliance of Karl Marx resides in his unique approach to the very same concerns and aims of his Enlightenment forebears. Marx and Critical Theorists look to immanent historical processes—real human beings in action, their developed institutions, and their material conditions—for both explanations of man’s suffering and social subjugation, and the immanent prospects embedded within that can lead to their freedom. Rather than looking to this or that social policy, this or that philosophy, or this or that bad actor, Marx, e.g., argued that it was the entire lifeworld of men, produced by their most basic material conditions, which entrapped them in a web so systemic and wide, that even their reasoning was constrained and molded by the prevailing social systems produced by Capitalism.

But woven within this approach, for all its brilliance and potentially good applications, are some fundamentally anti-Christian assumptions. First, Christianity is not materialist, and therefore not historically materialist. There are in fact transcendent standards of morality and truth; there is a cosmic ontology that includes both the visible and the invisible; and we Christians properly believe that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19), not primarily out of the current “means and modes of production,” or the current social order or power structure. Likewise, Christianity itself is not a byproduct of the mundane, or of the historically immanent; it is a supernaturally revealed religion. God is very much alive, sovereign, and providential in history.

Therefore, though it is undoubtedly appropriate to study how our ideas and enjoyments are shaped by our daily economic activities, to acknowledge how all of life can be infected by “commodity fetish,” to agree with Postman’s critique of the culture industry in Amusing Ourselves to Death, to see that current disparities along the “color-line” have resulted from powerful historically entrenched institutions and thought patterns, that 1492 and 1619 have a lot to do with 2019, or that a single event, such as the murder of Trayvon Martin, can expose a whole historical narrative, we as Christians are nevertheless to be governed by the ontology, teleology, and eschatology of the Scripture.

The method of critique provided by Critical Theorists, including many of its “spin-offs,” is immensely valuable for cultural, social, and political critique. I mean, who doesn’t find it interesting to consider Aristotle’s extensive effort to distinguish “teacher” from “laborer” in light of his own profession and his disdain for slaves? But without corresponding transcendence, and without God’s common grace—which allows even pagans to discover truth, and Christians to drink from wells they did not dig (Deut. 6:11)—it is simply materialists’ musings.

  1. Anti-Essentialism

As we quoted from Max Horkheimer in our last post, “the critical theory of society…has for its objective men as producers of their own historical way of life in its totality”; that is, men and women are not subject to Marx’s natural deterministic teleology, nor Hegel’s previous version built around Spirit. Man himself creates and recreates his environment, social systems, symbols, ways of thinking, collective meanings, and the institutions, policies, and actions they produce. The furniture of social reality is socially constructed, not fixed, natural, or deterministic.

Though alienation and reification have objectified individuals, concretizing them into the collection of their social relations, men and women are, in reality, the true subjects and artificers of human history. (“Christianity and Critical Theory, Part 2: What Makes ‘Critical Theory’ Critical Theory?“)

Critical Race Theorists have gained wide approval on this point. For example, “race” is in fact a social construct, but it is nevertheless a socially constructed reality. Socially constructed realities are just that—real—in as much as they have very definite meanings to human lives, play significant roles in human history, define and regulate human relations, and are as much a part of the furniture of our reality as are rocks and houses. What distinguishes them from other realities is that they are not fixed—they can come into existence and pass away—and are entirely dependent upon the value and meaning in the minds of humans living together in society, with its collective history, norms, and values. The lack of definitive physical basis does not render socially constructed realities unreal. Most would give their lives for their nation, spend countless hours each week laboring for money, and sign legal documents and wear rings on their fingers in marriage—not to mention speak specific socially constructed languages. These are indeed very real, yet socially constructed, realities.

And they are therefore changeable. In many ways mankind can create and rearrange the furniture of social reality, its artifacts, its institutions, its systems, and its thought patterns, but only within the essentialism of Biblical anthropology. Christianity is intractably essentialist in many ways. All humans are made in the image of God; this is part of our essential identity. This includes specific mental capacities and a specific moral conscience, i.e., God’s Law (Rom. 2:14-16). These, according to the Scripture, cannot be changed through social action nor environmental re-jiggering.

Further, God has created specific identities. For example, He made men and women. Though there are countless socially constructed meanings attaching to these two identities—many of which are wicked and the proper subjects of Critical critique—there is nevertheless an essential meaning to the distinction. And within God’s created order, there are also legitimate and illegitimate identities. There is an essential difference between being a social outcast due to pedophilia and being a social outcast due to skin color or nation of origin—like, a big difference. I’m not always sure Critical Theory can consistently capture this.

But to argue, for example, that the idea of intersecting identities shaping an individuals’ social relations is somehow anti-Christian or Marxist is simply absurd. There is a reason that our Lord first revealed Himself as Messiah to an (1) unmarried, (2) Samaritan, (3) woman (Jn. 4:7-26). There is a reason that Christ taught the leaders of Israel the meaning of “neighbor” through the example of a Samaritan traveler, contrasted with a Jewish priest and Levite.

And last, the Scripture is plain that God Himself has given us institutions like marriage, family, church, state, and work. These, like human nature itself, are also not plastic, but are defined and governed by revelation and transcendent standards. And their ends have been ordained from the beginning. While Christianity is not deterministic, history is nevertheless directed toward God’s ultimate plan; it is teleological and eschatological.

In short, Critical Theorists are right to suggest that we ought not essentialize historically constructed categories like class, race, or particular forms of production and statecraft; but we must ever know that Biblical anthropology—even though our interpretations are often hypocritical and awful—is still the final authoritative, supernaturally revealed, and transcendent truth about humanity and its institutions.

  1. Social Change as Rational Participation

Last, though solutions to the pathologies indicated above diverge massively among Critical Theorists, there is a common core. First, if we assume that social ills are pathological, history and explanation are immanent, and the furniture of social reality is socially constructed, then critiquing society definitionally requires engagement in shaping it, and vise versa.

Since all knowledge is rooted in social practices and social practices are ordered, in part, by social science explanations, theory and action are inseparable and all facts and theories are warranted as valid from a particular framework of social practices. The only legitimate activity of a critical social scientist is to engage in the collective enterprise of progressive enlightenment…. (Comstock, p. 630)

Second, a major assumption throughout is that reconstruction of social reality can cure the pathology, bringing about emancipation. This was true of Marx’s expectation of the proletarian revolution, true of Horkheimer and Adorno’s critical negation, true of Herbert Marcuse’s belief that the elimination of the “myth” of scarcity would cure mankind’s psychological propensity to barbarism, true of Honneth’s belief that dismantling the exchange society will overcome the “social suffering caused by deficient rationality” (p.338), and true in many ways of those who currently believe that massive education projects will rid Americans of their Colonial trappings through conscientizacao.

Though the internal life of man was built into the Critical equation, via Freud in particular, theorists continue to argue that the pathology of interior life is asymmetrically coordinated with structural social externalities. As Honneth argues, “[f]rom the fact that a deficit in social rationality leads to symptoms of a social pathology, one first infers that subjects suffer from the state of society” (p. 353). The solution is to “reactivate” human rationality through social transformation. Critical Theory thus still retains its task of critiquing all that is, unmasking its historically immanent preconditions, exposing its contradictions, and effecting the social change necessary to liberate the individual’s reason from that which distorts it. (“Christianity and Critical Theory, Part 2: What Makes ‘Critical Theory’ Critical Theory?“)

As Christians, I hope that we all know we are duty bound “to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke,” “to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house,” and “when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh” (Isa. 58:6-7); that we are to “render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart” (Zech. 7:9-10), whoever he may be; and that God will judge all those “who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless” and “those who thrust aside the sojourner” (Mal. 3:5). As discussed above, we are not to be friends of the world, with its tyrant Prince and corrupt systems, but are to work against them.

Nevertheless, the assumption of nearly every Critical Theorist, including its “spin-offs,” that the primary—only?—means of overcoming “the world” is through external social change and revolutionary social action is simply rubbish. As our Lord has declared, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn. 16:33). The basis of all social change is the glorious declaration that the God-Man has won the victory. All movement toward the eschaton and all social action should proceed on this premise. Christ has overcome the devil, taken up the throne, and His Kingdom is here and expanding. It is He who is making all His enemies His footstool and it is His cosmic redemptive work which will put down all rule and authority (1 Cor. 15:24-26). Though we are participants in this redemption, by His grace, and ought always to seek His justice in every realm of life, it is nevertheless not our social action which draws us forward into the eschaton, nor creates the New Heaven and Earth.

And as we noted above, it is “out of the heart” that “proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). We must recreate social structures out of love for our neighbors, yes; but we cannot recreate the hearts that have created these unjust structures, nor the hearts that continue to reinforce them. Yes, we can create social conditions which deter men and women from practicing evils like prejudice and discrimination in the public realm—and we absolutely should; but we cannot thereby remove such corruptions from their hearts. Social action itself must be gospel driven, “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). The gospel alone can remove the stony heart and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ez. 36:26). It alone looks to He who will “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20).

Of course, it is blasphemous and contradictory to use the gospel as an excuse for social inaction. We know that our actions will be judged on the Last Day, “according to the Gospel” (Rom. 2:15-16), that God will judge the lawless, “the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine,” again, “in accordance with the gospel” (1 Tim. 1:8-11), and that prejudicial treatment, even if apparently natural or innocuous, is “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Gal. 2:14). The gospel is not simply a set of propositions to be believed, but an announcement that Jesus Christ is Lord and King, and He lays claim to the whole of it. Heralding this transforming gospel into our society and culture, and living consistently with its cosmic claims, is the primary means given by God to overcome “the world.”

And finally, the Scripture consistently teaches that truth, understanding, knowledge, and right belief precede righteous action. Not to be too obvious, but our Lord has told us, “the truth will set you free” (Jn. 8:32); and He who is the Truth (14:6) is the ordained agent of this total liberation.

Is Critical Theory Anti-Christian?

So, is Critical Theory, as a total system of belief and practice, anti-Christian, or “incompatible with Christianity“? Certainly; without any doubt. But not more or less so than Platonism, Aristotelianism, Rationalism, Materialism, Empiricism, Idealism, Positivism, Libertarianism, Egalitarian Liberalism, etc., all of which you and I and the Church as a whole have drawn many valuable concepts, categories, and arguments that have, by God’s grace, enriched our faith, our societies, and our cultures. This is simply undeniable. I have not yet figured out how critiquing one’s opponent by arguing that this or that phrase, sentence, or argument sounds like this other one, or is even a direct quote from this other tradition, constitutes a valid critique. When I sense the Socratic method being employed, I do not say, “Hold up. You know that method is from a pagan philosopher and is built on the assumption that humans can remember the pure forms from before their spirit was imprisoned in their bodies. I will have no more of your paganism.”

Further, it seems patently obvious to me that one who confesses the authority and inspiration of the Scripture, the Trinity, the Virgin birth, the Incarnation, the atoning death of the God-Man, His Resurrection, His immanent return, the Last Judgement, and the final resurrection of the dead is not holding to Marxism or Critical Theory as a system of belief and practice. If he nevertheless is, I’d be full of questions as to how he’s pulling it off—as an actual Christian.

In the last analysis, I do not think that critique by ideological taxonomy is a way forward here. I believe that those who engage in such “critique” run the immediate risk of having their mischaracterizations exposed by one side in this discussion, thereby losing all credibility, and unfortunately only offer rhetorical fire power to the other side, allowing them to ignore actual arguments and conclude discussions with guilt by association or illegitimate totality transfer. I’d argue that the best way forward is to critique the actual arguments of opponents. If they are wrong, show why. Defeat the arguments. Attempting to rout ideological opponents by connecting their arguments to alien traditions we consider “bad” will only appease the uninformed and bolster the rhetorical.

[I hope to write one more follow-up summary of the whole.]

10 thoughts on “Christianity and Critical Theory, Part 4: Is CT Anti-Christian?

  1. Caleb Hans Zimmerman June 28, 2019 / 11:50 am

    Incredible work. Thank you.


  2. Blaine Locheed July 21, 2020 / 12:21 pm

    I read all four of the posts in this series and your other two posts on Critical Race Theory. They have all been tremendously helpful! I do have questions though. Shenvi seems to be focusing on Diangelo and Kendi, names that do not appear in your discussion. These writers (at least from the quoted material I’ve seen) seem to go beyond the mere theme of oppressor and oppressed and have turned that theme into a binary reality, such that everyone is one or the other. If that is an accurate characterization of their thought, then appeals to the oppressor/oppressed themes in the Bible won’t do because the Bible does not place every man, woman, and child in one category or the other.
    So my questions to you are:
    1) Do you think Shenvi accurately characterizes those two authors?
    2) Do you think Kendi & Diangelo are pushing CRT beyond Delgado and others that you’ve cited such that they cannot truly be called Critical Race Theorists? In other words…
    3) Do you think it’s possible you and Shenvi are talking past one another?


    • E Hamilton August 4, 2020 / 9:40 pm

      I would also be very interested in an answer to these questions.

      The popularization of ideas that have some provenance in CRT is something that ought perhaps to be distinguished carefully from CRT itself, and I know that some (e.g. James Lindsay) have used the invented term “Critical Social Justice” as a way to express popular applications that are less academic in origin.

      I do think there’s an underexplored element of truth in Shenvi’s insistence that the novelty of these authors is that they make these categories very strictly binary. There are certainly clear instances of those categorized as “the oppressed” in Scripture (widows, lepers, Samaritans) and as “oppressors” (scribes, Pharisees), but it seems very alien to the New Testament tradition to define oppresor-identity in the broad way assumed by Kendi or DiAngelo, as an default that must be actively shaken off or discarded through some ongoing project of inner struggle or public penitence.

      Indeed, it seems to me much more plausible to discover in Scripture a larger range of categories, including neutrals (“the multitude”) who are not exactly classified as oppressors despite their lack of strong faith, and merely political oppressors (“Caesar” and Romans) who have a matter of inappropriate and excessive focus — and are less deserving of active and revolutionary resistance, and more worthy of simply being ignored as irrelevant.


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