Update: For my last words on Dr. Shenvi’s work, please see: “Critical Theory, Dr. Levinson, Dr. Shenvi, and Evangelicalism: Final Thoughts”
Allow us to take stock. The original topic proposed by Dr. Shenvi was, “Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism?” Shenvi attempted to present the “yes” position by offering the “core tenets of contemporary critical theory” (“fourfold construction”), arguing that these are contradicted by Scripture (“threat” in principle) and are held by some evangelicals (“threat” as “currently negatively impacting”), offering four quotes to demonstrate the latter.
I responded by noting that,
If one is going to attribute CT to an evangelical’s beliefs in order to claim dangerous influence, one is required to attribute that which is distinctive to the tradition, not simply that which is included, though common to other and much earlier traditions….
I’ve demonstrated throughout that when critical theorists themselves define, give brief overviews, answer “what is…?,” and list “distinguishing characteristics,” they do not provide Shenvi’s fourfold construction. In short, his construction is simply not the core of CT, and therefore falters on the premise above.
Having been unsuccessful in defending his original thesis, the discussion shifted to, “Are Dr. Shenvi’s Four Tenets a Threat to Evangelicalism?” From my very first post I have stated, “I don’t think his four points, as stated, accurately represent ideas advanced by modern Crits.” He quotes me as saying that his “tenets” are “common to and included in critical theory,” but leaves out the sentence just prior, stating that “ideas similar (by no means identical) to his ‘core tenets’ are included in CT,” and the sentence following, “common to other and much earlier traditions.” To be clear, my position is that ideas similar to Shenvi’s construction are included in CT, common to other traditions, yet misstated by Shenvi (therefore only similar).
In particular, I wrote of his first “tenet”:
I don’t think anyone’s position is that, a priori, societies are divided into oppressor/oppressed, or that, a priori, “white” or “male” are dominant classes. The argument is that given a society structured to distribute advantages/disadvantages according to socially constructed group membership, dominant groups are in a structurally oppressive relation to subordinate groups, by virtue of said distribution. No one can doubt this was true of “white” and “male” throughout American history; and all should recognize that this is not true of societies structured along different lines. Whether one lives in such a society is an empirical, a posteriori, question, not a subject of armchair theorizing nor biblical exegesis.
(I should have included that Intersectionality also directly contradicts his statement.) Of his fourth “tenet,” I wrote:
To say “social location” determines “access to truth” is misleading. Standpoint Theory’s epistemic claim relates to what counts as good evidence, not the nature of truth, its objective character, nor its public accessibility. “The claim is that members of marginalized groups are more likely to have had experiences that are particularly epistemically salient for identifying and evaluating assumptions that have been systematically obscured or made less visible as the result of power dynamics” (Kristen Intemann).
Given that his “tenets” are (1) not distinguishing of CT, disallowing attribution, and (2) themselves mischaracterize CT ideas, I don’t believe he can make a “yes” case for either of his selected topics.
In his latest post, he seems to suggest that the length of oppressive category lists provided by modern CT’s proves that they have an “alternative understanding of oppression” to Rousseau, Mill, Du Bois, King, etc. But this cannot be a distinguishing characteristic. Is the list itself that which distinguishes? If two more categories are added, is it no longer the CT “understanding”? Two subtracted? Half? Was Horkheimer not CT because he focused primarily on class? Was Douglass more CT because he focused on class, race, and gender? Was James Baldwin CT because he focused on class, religion, race, gender, sexuality, and citizenship—despite his affinity with a competing tradition? I guess even critics of CT like Rawls, Dworkin, Kymlica, Moller Okin are, unbeknownst to them, actually CT because they seek to address oppression within every category DiAngelo and Adams list. Providing lists does not prove “alternative understanding of oppression.”
On this same point, I agree with Shenvi that “propositions are true or false independent of their origin.” Whether ideas come to an evangelical through Du Bois or DiAngelo is irrelevant to their truth/falsity; but whether the ideas are common to both has much to do with determining what is/isn’t distinctive to their respective traditions. Quoting a truth from a modern Kinist that was also stated by, e.g., B.B. Warfield, does not itself suggest the modern threat of Kinism. Or is it cootie-ism?
Further, Shenvi asks for my opinion on several claims. But I wonder, will my opinions somehow prove or disprove whether his four tenets are a “threat” to evangelicalism? Doesn’t he just need to make the case? He also continues to press for my opinion on his four quotes from evangelicals, now arguing that he’s just trying to discover the source of our disagreement. Again, I’m not sure what my internal mental states have to do with the objective truth or falsity of his thesis. Our disagreement is over how he mischaracterizes CT in order to make attributions.
What I wrote in my last post still stands:
(1) If the topic is “threat in principle,” then quotes have nothing to do with it.
(2) If the topic is “threat” as in, “currently negatively impacting,” then a few quotes are not enough. This would be a sociological question, requiring polling, questionnaires, and interviews; there are millions of evangelicals in America.
(3) If the question is, “does Brad think they are true?,” then they are literally irrelevant to Dr. Shenvi’s chosen topic.
It seems to me that Shenvi—and others partial to his view—want me to weigh-in on each individually proposed topic rather than his chosen dialogue topic. But since I have addressed these others elsewhere, don’t believe Dr. Shenvi has a path to make his case, and I cannot prove a negative, I must simply express my thankfulness for the intramural dialogue and give him the last word.
Thank you, brother!