There is widespread belief that racism and racist ideas as we know them today have been a feature of mankind since the fall of Adam. Many uncritically assume that if anything has significantly changed over the last several centuries, it has been from originally bad to increasingly good. But this is far from the truth. Accurate history reveals, rather, that racist ideas—as we know them in America—have largely been developed as justifications for pre-existing racial exploitation. The Atlantic slave trade was well under way before there even was such a thing as the “Black Race” or the “White Race,” both previously being a host of various nationalities, ethnicities, religions, cultures, languages, and phenotypical features. In fact, before the appearance of the most powerful justifications for exploitation, those of African descent had already become the only people group subject to lifelong servitude, viz., property; they and their children.
To be honest, though I should not be surprised by anything Sovereign Nations does, I was astonished to see an organization founded by the likes of Michael O’Fallon invite philosopher Peter Boghossian and mathematician James Lindsay to discuss the “Trojan Horse” of anti-Christian ideology supposedly contained in the Southern Baptist Convention’s infamous “Resolution 9” (see, “The Trojan Horse,” Aug. 9, 2019). The stated reasoning is that these men are liberal atheists with expertise in the field, and therefore have no “horse in the race” and are thereby particularly situated to warn against the evils of Critical Race Theory, even as an “analytical tool.”
Forgive me, but I question not only Boghossian and Lindsay’s supposed “expertise” in the field, but also their supposed disinterested standpoint. Even more important, I believe they are substantially incorrect in their assessment.
Christian enslavers did not believe they were prejudiced, segregationists did not believe they were racists, and our current president has declared that he is “the least racist person there is anywhere in the world.” Denying racism of “any form” is an American tradition, in fact, an institution of American life. As people of color increasingly find footing within traditionally white spaces, this institution of denial has evolved with ever greater creativity and robustness.
In our own day, those intent on protecting the institution simply claim that those of the past were indeed prejudiced and racists, but that was…the past. Modern advocates of racial justice, they argue, are simply working from a new definition and understanding of “racism,” a definition which was changed in order to continue “agitation” beyond its necessity. In particular, Critical Race Theory is targeted for having introduced illicit elements into the concept, viz., any elements that go beyond bare personal hatred and/or overt discrimination based on “race.”
We reject theological liberalism–defined by J. Gresham Machen in Christianity and Liberalism as a “different gospel” from the Scriptural gospel. (43, 44)
Above is the first “Denial” listed in the “Report of the ad Interim Committee on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation to the Forty-Sixth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America.” Every time I read this line, I think, “yep,” and keep reading. No alarms.
But as time and debate has continued since its publication and adoption, I’m starting to wonder if many within the Presbyterian and Reformed tradition see this inclusion as a contradiction of the rest of the document, especially among the self-described “Machen Warriors.” I fear that Machen’s personal political and sociological views have been illegitimately folded into his definition of “Liberalism” by modern hagiographers.
What follows is a summary of our four-part series, “Christianity and Critical Theory.” I pray it is of some value to the ongoing “social justice” discussion in the Church. Let me know your thoughts.
The Enlightenment and Karl Marx
The central contribution of Karl Marx—that which places him among Weber and Durkheim as the fathers of sociology—is not his specific critique of capitalism, his communist eschatology, nor even his apprehension of the striking social ills of his day, but rather his historical materialist critique of the whole. The Enlightenment era which preceded Marx had sought to throw off the “tyranny” of the Church over ideology and the de facto authority of traditional metaphysics, replacing them with reason and rational justifications and explanations. It was a turn from the transcendent and dictated to the immanent and discoverable. Many had critiqued private property, capitalist markets, oppressive social orders, and the dismal conditions they were thought to produce, but Marx believed they had all failed to grasp their historical causes and preconditions.
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.
One of the more frustrating trends in Evangelicalism is the incessant accusation of “Cultural Marxism” or “Critical Theory,” leveled against any who speak of “oppressor” and “oppressed.” This rhetorical move has insidious historical roots, but seems to have gained currency through wide-spread ignorance of both that which is being criticized and Critical Theory itself. We have sought to dispel this ignorance in the last two posts, clarifying precisely what distinguishes Critical Theory from its competitors. But I want here to likewise expose the absurdity of this further claim, viz., that the theme of “oppressor” and “oppressed” is a distinguishing characteristic of Critical Theory, such that all who appeal to the theme are liable to be lumped into this tradition.
No one denies that this theme is important to Critical Theory; it is, after all, a project of emancipation. But it is only one approach among many—many which likewise affirm the historic and persistent tragedy of human oppression via social institutions and relations.