Postmodernity, Critical (Race) Theory, Cultural Marxism, and you: Responses
Christians are against all these things, right?
Well, mostly not. At least, we shouldn’t be.
To conclude this four-part series with a fifth part, let’s just take the various elements in this series in order.
To be for or against postmodernity in many ways is like being for or against the weather. The fragmentation of hypermodern society and the doubt about whom we can trust is everywhere around us, however much or little each of us is characterized by them.
Christians should always oppose the hypocrisies of power that postmodernists have unmasked. We will also, however, oppose such a fragmentation of the self that it also amounts to outright hypocrisy.
As we follow a modern person throughout her week, we should recognize that is a good thing to embrace multiple goods in God’s multifariously good world: good to be physically fit, good to be well-informed, good to be successful at work, good to be loved and loving in family life, and so on. Only a weirdly shrunken version of Christianity insists that in every sphere of life the imperative is to share the gospel or care for the poor. (If you’re wondering about these questions of God’s calling on your life, here’s a guide.) Diversity of this sort should be celebrated by the Christian.
It is a bad thing, though, to capitulate to sub- or even anti-Christian values in this or that pursuit. It is wrong to pursue physical beauty and power by using performance-enhancing drugs or by spending time and money in the gym that ought to be spent elsewhere. It is wrong to be successful at work if “success” is measured only by financial gain and not by adding goodness to the world in harmonious relationships with co-workers, customers, and even competitors. It is wrong even to pursue spiritual growth while neglecting the physical and emotional needs of one’s family. Fragmentation promotes a hypertrophy of the values of a particular social sector to the exclusion of balancing virtues that should be resisted by the Christian.
Postmodern doubt is appropriate, from a Christian point of view. We should never have trusted so much in monarchs, or politicians, or magnates, or priests. Many of us still give too much allegiance to attractive celebrities and causes. No human being other than Jesus has been perfect, or even close to it.
Still, God didn’t need postmodern theorists to acquaint him with the limitations of human knowledge and leadership. And God has given us what we need to know in order to be whom we need to become and in order to do what we need to accomplish. God has given us inspired Scripture, yes, but also Godself as ever-present Teacher, Guide, and Adjudicator—in our own hearts and in the company of the Church. This is a large part of what Christians mean by referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit of God as a constant presence in our lives. (And if you’re wondering how this works out in terms of thinking confidently as a Christian, here’s a guide.)
As for Critical Theory, its basic premise can hardly be disputed from a Christian vantage point. Power does tend to corrupt, as (the Christian) Lord Acton observed. And we can simply assume that every institution harbours corrupt motives and modes; every sector of life is warped by the powerful in their own interest.
Most Christians, furthermore, will agree with the Critical Theorists that the extended project of democratic negotiation is the best (which is to say, least bad) of the available forms of government—even if we Christians are more dubious than at least some of the Critical Theorists about how good the outcomes will be. (Christians really do want Jesus to return not least because every government between now and then will deeply disappoint, even as some are markedly better than others.)
Cultural Marxism, we have seen, doesn’t exist. The term itself is merely a weapon for some people—including, alas, some well-meaning Christians—to condemn ideologies, politics, and economics to their left. It’s inherently contradictory, so let’s agree to drop it, shall we?
As for liberalism, almost all readers of this piece will find themselves to be liberals of one political hue or another. And while many of the great thinkers of liberalism have eschewed anything like orthodox Christianity (Mills, Rawls), many others have rooted themselves in the Christian tradition, or at least found it to provide us with values without which liberalism cannot function (from Locke to, yes, Habermas).
Socialism? Much of European politics has been led, in fact, by versions of Christian democratic socialism. Canadian politics has been influenced deeply by socialist concerns, whether explicitly (as in the New Democratic Party), or piecemeal by the Liberals and even Conservatives at times. Down Under, socialism has emerged along a spectrum from Labour parties to communist organizations in both Australia and New Zealand. And in all of these countries, a variety of socialist concerns have emerged in the Green parties.
Only in the United States, therefore, are socialists generally homeless in the major political parties. The campaigns of Sen. Bernie Sanders to become the Democratic nominee for president and the more radical utterances of the so-called “Squad” are what pass for mainstream socialist options in America today.
And may I say therefore to my American readers that there is nothing inherently anti-Christian about socialism, even as many socialists historically have resented the Church’s alignment with established power and thus sounded anti-Christian. Socialism in any given situation might be an inferior option, but it isn’t inherently a wicked option. Saying “socialism” should begin a conversation, not automatically end it.
Communism has generally been anti-Christian, since Christianity was one of the problems of society that Marx and Engels meant communism to solve: an ideology that legitimized the rich while offering false consolation to their victims. Since communism is not a live option for most readers of this column, however, we’ll leave it at that.
As for Critical Race Theory, like any other critical theory Christians not only can be sympathetic to it, but can agree with it inasmuch as Christians likewise presume that institutions are everywhere and always bent to fit the agenda of the powerful. So if white heterosexual Christian men run the show, you can bet—from a Christian point of view—that the nonwhite, the nonheterosexual, the non-Christian, and the non-men will be discriminated against in some fashion.
Those men might not consciously mean to discriminate, and some may even take up the cause of justice on behalf of others. But as the history of actual campaigns for emancipation and equality shows, the powerful yet tend to treat the less powerful differently—and worse. (Patriarchy, for instance, suffused much of the abolitionist movement. Racism shows up in the history of feminism. And so on.)
Christians, like any other thoughtful people, will reserve the right and responsibility, of course, to disagree with this or that version of Critical Race Theory, or feminism, or any other ideology. Christians will insist that everyone be loved, not hated—including our enemies. Christians will insist that, so far as we can tell (since we cannot X-ray hearts), everyone at least potentially can be redeemed by God. And Christians will insist that utopia comes only with the reign of the returned Lord Jesus, so we will neither aim at righting all wrongs nor be discouraged when our campaigns fail to achieve all their goals.
Indeed, Christians will stand with all who contend for justice and compassion, even as we will differ with some of our neighbours, and even among ourselves, as to strategy and tactics in the quest to make peace, to make shalom.
Finally, Christians will beware the New Moralism. To be sure, we do bear a Story that we believe is the Basic Truth about reality and the meaning of life. We do insist that some things are wrong and other things are right. And we do affirm that Jesus Christ himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life whom all people need to confess as Lord and embrace as Saviour.
We hold all these convictions, however, not because we trust our own intuition. Not because it seems simply obvious to us. (How could the Christian Story, in all its weirdness, possibly strike anyone as intuitively true?) We believe what we believe because we believe that God has told us so. And we believe that anyone who will genuinely open herself or himself to the truth will eventually hear and receive that message.
So Christians pursue justice and compassion alongside our neighbours of various ideological stripes, insofar as we seek similar outcomes of goodness especially for the oppressed.
So Christians respond to our shouting neighbours with patience, and humility, and compassion, and gentleness, and love. (We do, don’t we? We must.)
So Christians live lives consistent with the Gospel and we converse in ways shaped by the Gospel in hopes that our families and churches and friendships and institutions all evidence this New Life promised by that Gospel.
If Christians do in fact live this way, the Gospel will reach out and touch others, as it has from the beginning.
If Christians don’t, then it literally won’t matter what we have to say about…postmodernity, Critical Theory, Cultural Marxism and…all the rest.