Critical Theory and the Christian's Response

Critical Theory and the Christian's Response

Just a few years ago, the term Critical Theory was a term known by only a few. Today, Critical Theory is ever present in the headlines and in our lives, and I thought it would be a worthy endeavor to try and explain it in a way that helps us, as Christians, to know the way it impacts our culture and what our proper response to it should be.

In order to understand Critical Theory we must understand its beginnings, for Critical Theory is not a new thing, it didn't just appear in our world. Critical Theory was developed as a concept by Karl Marx in his critique of the society and the abuse of the lower class and was later picked up by a German university think tank at the Frankfurt School. Herbert Marcuse, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm and Max Horkheimer are the known theoreticians who adhered to this philosophy of thinking which meant "to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them." As such, it is easy to understand how the rhetoric of Critical Theory may sound appealing to us. It uses words such as justice, and we all crave a just world, don't we? It uses the concept of overthrowing the oppressor so the oppressed can be free, emancipated, which connects to a very basic need in the human psychology. However, what many fail to understand is that Critical Theory is not a tool to repair the damage of a society. It's aim is to overthrow the system in the hope (vain hope, I say) to better the condition of humanity. As a Christian, one of the problems I believe Critical Theory fails to take in the account, is the sinful nature of humanity and the fact that time and time again history has proven that in every societal system, sinful nature creates an unbalance that leads to abuse. Man is driven by pride and pride will create classes of people in any society. 

Critical Theory therefore does not try to adjust, to repair what is broken. It's aim, according to Max Horkheimer is to overthrow and eliminate the existing social structures used as the foundations of the current society, in favor of some utopian hope.

So why should we as Christians care about any of this stuff?

I believe that although these concepts have been part of academic thinking for a while, in the summer of 2020 we saw them explode on the scenes of our very lives with great impact. The BLM riots, the defund the police, the cancel and erase culture shift, they are all products of this thinking. Although in society the idea of putting in prison a son/grandson for his father or grandfather's crime is most definitely not accepted, this is exactly what is happening in our society today in regard to the critical race theory, which is a permutation of Critical Theory itself. As a white man in America today I feel oppressed in a way that although I understand people of color have felt before, I fail to see my guilt, my contribution, to the horrors of the past, number one; and number two, I am not sure that the Christian model of thought, left to us by Christ, says that in order to create justice we now have to make the other party suffer the same or similar faith. With other words, I understand and agree with the wrongs done by white people to black people (and not only, but to people of any other color) in history, but making the white people of today, who had nothing to do with what their ancestors have done, suffer an injustice to repair an injustice, will only create further injustice that the future generations will have to deal with. Love and forgiveness are the currency of heaven and we as Christians are meant to deal in those. Regardless of the historical account, we are to treat ALL people with love, respect and dignity for it is for ALL that our Savior found it just to die. 

 Further, Critical Theory has bled into all aspects of human behavior and empowered individuals to disregard the right and wrong Biblical worldview on human behavior by claiming that "unless you've lived my experience you can't have a real opinion on or about it". The fallacy of which is that even the proponents of this type of thinking stop short of giving the same weight to the experience of the murderer, the pedophile (as of yet), or of their opponents themselves, the only valid argument being their own argument. Every form of Biblical ethics narrative is seen as an instrument of oppression and thus disregarded. Objectivity, divine revelation and transcendence are seen as power plays, an imposition of hegemonic power, and thus instruments of oppression. As Christians, we guide ourselves by things being right or wrong, not from our own point of view, but from God's point of view as the Creator of human kind and all that exists. Our belief is that He knows best how we are to live and operate. When within ourselves we find certain pleasurable behaviors that contradict the Biblical ethics, we exercise self-restraint and try to resist temptation rather than discount the Biblical narrative as oppressive, which by the way, was the very technique used by the devil in the deception of Eve. In reading the Genesis account we see the serpent ask Eve, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) even though he knew fully well that it was not what God had said. However, in order to psychologically get Eve to agree that ALL the trees were good to eat from, he had to have her acknowledge to herself that indeed God gave them ALL the trees to eat from, so she would realize, or feel, that from one tree she was UNJUSTLY and OPPRESSIVELY being held from enjoying, because God didn't want her to be like Him. The enemy made it a question of identity, and twisted it in an oppressive idea holding Eve from realizing her, supposedly, full potential.

Our current cultural landscape is permeated by the forceful use of the "correct" pronouns which may sound insignificant as an issue to many Christians but it springs from questions of identity, from expressive individualism which Karl H wrote extensively about. Although the Bible is clear in regard to our identity, Critical Theory gives the individual almost a self declared infallibility where what I feel is right, however I see myself, however I interpret myself is right, and not what the Bible says about it. Although Critical Theory proponents have "the right" to critique EVERYTHING, they themselves are off limits to critique. This was illustrated aplenty when U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan attempted to speak at an event hosted by Stanford Law School’s Federalist Society chapter, entitled “The Fifth Circuit in Conversation with the Supreme Court: Covid, Guns, and Twitter.” was thwarted by dozens of protesters who attended the event to heckle him and not allow his right to free speech to be exercised because it contained critique of certain things deemed above criticism by the audience. This is taking place in a LAW SCHOOL where debating issues is an absolute norm and requirement for a student to be adequately equipped to argue in a court room. If we cancel free speech due to inconvenience there,... where else can free speech be upheld? A quick observation here, as someone who lived the first 14 years of his life in a communist socialist country with zero free speech. I recognize the elimination and silencing of criticism as a deeply communist rooted practice and this is what unfortunately I see happening in our American society today. The only valid speech apparently, is the one in agreement with the Critical Theory proponents (Critical Race Theory, Critical Gender Theory, Critical Legal Theory, etc.), and I believe that is very dangerous, especially to us Christians.

According to the LGBTQ+ nation website, Queer Theory challenges existing traditional ideas about identity, sexuality and gender - particularly ... the belief that heterosexuality is the natural, moral, or "normal" expression of sexuality. Speak against it and you will immediately be labeled as phobic of some kind, racist, or canceled all together. So, as a Christian, for whom the Queer Theory goes in direct opposition with the God given revelation of our design as human beings and our sexual expressions, should this not have a great significance? How should I respond to this?

Well, we certainly agree on something with the proponents of Critical Theory. We agree on the reality that this world is broken. We sympathize with all those hurting because of the brokenness of the world, however the solution we offer is very different than the overthrow of everything, including sound Biblical morality. To be "woke" politically in the African American community means that someone is informed, educated and conscious of social injustice and racial inequality, Merriam-Webster Dictionary states. As Christians we want to be "woke" to all these social and racial injustices BUT we must first determine TRUTH for only on the basis of this understanding can we qualify these injustices and take steps to create justice and equality. Critical Theory questions the existence of objective truth, viewing “expertise” as a ruse to gain power, as Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay explain in “Cynical Theories," and with that we cannot agree. As Christians we condemn gnosticism and its claim to secret knowledge because indeed it is geared toward obtaining power and authority but even more because it is against the Biblical TRUTH. On the basis of that TRUTH we reject gnosticism and see it as a danger to the Gospel. Similarly, we condemn all such ideologies that go against the TRUTH revealed to us by our Creator, and maintain that everything else, even though real, is a product and consequence of sin. We don't deny the experience of any self identified queer person. I don't doubt the genuineness of their attraction to the same gender, I don't doubt the genuineness of their feelings and fulfillment in such relationships. I simply argue that the presence of all those things does not make something wrong right. We claim that right or wrong is defined by God, not by humanity and its experience, so our response is not determined by the culture and by the movements in culture but by the Biblical revelation on the subject.

I realize that some of those among the LGBTQ+ community who have some Biblical knowledge even point out that through His Word, God calls Christians to love and do what is kind and right towards all people, even including their enemies. They also point out the paradox of the New Testament instruction as compared to that of the Old Testament in which the Jewish nation was commanded to exterminate entire cities. Their argument is meant to deliver a double hook and an uppercut, to use some boxing terminology, to KO any argument a Christian may have to debate the standing of those in the LGBTQ+ community. Debating the Old Testament is an exercise in futility. We lack the clear understanding of that world and the picture we paint from limited historical, literary or art records cannot provide the full spectrum. We have a hard time understanding our present day fully with all the existing media vehicles, how can we ever claim to understand theirs and the diversity of their world? When Jesus came on the scene it became evident that even the Jews had misunderstood God and what they upheld as justice was not what God intended. Jesus was ultimately crucified not because He was so much like the God of the Old Testament but because He was not and yet He claimed to be. However, Jesus' words toward His disciples, and the attitude Jesus had toward sin, is absolutely relevant to this discussion. Jesus was in the business of healing, restoration and forgiveness. We find Him in the midst of those on the fringes of His society, sharing with them hope, and love and the truth that God is calling them out of their enslavement to sin and into a relationship with Him, and so should we. Let those who want to hate us, hate us, but let them not be able to accuse us of the same. Let Christian be synonym to love, forgiveness, compassion and devotion, not judgment, bigotry, prejudice and other adjectives we've come to be addressed by. Our standing on the truth should be clear and unquestioned but so should our devotion to save those who we believe are in the enemy's grasp. If we believe that love, service and prayer are truly powerful weapons in the war on souls, then let us use them incessantly, and instead of the antagonistic rhetoric, some who profess allegiance to Christ use against those for whom Christ died. Let God be and do the judging for He is not a god of stone, blind, mute and deaf as the idols of the past. He is a living God able to bring judgment on the world as He has done in the flood and the incineration of Sodom and Gomorrah. He does not need us for that, nor did He requested us to do it. 

So as a Christian, living in a time when Critical Theory is ravaging culture, my response should be the same as it should have been before Critical Theory was a thing. Although I need to be aware of its claims and dangers to truth, my attitude toward humanity and the value people hold does not change, unless, my attitude toward humanity and the value of people was not rooted in Biblical TRUTH. All the revelation we need regarding gender identity, racial identity, and anything else has been already made in Jesus Christ who died for the thief, the murderer, the liar, the black, the white, the yellow, the red, the mixed, the L, the G, the B, the T, the Q and the + alike, he died for the sinner, for you, for me. The value each one of us have, is the value of the life of the Son of God Who came to redeem us from our misery of slavery to sin that puts us in all these categories. Being freed by Him, not by Critical Theory, we claim the right to be called Children of the Most High God and have a restored and rightful relationship with our God, and Father. 

I am firmly convinced that God will never judge you for loving someone with the love of God when they do nothing to deserve it, actually perhaps even do things to not deserve it. I cannot say the same for you passing judgment on someone, and hating someone on the basis of that judgment, no matter how righteous it may feel, or be. If not all, then a vast majority of us are guilty of this and in need to repent and with God's help, rectify. For we all, in equal measure, need His help.