Critical theory is an approach to social philosophy that focuses on a critique of society and culture in order to reveal and challenge power structures. It isn’t new. It originated with Karl Marx (1818-1883). I’ve read theological versions of it since the 90’s (liberation theology, feminist theology).
It has made quite a resurgence in the U.S. of late. Timothy Keller argues that critical theory is built on five basic tenets:
- Unequal outcomes in wealth, well-being, and power are never due to ability, individual actions, or cultural differences. Unequal outcomes are always due to unjust social structures. These unequal outcomes are fixed, not by changing behavior, but by changing social policy.
- Art, religion, philosophy, morality, law, politics, education, family structure, even rational thought are not determined by truth or reason, but by social forces and are used as tools of oppression.
- This power to oppress is mapped by what is called “intersectionality.” For instance, a white male, straight, cisgender, Evangelical…has the highest amount of power. Just by the nature of who he is, he’s an oppressor – even if not acting on it. But, because this oppression is systemic, most oppressors are blind to this reality. So, the person with the least amount of power has the greatest moral authority to call upon others to give up their power. Oppressors must be “awakened” (or woke).
- Language and debate are the dominant ways this power is used over the oppressed, so true freedom of speech isn’t acceptable because it gives airtime to unjust discourse.
- In critical theory, group identity and group rights are most important. Therefore, guilt isn’t assigned for individual actions but on the basis of group membership and social and racial status. Read Here
You don’t have to look long or hard to find critical theory being played out in our nation. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews called President Trump’s 2016 inaugural address “Hitlerian.” Read Here The connection stuck. Google “Trump Hitler” and you’ll get 68M hits in five seconds.
Now, think of the ramifications. If President Trump were indeed the embodiment of evil in the 21st Century, stopping him is THE moral thing to do. Dietrich Bonhoeffer struggled with this in relation to the real Hitler. “If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”
Ultimately, Bonhoeffer set aside his pacifism and worked to get rid of the German dictator.
Critical theorists are reaching similar conclusions (albeit through very different means). If the 45th President is evil, then stealing a yard sign from a neighbor is moral. So is stealing a MAGA hat and throwing a drink in the wearer’s face Read Here . Jussie Smollett stole the nation’s attention with a fake lynching by MAGA hat-wearing Trump supporters. And Rachel Rodriguez from San Antonio was just indicted for stealing votes. Read Here
The list goes on. Shouting down conservative speakers on college campuses, in order to prevent “unjust discourse,” is moral. So is locking social media accounts and censoring content.
The problem with critical theory is relativism. With no transcendent morals to guide us – with no absolutes – we will continue to justify what heretofore was considered immoral. The God-given freedoms enshrined in our Constitution no longer have value.
Likewise, when the idea of human sin is absent, and certain groups of people are thought to have higher or lower moral value based on the group to which they belong, unity, reconciliation, forgiveness and peace will be impossible to attain.
Our fragmentation as a nation will continue…and escalate.
What can stop this fragmentation and save this nation? Only a drastic return to a biblical worldview…where there IS a God…where every human is worthy of honor because she is an image-bearer of that God…where there are moral absolutes…where there is truth and it can be known.
It was from this perspective that our Constitution was framed. Only from here can we really speak truth to power and reign in unjust power structures. It is true. We don’t always live up to the ideals our forefathers enshrined in our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Still, as Dr. King reminded us, “…they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Unless we turn back to a biblical worldview, we will lose that great inheritance. And our nation.