by Steve Golden —
At church recently, I listened to a message—given in light of the huge cultural shift that’s occurring with the recent riots over George Floyd’s death—on postmodernism. As this brother laid out the claims of postmodernists and how to respond to them, I was struck by the fact that I have not run into an avid postmodernist since my undergraduate school days. In the early 2000s, I was under the tutelage of professors teaching the New Criticism and postmodernism; they questioned the meaning of words, debated whether authorial intent really matters, and proclaimed that everyone’s personal truth is truth. Postmodernist theory in academia became known for its message of tolerating all personal truths (except when a Christian claimed there was only one Source of Truth—then all bets were off). But that was nearly 20 years ago, and to put it bluntly, we’re past postmodernism.
I’m no stranger to postmodernist theories; you can read a detailed, multi-part series I wrote covering the major ones here. But the increasing numbers of riots and protests across the country, led by groups like Black Lives Matter and Antifa, with their lists of demands such as disbanding the police, evidences a shift. Not everyone’s truth is truth, and it is no longer just conservative Christians who are the odd ones out. The movements today do believe there’s absolute truth, and they also believe some people hold to false truths. We do a disservice to ourselves and those under our care if we stop at debating postmodernism, because while it does undergird many of the academic theories in play today, it’s no longer the buzzword or teaching topic it used to be. What’s the focus today? Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality (CRT/I).
When I was doing my graduate work in English studies, gender theory and critical race theory were all the rage. At the time, I naively thought I could utilize these ideas as “tools” that, from a Christian perspective, could perhaps have some redemptive value. I initially wrote my final master’s project on gender roles in a Renaissance era play, in which I concluded that social norms had been derived from a common text of the time—the Geneva Bible—and that the author was using parody to criticize a society that strays from these norms. I quickly learned from my project advisor that this is not the natural outworking of gender theory, and she sent me back to the drawing board. That’s because these theories are not tools; they are worldviews, with adherents who demand an almost religious devotion to them.
What was being argued then and what is being acted out against now is called “social construction.” In gender studies, for example, academics claim that what is seen as sexually “normal” in society is based on a set of social norms and mores created by the majority—men, usually white and heterosexual. What happens to those who live outside the margins (the marginalized or other), such as a homosexual or trans person? They are met with social punishment and ostracism, and thus are forced to conform to the dominant group’s norms. Judith Butler has been a key academic in popularizing this view.
CRT/I says something more nuanced but similar: race as a concept was constructed by the majority (white people, usually), and is only that—a construct. When they say someone is “White,” what they’re saying is that person has a socially constructed identity, often based on skin color (but not necessarily). What’s more important to CRT/I theorists is Whiteness, which represents the “assumptions, beliefs, and practices that place the interests and perspectives of white people at the center of what is considered normal and everyday” (Gillborn, p. 278).
CRT/I views society as “systemically racist” because they believe the overt racism that is so rarely seen today is only the crudest form of racism, but that because of Whiteness, racism pervades society in even the most innocuous interactions and is viewed as acceptable and ordinary to the majority. CRT/I redefines White supremacy to include virtually anything that can be presented as subtle forms of racism and so-called “white privilege” (defined as better access to power and resources because one is white). Laws only protect against the worst forms of racism, and if the enforcers in society are white people or perhaps people of another socially constructed race partaking in the benefits of Whiteness, then even the enforcement of those laws is uneven and inherently racist. Thus, the movement to disband the police.
Can a white person lose his or her blinders and see the “truth” of what CRT/I preaches? Possibly, though theorists argue it’s uncommon and refer to white allies as “race traitors.”
The I in CRT/I refers to what I believe is the most important part of the theory: Intersectionality. Coined by a law professor, intersectionality teaches that the struggles of minority races against majority norms has crossover for virtually any marginalized or “othered” group: the disabled, LGBT individuals, women, and so on. Intersectionality is the activist part of the theory—it’s the part that calls minorities to “generate coalitions between different groups with the aim of resisting and changing the status quo” (Gillborn, p. 279).
The central question of many postmodern theories is generally something like, “What would this author be communicating if he were gay? Or if she were a feminist? Or a Marxist?” Likewise, in CRT/I, the central question is, “How would life be different if a marginalized group were making the decisions?” It’s a way of encouraging activism. If you’ve been following the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone (CHOP)—formerly the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ)—that’s been formed by protesters in Seattle, then you’re seeing some of the more extreme outworking of this activism.
Much of academic theory today has abandoned the façade of tolerance and “all truth is truth” that was touted 20 years ago. What students in our colleges and universities learn now is that the majority group (again, usually white, heterosexual males) has created false truths in order to oppress marginalized groups. My graduate school professors attributed this creation of false truths to a fear of the “other,” of what the white man (or heterosexual man, or…) did not understand, be it homosexuality, transgenderism, or women. Our students are graduating with degrees in analyzing the relationship between the Oppressors and the Oppressed—but they are conditioned to always see the white person as the Oppressor, and to believe they owe all minority groups an apology. Our students are told that if they are white, they are racist either outright or subconsciously. They are told they have no insight that’s valuable in the understanding of minority groups, because they have been ingrained with a false narrative, put there by the dominant group.
Significantly, academia today teaches minority students that they have a direct line to Truth proper, because of their unique view of the world as minorities. Identity is crucial in critical theory, especially any identity characteristic that’s considered “other.” Moreover, a member of the majority group has no right to critique or criticize that secret truth—only a responsibility to listen and respond with deference and change. Rest assured, all the black activist groups leading these riots and violent protests have been strongly influenced by these ideas. Recent images and videos of white people being asked to kneel—and complying!—are evidence enough.
Creating Cultural Marxists
Anyone with a remote understanding of Marxism will recognize the ties these academic theories have to Marxist ideology. Marxism focused on class status and pitted those who produced goods and services (the proletariat) against those who own the companies and corporations (the bourgeoisie) in the hope of sparking a revolution—but it tends instead to lead to economic destruction and the rise of dictatorial rulers under a Communist form of government. CRT/I theorists go a step further by focusing on race and pitting minority groups against a dominant group. It vilifies that dominant group and calls for change in ways that lead to the civil unrest we’re witnessing today, while also creating racism within its own movement.
These activists, created by decades of academic theories dominating our classrooms, demand that white people stop talking and listen, kneel in subservience, and pay reparations for the wrongs of generations ago. They point out perceived “white privilege” and so-called “microaggressions” as evidence of systemic racism. While the nation resoundingly condemned what happened to George Floyd, not everyone was ready to condemn it as racially motivated. But the activists leading the violent protests and riots believe his death at the hands of a white police officer is just another example of oppression.
It’s important to realize that the false narrative CRT/I promulgates has been blended with just enough truth to make it palatable to many. To be sure, racism still occurs in some communities, and not just between whites and blacks. Police brutality has cropped up repeatedly over the last 10 years, but not only against black people. Both are morally wrong and unjust, but violent riots/revolution won’t bring meaningful change. (More on this in Part 2.)
These riots are merely academics’ chickens coming home to roost. Yet, if social media feeds are any indicator, Christian leaders and lay people alike are allying themselves with the “oppressed” in alarming numbers, seemingly without a full understanding of the ideology they are adopting or of the end game for the “oppressed” in this scenario. Rioting, looting, burning businesses, and taking over a portion of Seattle—these are not the actions of a movement trying to leverage justice. These are the actions of the oppressed becoming what they claim to hate—oppressors. But that’s the natural outworking of the theory. CRT/I is less about race than it is about authority, and taking that authority away from those in power by any means necessary. Adherents want to see how the world would change if they were in charge.
Christians need to think carefully before voicing support for the Black Lives Matter organization or claiming that the Church as a whole is guilty of systemic racism. The worldview that CRT/I promotes runs counter to Christianity, and we must be careful to seek justice (Micah 6:8) without giving up the central tenets of our faith. (More on those distinctions in Part 3.)