Liberal Atheist and Conservative Christian Thinkers in Alliance? Part 2
We’re an unlikely pair to be team-teaching on college campuses. As I explained in Part 1, Peter Boghossian has had it as his mission to “create atheists.” I lead a global campus ministry devoted to helping students and faculty discover confidence in Christ. What could possibly bring us together? A common threat, that’s what.
The Common Threat
There was a short period of about ten to fifteen years when the “New Atheists” seemed to be the greatest threat to Christianity in America. That movement is crumbling. But another, more threatening, current is sweeping through culture.
Though the New Atheists were hostile toward Christianity, they never threatened to shut us down. They believed science was the only or best means to arriving at truth, so they rejected religious truth. But at least they believed that truth is real and knowable. They were willing to debate. This New Left, the illiberal left, is a threat to all. They don’t much want free thought, much less free speech.
The new threat originated from an intellectual and social movement called Critical Theory. We describe and explain Critical Theory in Ratio Christi’s free online booklet, Engaging Critical Theory and the Social Justice Movement. I’ll condense that information for you here.
What is Critical Theory?
Critical Theory bears similarity to expressions like social justice, cultural Marxism, identity politics, and political correctness. Most people, left and right (including churches, seminaries, and parachurches), are in some respects attracted to the term “social justice.” Justice is good, right? This version is a Trojan horse, however. Hiding inside it are ideas that are subversive to the American ethos in general and to Christianity in particular.
There’s a danger in discussing theory here: It may seem overly academic. It is academic, in the sense that it pervades the campus. It’s not academic, though, in the other sense of the word, that “only specialists have any stake in it.” We all have a stake in it. It defines and clarifies what’s driving our entire culture’s current controversies over sex, gender, race and religious freedom.
Critical Theory developed out of Cultural Marxism’s “class warfare.” This version of class warfare isn’t based only on economic status, however, as was the emphasis in classical Marxism. It’s formed instead along lines of race, class, gender, sex and religion. As in classical Marxism, there are oppressors and oppressed, victimizers and victims, bourgeoisie and proletariat. These group identities are set in antagonistic relations one to another.
This is where identity politics comes from. Any inequality whatsoever is likely deemed an injustice. The ethical goal is liberation from the injustice, that is, the inequality. The goal is social justice, where that is defined as equality of outcome.
Echo Chambers of Leftism
Universities throughout the country haven’t just bought into Critical Theory. They’ve become echo chambers of leftism moving further to the extreme left, insulated from the challenge of diverse perspectives. It makes for a very narrow exposure, which is of course bad for education. Beyond that, there also emerges from it a political orthodoxy, along with punishment for politically incorrect violations.
For in this orthodoxy, there is truth and there is political truth. There is justice and there is social justice. Punishment is meted out through silencing, shaming or even destroying the opposition.
The universities (and many corporations) speak often of DIE (Diversity, Inclusion and Equity). “Diversity” generally emphasizes skin color and body parts. Diversity of thought, though? That’s not valued. “Inclusivity” is self-contradictory, for it excludes anyone who disagrees with the politically correct spectrum of doctrines. “Equity” isn’t true equality in many cases; it moves toward payback and reparation instead. Forgiveness is completely out.
Views expressed by members of oppressed groups are immune to critique by the dominant, “oppressor group.” Rational or logical objections are rebuffed as western imperialistic logical fascism, whose one purpose is to maintain group control. Members of oppressed groups have special knowledge known as “lived experience,” which oppressor-group members simply cannot critique. This immunity goes so far, even another oppressed-group member can’t properly object to it. It would mean she suffers blindness from alleged “internalized oppression.”
Just a Taste, But That’s Bad Enough
That’s just a taste of Critical Theory’s background and effect in our culture. Space doesn’t allow me to go deeper into it here, but again, our booklet on it is available for free download.
This is what united Peter Boghossian and me, as we set out to share on Critical Theory on four Utah college campuses this month. I mentioned last time how there was tension as we entered into these lectures. I’ll let you know how it played out as I finish the story in Part 3.
Dr. Corey Miller is president and CEO of Ratio Christi. He has served on pastoral staff at four churches and has taught nearly 100 college courses in philosophy, theology, rhetoric and comparative religions at various campuses (Purdue, Indiana University, Multnomah University and Ecola Bible College). He is author of several books, including In Search of the Good Life: Through the Eyes of Aristotle, Maimonides, and Aquinas. Miller lives with his wife Melinda and three children in Indiana.