Critical theory is an ideology which sees individual identity as inseparable from group identity and which is committed to the liberation of oppressed groups. It often underlies concepts like ‘social justice’, ‘intersectionality’, ‘antiracism’, and ‘white privilege.’ This page highlights important articles that discuss critical theory, written by authors across the political and religious spectrum. My own critique of critical theory can be found here.
Critical theory as a religion
“To get back to the point, it is relatively easy—and a worthy exercise—to identify fairly obvious parallels between Social Justice and other religions, such as that the concept of privilege exhibits uncanny similarities to the concept of Original Sin. The purpose of this essay is not just to draw such parallels, however. It seeks to place them within a context that sees Social Justice as a postmodern religious phenomenon and to clarify why this also distinguishes it from truly being a religion. These parallels are the tell, however, and they are what one should expect from a cultural phenomenon serving many of the same psychological and sociocultural purposes the world’s many religions do. This is because these behaviors arise out of and in service to the same psychological and social needs that human beings have and attempt to satisfy not just with religious belief but with religion itself.” – James Lindsay, Areo, Postmodern Religion and the Faith of Social Justice
“These days, there is something else about [Americans] —they have developed a new religion. That religion is antiracism. Of course, most consider antiracism a position, or evidence of morality. However, in 2015, among educated Americans especially, Antiracism—it seriously merits capitalization at this point—is now what any naïve, unbiased anthropologist would describe as a new and increasingly dominant religion. It is what we worship, as sincerely and fervently as many worship God and Jesus and, among most Blue State Americans, more so.”
– John McWhorter, The Daily Beast, Antiracism, Our Flawed New Religion
“Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse. It enforces manners. It has an idea of virtue — and is obsessed with upholding it. The saints are the most oppressed who nonetheless resist. The sinners are categorized in various ascending categories of demographic damnation, like something out of Dante. The only thing this religion lacks, of course, is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance, ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.”
– Andrew Sullivan, New York Magazine, Is Intersectionality a Religion?
“Intersectionality is, then, a quasi-religious gnostic movement, which appeals to people for precisely the reasons that all religions do: It gives an account of our brokenness, an explanation of the reasons for pain, a saving story accompanied by strong ethical imperatives, and hope for the future. In short, it gives life meaning.”
– Elizabeth C. Corey, First Things, First Church of Intersectionality
“For the in group, it’s easy to see the appeal of the philosophy. There’s an animating purpose — fighting injustice, racism, and inequality. There’s the original sin of “privilege.” There’s a conversion experience — becoming “woke.” And much as the Christian church puts a premium on each person’s finding his or her precise role in the body of Christ, intersectionality can provide a person with a specific purpose and role based on individual identity and experience.”
– David French, The National Review, Intersectionality, the Dangerous Faith
“when the campus activists talk about harm and safety, they’re talking about the harm caused by oppression. Their concerns are moral ones, and because ‘morality binds and blinds,’ as Haidt has told us, they won’t be easily persuaded by evidence against their beliefs. They’ve embraced a moral program that binds them to a community of fellow activists, and one that blinds them to alternative ways of viewing things. Abandoning it would require something akin to a loss of faith.“
– Bradley Campbell, Quillette, The Free Speech Crisis on Campus Is Worse than People Think
“This brand of [white] self-flagellation has become the new form of enlightenment on race issues. It qualifies as a kind of worship; the parallels with Christianity are almost uncannily rich. White privilege is the secular white person’s Original Sin, present at birth and ultimately ineradicable. One does one’s penance by endlessly attesting to this privilege in hope of some kind of forgiveness.” John McWhorter, The American Interest, Atonement as Activism
“And so the young adherents of the Great Awokening exhibit the zeal of the Great Awakening. Like early modern Christians, they punish heresy by banishing sinners from society or coercing them to public demonstrations of shame, and provide an avenue for redemption in the form of a thorough public confession of sin. “Social justice” theory requires the admission of white privilege in ways that are strikingly like the admission of original sin. A Christian is born again; an activist gets woke. To the belief in human progress unfolding through history — itself a remnant of Christian eschatology — it adds the Leninist twist of a cadre of heroes who jump-start the revolution.” – Andrew Sullivan, American’s New Religion
“Commentators have accurately noted how social justice seems to take the form of a religion. This captures the meaning and fulfilment I found in protests and occupations. It also captures how, outside of these harrowing festivals, everyday life in radical communities is mundane but pious. As a radical activist, much of my time was devoted to proselytizing. Non-anarchists were like pagans to be converted through zines and wheatpasted posters rather than by Bible and baptism.” – Conor Barnes, Sad Radicals
“For expressing his view, Mr. Weinstein was confronted outside his classroom last week by a group of some 50 students insisting he was a racist. The video of that exchange — “You’re supporting white supremacy” is one of the more milquetoast quotes — must be seen to be believed… Following the protest, college police, ordered by Evergreen’s president to stand down, told Mr. Weinstein they couldn’t guarantee his safety on campus. In the end, Mr. Weinstein held his biology class in a public park. Meantime, photographs and names of his students were circulated online. “Fire Bret” graffiti showed up on campus buildings. What was that about safe spaces?”
-Bari Weiss, The New York Times, When the Left Turns on Its Own
“In time, the sixties gave rise to more identity-bounded movements: Black Power, second-wave feminism, gay liberation. Class was seldom fully in the mix, except, maybe, in a generalized Marxist way…Identity politics used to be obligate: I am a woman of color, because the world sees me as such. Now there is an elective element: I identify as X and Y and Z right now. That can distract from the overriding class privilege of élite education. ‘Intersectionality is taken as a kind of gospel around here,’ Blecher complained.”
– Nathan Heller, The New Yorker, The Big Uneasy
“One of the first [Humanities 110] professors to request that RAR [Reedies Against Racism] not occupy the classroom was Lucía Martínez Valdivia, who said her preexisting PTSD would make it difficult to face protesters. In an open letter, RAR offered sympathy to Martínez Valdivia but then accused her of being anti-black, discriminating against those with disabilities, and engaging in gaslighting—without specifying those charges. When someone asked for specifics, a RAR leader replied, ‘Asking for people to display their trauma so that you feel sufficiently satisfied is a form of violence.’”
– Chris Bodenner, The Atlantic, The Surprising Revolt at the Most Liberal College in the Country
Christian critiques of critical theory
“Every situation is analysed in terms of the bad people acting to preserve their power and privilege over the good people. This is not an education. This is induction into a cult. It’s a fundamentalist religion.”
-Prof. Jonathan Haidt, quoted by Heather Tomlinson, Premier Christianity, Identity Politics: Should Christians get involved?
“There is no question that there are racial and injustice problems today and the church can do a lot better—and offer a distinctive solution to—those problems. But what we cannot do, in the name of a facile notion of “compassion” and “tolerance” is to baptize whole cloth the current secular version of and solution to these problems found in the [diversity-social justice-white privilege] movement as it is incarnated at our universities as well as by secular progressives.”
– Prof. J.P. Moreland, The Christian Post, Christians, The Diversity-Social Justice-White Privilege Movement, And What It’s Got To Do With Real Love
“The problem is not with the quest for justice. The problem is what happens when that quest is undertaken from a framework that is not compatible with the Bible. And this is a very real problem, because the extent to which we unwittingly allow unbiblical worldview assumptions to shape our approach to justice is the extent to which we are inadvertently hurting the very people we seek to help.”
– Prof. Thaddeus Williams, interview with Sean McDowell, How Should Christians Think about Social Justice?
“As an analytic framework for identifying the effects of systemic sin, intersection theory may be of some use to Christians. But when it is used to justify the creation of ever more narrow and increasingly divisive identity groups, it becomes another secular worldview that Christians must reject. While characteristics such as race and gender are not erased when a person becomes a member of God’s kingdom, our identity as Christians is rebuilt around Jesus.”
– Joe Carter at The Gospel Coalition, What Christians Should Know About Intersectionality
“In classic Marxism, the driving force in history is economic — the struggle between capitalists (oppressors) and the proletariat (oppressed). Cultural Marxism foists the same martyr mentality on race, sex, ethnicity, sexuality, gender — the list keeps growing. True believers are urged to develop class consciousness (become aware of yourself as a suffering victim), then rise up against the oppressors.
Marxism has been called a Christian heresy because of its religious overtones: Its counterpart to the Garden of Eden is the state of primitive communism. Its version of the fall into sin — the source of evil and oppression — is the creation of private property.”
– Nancy Pearcey in the Daily Caller, “Berkeley Antifa Targets Isabella Chow For Defending Biological Sex”
See all content on critical theory here.