In my last post, I outlined how contemporary critical theory 1) divides society into oppressed and oppressor groups, 2) sees the imposition of dominant-group values as a form of oppression, 3) seeks to dismantle the norms and structures which subjugate oppressed groups, and 4) insists that oppressed groups have special access to truth. (Brad, note that tenet #4 is a statement of epistemology). I argued that this ideology is influencing many evangelicals, even though it’s fundamentally incompatible with Christianity.
In his response, Brad argued that I had mischaracterized critical theory and cited a definition provided by Horkheimer in 1937. Here, I’ll simply repeat my statement that there are many critical theories, not just one critical theory (see Levinson, Beyond Critique, p. 2-20). Horkheimer’s narrow definition might have correctly characterized the Frankfurt School eighty years ago, but does not necessarily apply to contemporary forms of critical theory, promoted by scholars like DiAngelo, Bonilla-Silva, McIntosh, and Crenshaw who all wrote five to six decades after Horkheimer’s essay was published. Since many of these authors explicitly affirm that their work stands in the tradition of ‘critical theory’ (see below), it seems odd to insist that they’ve misunderstood their own field.
However, the second question I asked Brad is even more relevant: is there any coherent ideology characterized by the four tenets I mentioned in my article? I offered to dispense with the label ‘critical theory’ for the sake of argument and to use another label like ‘critical social justice’ instead. Yet Brad seems to doubt that any such ideology exists. To counter that claim, I’ll simply offer a few quotes from DiAngelo and Sensoy’s Is Everyone Really Equal?, which we both cited in our articles (other sources available upon request).
Tenet 1: “All major social group categories (such as gender) are organized into binary, either/or identities (e.g. men/women).” (D&S, p. 63).
Tenet 2: “Oppression involves institutional control, ideological domination, and the imposition of the dominant group’s culture on the minoritized group.” (D&S, p. 62) “The dominant group maintains power by imposing their ideology on everyone.” (D&S, p. 73).
Tenet 3: “From a critical social justice framework, the term ally refers to a member of the dominant group who acts to end oppression in all aspects of social life” (D&S, p. 211). “Sexism, racism, classism, ableism, and heterosexism are specific forms of oppression” (D&S, p. 61).
Tenet 4: “knowledge is dependent upon a complex web of cultural values, beliefs, experiences, and social positions.” (D&S, p. 29) “Dominant groups have the most narrow or limited view of society… Minoritized groups often have the widest view of society [because of] double-consciousness” (D&S, p. 70).
DiAngelo and Sensoy also clearly identify the ideological basis for their work: “The definition [of social justice] we apply is rooted in a critical theoretical approach.” (p. xx) and “Our analysis of social justice is based on a school of thought known as Critical Theory.” (D&S, p. 25)
In particular, I submit to Brad this figure from p. 64. Is there a coherent ideology behind this table? If so, what label should we use to describe it?
I’m also curious to know whether Brad agrees or disagrees with the quotes I provided from Christian authors like Uwan, Wilson-Hartgrove, Hill, Cleveland, and Harper. Is the Sparrow Conference a “racist organization”? Are whites “blind wanderers” who suffer from “shriveled-heart syndrome”? Can we refer to Christ as “our Black Mother”? Does Tim Keller have “no authority to teach on justice”? Does Brad think these claims are completely unrelated to contemporary critical theory, despite the fact that these Christian authors cited DiAngelo, Bonilla-Silva, Ignatiev, and other contemporary critical theorists? I’d appreciate interaction on these points (and examples can be multiplied).
Finally, Brad’s last paragraph inadvertently offers a perfect illustration of how Christians can slip into dangerous, unbiblical ideas as a result of adopting claims rooted in contemporary critical theory. Without qualification, he writes: “I’d hope we’re all interested in dismantling systems which distribute advantages and disadvantages based on constructed identities.” From the context, he clearly expects that all compassionate, orthodox evangelicals will respond to this comment with a resounding “YES!”
Yet I’d answer this question in the negative: we should not necessarily dismantle such systems. If this denial surprises to you, it shows the problem with uncritically accepting the ideas of contemporary critical theory, which permeate our culture.
For example, “genderqueer” is one of the many options for gender identity currently offered everywhere from Facebook to college applications. Both queer theorists and conservative Christians would affirm that being “genderqueer” isn’t a part of our human nature; it’s a social construct. Moreover, there’s no question that traditional marriage, single-sex bathrooms, adoption applications, etc… all disadvantage the genderqueer. The gender binary is also deeply embedded in institutions like education, marketing, and entertainment, to say nothing of churches and Bible translations. Will Brad work to dismantle these systems and institutions so that advantages are distributed equally to men/women and genderqueer individuals?
Undoubtedly, Brad intended to apply his principle only to race, but it applies to so much more: age of consent laws, parental authority, citizenship, language, etc… Christians often embrace contemporary critical theory because it sounds just and compassionate, only to realize -months or even years later- that its logical implications are deeply incompatible with biblical orthodoxy, at which point they either abandon contemporary critical theory or orthodoxy.
In my previous article, I wrote: “not all dominant values and norms are inherently oppressive… Norms and values must be tested against Scripture, not dismantled haphazardly.” Brad’s statement provides a perfect example of how positive-sounding sentiments rooted in contemporary critical theory can have dangerous ramifications.
See my initial post here:
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 1
And Brad’s first response here:
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 2
See my second post here:
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 3
And Brad’s second response here:
Is Critical Theory a Thread to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 4
See my third post here:
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 5
And Brad’s third response here:
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi Part 6
See my fourth post here:
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 7
And Brad’s fourth response here:
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 8
See my fifth post here:
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 9
And Brad’s final response here:
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Neil Shenvi, Part 10
See my final post here:
Is Critical Theory a Threat to Evangelicalism? – A Dialogue with Bradly Mason, Part 11