Tag Archives: critical race theory

The Madness of Crowds

In the introduction to his brilliant book, The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity, British author Douglas Murphy, begins by saying:

“We are going through a great crowd derangement. In public and in private, both online and off, people are behaving in ways that are increasingly irrational, feverish, herd-like and simply unpleasant….”
“[Yet] the origin of this condition is rarely acknowledged. This is the simple fact we have been living through a period of more than a quarter of a century in which all our grand narratives have collapsed.”

“One by one, the narratives we had were refuted, became unpopular to defend or impossible to sustain. The explanations for our existence that used to be provided by religion went first, falling away from the 19th century onwards.”

“Then over the past century the secular hopes held out by all political ideologies began to follow in its wake. In the latter part of the 20th century we entered the postmodern era. An era that defined itself, and was defined, by its suspicion towards all grand narratives. However, as all schoolchildren learn, nature abhors a vacuum, and into the postmodern vacuum new ideas began to creep, with the intention of providing explanations and meanings of their own.

What makes Murphy’s observations so strangely poignant, is that he is not a professing Christian. Rather, he is an openly practicing gay atheist. Yet Murphy manages to highlight the following quote, by G. K. Chesterston, a Christian, who was also one of the most profound cultural critics of the modern world, back almost exactly 100 years ago:

“[The] special mark of the modern world is not that it is skeptical, but that it is dogmatic without knowing it.”

Chesterton had prophetic insight in his own day. Douglas Murray revives that same insight for where we are in the 21st century.

In The Madness of Crowds, Douglas Murray lays out what he sees is a new, post-modern religion, that has sought to supplant Christianity in the West. But it has only starting to emerge, with its full-throated dogmatism, somewhere within the past ten years or so.

I recall about ten years ago, when the controversial Mormon and conservative news commentator, Glenn Beck, cautioned Christians to beware of churches that promote diversity and social justice. “I beg you look for the words social justice or economic justice on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words…

My response to Mr. Beck’s critique then, just as it is now, is that Mr. Beck simply does not understand what the Bible is talking about, when it is talking about “social justice,” or specifically, “justice.” As I had learned years ago, the language of “intersectionality” and “identity,” as interpreted through the lens of Scripture, were simply intellectual tools, to help us to understand the fallen world in which we live, and make sense of the lived, life experiences of those who face oppression or misunderstanding, who have yet to experience the full reality of being made new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). As I have outlined elsewhere, the concept of “social justice” actually has its roots in the Bible.

But times have changed, and the pace of that change is unrelentingly fast. In particular, I have been increasingly learning, that words can alter their meanings over time, and such words can be spun very differently, in different contexts. What were once merely helpful intellectual tools have morphed into becoming ideological markers, whereby rationality is sacrificed on the altar of sentimentality, and justified on the basis of Neo-Marxist philosophy. When the Biblical concept of social justice gets uprooted from its essentially Christian, Scriptural context, a new religiosity gets formed, promoting a form of dogmatism, just as bad, if not infinitely worse than the most wooden, legalistic forms of Christian fundamentalism.

What is so scary about this, is just how pervasive it is in all levels of society. Take for example, this easy experiment that Douglas Murray shows in his book, as to how Silicon Valley has embraced this new religiosity, and smuggled it into our iPads and iPhones, without most of us ever knowing it. Type into Google’s search engine, “straight couples,” and look for images, and you will immediately notice that a large number of the top hits will be either gay or lesbian couples, with relatively few heterosexual couples to be found. On the other hand, if you type in “gay couples” instead, you will get exactly what you are looking for, countless gay couples, and no straight couples anywhere to be found. Nevertheless, we all know that “straight couples” far outnumber “gay couples” throughout society. So, why are the Google search results so skewed in favor of “gay couples” over and against “straight couples?”

This is “intersectionality” as an ideological project at work, going way beyond the more helpful notion of “intersectionality” as a tool. In oh-so-subtle ways, the world of social media is forming our minds, with the new religion defining the new dogmatism. The supposedly unbiased nature of machine learning algorithms, that tech giants like Google (and they are not alone!!) use to sort their search results, are being employed to further this post-modern agenda.

One could suggest, as Douglas Murray does at times, that such language of “intersectionality” and “identity” has always been rooted in non-Christian, Marxist ideology. Yet this would be news to the writers of the Old and New Testament, such as when Christians make reference to the fact that Christians have a new “identity” found in Christ, as taught by the Apostle, in 2 Corinthians 5:17, mentioned above. But we now live in a world where the new forms of social media, driven by Silicon Valley, available 24/7 on our smart phones, are causing a whole new generation of young people to lose those long held connections to a Christian frame of mind.

Murray’s point is well taken, in that much of the talk of “intersectionality” and “critical race theory” today is decidedly not Christian today, but rather unashamedly Neo-Marxist. In his 1960s “I Have a Dream” speech, Martin Luther King Jr. argued for a Christian vision of a colorblind society. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” But Murray’s central contention in The Madness of Crowds is that the contemporary, ideologically-driven “social justice” movement has flipped King’s colorblind vision upside down upon its head, and freedom of speech has suffered as a result.

The silencing and bullying that seeks to suppress free speech is horrifying enough. The fact that such promotion of this type of “intersectionality” rhetoric shows very little, if any shame, only heightens the analysis that Douglas Murray displays in his prose. But it is not merely shameless, it is frankly unbelievable, or as the title of Murray’s book suggests… it is madness.

Perhaps the most troubling message in The Madness of Crowds comes in Murray’s chapter on “On Forgiveness.” In this new, ideologically-driven “intersectionality” movement there is no opportunity for forgiveness. Once someone has been identified as being a person of privilege, due to their gender, race, etc., the only “moral” way forward is to ally with the identified non-privileged. If such a person of privilege “sins,” in this religious paradigm, not even an apology is acceptable.  Even “sins” of the past can never be forgiven. Unlike the Christian faith, there is no opportunity for redemption. There is only condemnation. This new religion is a view of the world without hope or forgiveness.

The Madness of Crowds is not for the most squeamish. There were moments, when reading The Madness of Crowds, where the author was very explicit in matters delicate and morally degrading, to the point where I felt uncomfortable. But there is a purpose here. Murray is not gratuitous, for he chooses his words carefully to make his points, which are sadly necessary.

As an aside, in the Audible version of the title, Douglas Murray reads his own book. Just listening to the cadence and his British accent adds to the effectiveness of driving Murray’s argument home.

While The Madness of Crowds was not the most profound book I read this year, it is surely the best book I read that was released this year. Concerned and thoughtful Christians need to push this book to the top of their reading list.

I have Douglas Murray to thank, to help expose the elephant in the room, regarding how the post-modern phenomenon of political correctness and identity politics gone viral has poisoned the hearts and minds of so many in our day. Unlike Murray, I have not given up on what Murray calls “religion,” which I find to be the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as the true antidote to our difficulties today. Yet many Christians seem to be blithely unaware of what is being propagated, in much of the social media in our post-modern age. Sometimes, when the Church finds it so hard to figure things out herself, God can even raise up a gay atheist, to tell us the truth.

Get this book, and read it.

 

 


Is Christianity a “Useful Fiction” to Explain the World, or Is It the Ultimate Truth?

No doubt, my answer is the latter, but I will let the discussion below explain why…

I was planning on writing a blog post about “critical race theory,” “intersectionality,” and the “social justice warrior” movement, but I just got bogged down thinking about it. If you do not know what those terms mean, then you are not alone. The vocabulary is complex and elusive. Additional terms like “identity politics” and “wokeness” abound. But allow me a few paragraphs to set up the story, as to why this topic is so important….. A lot of hysteria surrounds this topic. But some of the craziness is surprisingly far too true.

In September, 2018, a group of conservative evangelical pastors drafted and published “The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel,” discussed here on Veracity. As many as perhaps 9,000 Christian pastors have signed the document, claiming that the modern trend towards “Social Justice” is incompatible with Christianity.

Nevertheless, a number of Christian leaders, ranging from Al Mohler, to Tim Keller, to Francis Chan, have rejected the document, believing that “Social Justice,” rightly understood, is perfectly compatible with orthodox evangelical faith. As Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Seminary, the flagship seminary for the Southern Baptist Convention, explains, some forms of “Social Justice” are consistent with Christianity, while others are not.

To complicate matters, in the summer of 2019, a resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention addressed the controversy over “Critical Race Theory” and “Intersectionality.” Some were in favor of the resolution, whereas others believe that it did not go far enough in condemning the “Social Justice Movement.” Some fear that the controversy will split Evangelicalism as a movement, within just a few years.

So, what is this whole controversy about?

Get your thinking cap on. You will need it.

All Christians are children of God, equal in his sight. “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith (Galatians 3:26 NIV). But in a post-modern, post-Christian society, some people adopt a different narrative, whereby the world is divided between the privileged and the oppressed, whereby the oppressed are called upon to silence the speech of the privileged. Can a postmodern world survive this new narrative, or do we need to resurrect Christianity as a “useful fiction” to counter this new narrative? Or is there a better answer?

The Rise of “Social Justice” in Post-Modernity, and Its Impact on the Church

This can get a bit heavy, so some background might help frame what is going on: Just in case you did not know, we are living in an increasingly post-modern, even post-Christian, society.

To be post-modern is in contrast with the idea of modernity. Modernity is the project of the Enlightenment come to fruition. Philosophers tell us that in pre-modern times, people lived in an age of faith. Whereas in modern times, we live in an age of reason. With modernity, religious faith has been marginalized to the preferences of the individual. What really remains supreme in modernity is reason, guided by the all-knowing hand of scientific progress. The so-called subjective talk of God has been pushed aside in favor the human ability to solve all problems, and come to the knowledge of absolute Truth, through reason alone.

The problem with modernity, however, is that the application of universal human reason has not actually delivered what was promised. Post-modernity, in contrast, has a more pessimistic take on human reason, as the pathway to true enlightenment. Two broad approaches to post-modernity are felt in today’s culture.

One approach is simply to say, “Yes, there is an absolute Truth, but we simply can not know it completely. We can only do the best that we can to approximate what that Truth is, but the limitations of reason prevent us from fully apprehending absolute Truth, in its fullness. So while absolute Truth is hypothetically there, we must simply settle for the notion of relative Truth in practice.” One application of this approach is to say that the various competing claims of absolute truth must be adjudicated through conversation and dialogue, at least in the public sphere. At a pragmatic level, this is an acknowledgement that we live in a pluralistic society. We will not all agree with one another, but we must learn how to live alongside one another.

The second post-modern approach takes a more activist form. “There is no absolute Truth. All claims to absolute Truth are, in reality, merely the exercise of power. The key to living in a post-modern world is then to equalize the power structures that articulate competing narratives of truth.”

It is this second approach to post-modernity that has fueled the contemporary interest in themes such as “Intersectionality,” “Critical Theory,” and being a “Social Justice Warrior.” Perhaps the easiest to explain is “Intersectionality.”

By “intersectionality,” a term coined in 1989 by legal scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshawmany scholars in the humanities say that different groups of people, who do not have lives marked by privilege, live their lives from the perspective of being oppressed. For example, many persons of color, such as African Americans, experience oppression. Likewise, many women experience oppression, at the hands of men. But when the experiences of being African American overlap with being female, the intersectionality of those experiences produces yet another complex form of marginalization within society.

Those who have lives marked by privilege, who empathize with the marginalized, are said to “ally” with the marginalized. Those who “ally” are encouraged to stand shoulder to shoulder with those who lack privilege, in order to correct social injustices.

Many social theorists find the category of “intersectionality” a helpful tool for understanding how social structures work. Many evangelical Christian thinkers would agree. After all, the Bible talks a lot about “Blessed are the poor,” and how all of us are created equal, within God’s perspective. So far, so good.

However, we must be exceedingly careful here. What might be seen as a helpful intellectual tool for some, could be carried on by others to mean something radically different.

The pursuit for “social justice” can become the basis for building a worldview, predicated on the same intellectual foundation as Marxism. It is as though being a “social justice warrior” takes on the trappings of a religion. As Christian apologist Neil Shenvi puts it, in his explanation of the related concept of “critical theory,”  “it views reality through the singular lens of power, dividing people into oppressed groups and oppressor groups along various axes like race, class, gender, sexuality orientation, physical ability and age.”

This may all seem like foreign territory for the average church-going Christian. But in a university setting, the quasi-religious character of being a “social justice warrior,” in the ideological sense, can be quite evident. It can get really bizarre.

For example, in 2017, a group of students sought to shout-down a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who came to speak at the campus where I work. Many conservative Christians have a less than positive image of the ACLU. But when a group of activist college students protest the mere presence of the ACLU on a secular college campus, then you begin to wonder if something else is going on. In a “social-justice-warrior” as-an-ideology worldview, the only way to respond to oppressive sounding voices on campus is to silence free speech. To my knowledge, aside from a rebuke by our then college president, no disciplinary action was taken against this group of students. Other attempts to shut-down conversations, and deny free speech, instigated by ideologically-minded professors, and/or aggressive school administrators, and propelled by organized groups of student followers, have been growing across college campuses, nationwide.

This is yet a glimpse into a crisis in academia, as the ideological tendency of this “social justice warrior” movement has threatened to compromise the very integrity of the intellectual viability of certain strands of humanities studies. This is not merely a concern of Christians. It also bothers more secular minded thinkers, those who lean towards the more progressive side of culture. If you want to be entertained and horrified, all at the same time, you can learn about the “Grievance Studies Affair,” exposed by left-wing academics James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian and Helen Pluckrose, in 2018. Following the YouTube playlist for this is mind-blowing.

In a postmodern world, where the premodern categories of religious faith have been deemed obsolete, and the modernistic hope for a view of scientific progress, that can solve all of humanity’s problems, is seen to be elusive, the postmodernist can see the world as merely the realm for power struggles. Orthodox Christian faith is left off to the side, for those who advocate an ideological commitment to “critical theory” and “intersectionality.”

But not only is historically orthodox Christian faith rejected, as being a form of privilege, the practice of science, as generally understood, is also under threat, due to an idealogical embrace of Marxist-inspired “critical theory.”  As a result, evangelical Christian thinkers and secularized atheists are finding some common ground, with their concerns, about the idealogical application of “intersectionality,” and the like. It might seem strange that evangelical Christians might have something in common with atheists, in working against a growing intellectual trend, but keep reading….

The War Against Biology: The “Social Justice Movement” as Becoming an Ideology for Some

Take for example, the case of evolutionary biologist, Brett Weinstein, when he taught as a professor at Evergreen State College, in 2017. When a group of students, invigorated by ideas taught by certain other professors of the humanities, sought to ask white faculty and students (particularly those who were male) to leave campus for a day, Professor Weinstein objected to the planned event as ill-conceived. In response, a group of student protestors interrupted his class, sparking a national conversation. WARNING: OBJECTIONABLE LANGUAGE IN THE VIDEO BELOW:

Professor Weinsten, and his wife, also an evolutionary biologist, and both who are not professing Christians, resigned from Evergreen State College, as they felt that their lives were being threatened by this student movement, and the school administration did little to intervene. This sets us up to get to the reason as to why this blog post is so important.

Brett Weinstein is now a public intellectual, a member of what some call the “Intellectual Dark Web,” populated by other public intellectual figures, such as Canadian psychologist, Jordan Peterson and orthodox Jewish commentator, Ben Shapiro. Weinstein’s experience at Evergreen State helped him to see that there are intellectuals, within the humanities, who advocate for a more ideological approach to intersectionality, such as in the case of what constitutes “gender” in a post-modern world. Such intellectuals have been convincing a new generation of students to think that the category of “gender” is merely a social construct. Weinstein sees this as an attack on the very foundations of biology, as a scientific discipline, where the distinction between male and female is a fundamentally biological description, not merely a social construct.

Weinstein suggests that the modern approach to evolutionary biology has failed, as evidenced by his own experience at Evergreen State. He is still an evolutionary biologist, but he believes the current secular hostility towards “religion,” including Christianity, has created a cultural crisis. The postmodern rejection of absolute truth, being promoted by certain disciplines in the humanities, has led to the development of distorted forms of traditional religiosity. For Weinstein, this new situation requires that scientists need to rethink how to approach evolutionary biology.

Secular, Atheistic Thinking That Wishes to Revive Christianity/Religion as a “Useful Fiction”

In his mind, Professor Weinstein contends that “religion,” which would include Christianity, still serves as a “useful fiction,” necessary for the survival of the human race. So while Weinstein rejects Christianity as an ultimate truth claim, it is nevertheless an invaluable aid that should be tapped to help secular society transcend the current cultural crisis, marked by the rise of ideologically-driven “critical theory” and “intersectionality.”

At the recent Unbelievable? conference in London, podcaster Justin Brierley sat down with Brett Weinstein and theologian Alister McGrath to discuss Weinstein’s ideas, as part of Brierley’s Big Conversation program. Given the background of Weinstein’s academic experience, the discussion is pretty amazing.

Brett Weinstein rejects the New Atheism of a Richard Dawkins, that negatively views Christianity as a disease or “virus of the mind.” (If you do not understand what Dawkins is talking about, view the following video. Otherwise, skip it, and move on to what I have written below):

Brett Weinstein believes that Dawkin’s approach to religion deserves a much better explanation. Ironically, for Christian listeners, Brett Weinstein thinks that Neo-Darwinian evolution holds the key for understanding and accepting “something” like Christianity, as a positive force for good for humanity. In that sense, something like Christian faith can be a “useful fiction,” to help humanity survive. This is the same type of message being propagated by those like Jordan Peterson. It is just that Peterson and Weinstein seem unable to make that jump of seeing Christianity as actually being true, in and of itself. This is a massive topic, and this blog post merely reveals the tip of a really, really big iceberg.

What interested me the most about the conversation below was the lack of enthusiasm for Alister McGrath’s response to Brett Weinstein, among a number of Christian listeners. But since McGrath does NOT subscribe to the “conflict thesis”; that is, the idea that evolutionary science and biblical faith are in direct opposition with one another, there was not a whole lot to disagree with, aside from Weinstein’s wishful thinking for something like Christian faith, but not exactly Christian faith, to emerge, to address our current problems, as a human race. McGrath’s answer was straight-forward enough, suggesting that historic orthodox Christian faith is sufficient to address the challenges that Weinstein brings up….(plus Christianity is true, and not merely a “useful fiction”).

Two hours, yes, but worth the intellectual workout. Enjoy.

 

 

For a similar discussion/debate that Alister McGrath had with skeptic Michael Shermer, please view it here.

 


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