What is Critical Theory?
It is somewhat difficult to give critical theory a clear, concise definition. It was developed by a group of scholars at the Institute for Social Research at Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany during the 1920’s and 30’s. They broke down critical theory into four principles.
The first principle splits society into two social groups of the “oppressor” and the “oppressed”. This was in large part borrowed and developed from the philosophies of G. W. F. Hegel and the more popular Karl Marx, who viewed society as being divided into dominant and submissive groups. You might often hear critical theory also called “cultural Marxism”.
The second principle of critical theory centers on the existence of hegemony. Hegemony is when the oppressor use their power and influence in the realms of politics, society, and culture to dominate the oppressed group. This is popularly and simply known as systemic oppression.
The third principle presumes that knowledge and truth be centered around an individual’s lived experience and group identities (such as race, sex, class, orientation, etc.). This empower the oppressed groups with special knowledge typically unavailable to the oppressor groups. This makes the oppressed group better situated to speak to issues of injustice and disparity. Conversely, it should also be noted that according to critical theory, the oppressor groups will use the idea of objectivity to downplay lived experience and keep oppressed groups marginalized.
Last but not least, critical theory seeks to “liberate” and “emancipate” oppressed groups from their oppressors. This could happen in several ways, but typically it occurs on a spectrum between two scenarios:
- Revolution, where the oppressed forcefully overthrow their oppressors.
- Peaceful transfer, where oppressor groups willingly surrender their power and influence to the oppressed groups.
In general, critical theory doesn’t merely seek to explain how society operates but also seeks to achieve liberation.
I initially intended to focus on Critical Race Theory, but I believe the agenda is much bigger than race. There are plenty of other special interests groups that are lined up to benefit from CT once proven that people of color, mainly black faces, are adequately “redeemed”. But are there redeeming qualities to CT?
The strengths of CT?
- The evil existence of oppression
- Psalms 103:6: The Lord gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.
- Zechariah 7:9-10: “This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor. And do not scheme against each other.
- Psalms 73:8: They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others. (Talking about the proud)
- Exodus 3:9: Look! The cry of the people of Israel has reached me, and I have seen how harshly the Egyptians abuse them.
- Exodus 22:21: “You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.
- Leviticus 25:17: Show your fear of God by not taking advantage of each other. I am the Lord your God.
- The existence and abuse of hegemonic powers
- Ephesians 6:12: For weare not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
- The importance of listening to others’ lived experience
- Proverbs 18:1-3: Unfriendly people care only about themselves; they lash out at common sense. Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions. Doing wrong leads to disgrace, and scandalous behavior brings contempt.
- James 1:19: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.
- Interest convergence
- Matthew 6:1-3: “Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
- Jesus transcends nationalities
- John 4:1-42: Jesus accepts the Samaritans as a Jew.
Was Critical Theory based on the teachings of Jesus Christ?
I have not found evidence indicating that CT was sourced from the lessons of Jesus Christ. Although Jesus Christ confronted and overcame religious authority and spoke against oppression, His purpose in the Gospels was to provide salvation from sin and not simply:
- Redistribute wealth
- Reorganize power structures
- Encourage chaos and riots
The weaknesses of CT?
- Much of CT scholarship is premised on the idea that material disparities observed along racial lines are the result of racism. While we should acknowledge the many ways in which the sins of the past and present contribute to racial disparities or other injustices, making an immediate correlation between any disparity and racism is simplistic.
- Since CRT draws from postmodernism (where there is no objective source of truth), it presents the lived experience of minorities as an authoritative source of truth. It’s important to listen to one another’s lived experience, as it can help make us aware of blind spots in our own ways of thinking. However, if lived experience is held as the highest source of knowledge, this undermines the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word as the final arbiter of truth (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.
- CRT is overly skeptical of people’s motivations and the racial progress that has been made. As I mentioned above, interest convergence has some truth to it. Nevertheless, as Christians, we are commanded to act without selfishness (Philippians 2:3-4).
- Philippians 2:3-4: Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.
- On the other hand, CRT can end up filtering everything through our racial or other group identities. Placing such emphasis on group identity runs counter to the biblical narrative, which presents humanity as fundamentally united. We are united in creation, being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27) and having a common lineage to Adam (Acts 17:26). We are united in our sinfulness and our need for forgiveness in Christ (Romans 3:21-26), and in Christ, we have an identity, faith, and unity that transcends our group identities (Colossians 1:19-23, 3:11; Galatians 3:28). We become one new humanity in him (Ephesians 2:14-18). This results in a forgiveness, reconciliation, unity, peace and Godly worship (Revelation 7:9-11) amongst groups which is unattainable under CRT.
- Genesis 1:26-27: And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
- Acts 17:26: And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation;
- Romans 3:21-26: But now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he makes sinners right in his sight when they believe in Jesus.
- Colossians 1:19-23: For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News. The Good News has been preached all over the world, and I, Paul, have been appointed as God’s servant to proclaim it.
- Colossians 3:11: In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile,circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized,slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
- Galatians 3:28: There is no longer Jew or Gentile,[a] slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.
- Ephesians 2:14-18: For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death. He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.
- Revelation 7:9-10: After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar, “Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!”
- This is not just a material universe. There is a God, and we will all answer to Him someday.
- Oppression of others is evil, and we should condemn it.
- Oppression is not the only moral wrong. We should condemn violence, lust, arrogance, envy, slander, gossip, sloth, murder and many other behaviors in ourselves and in society in general.
- We are all sinners, and we all fall short of God’s glorious plans for us. God sent Jesus into the world to save us from our sins and to change us from the inside out into new creatures.
- We ourselves only escape our immoral tendencies by the redeeming love of Christ and His presence and continuous work through the Holy Spirit in us.
- We are each unique, God-made creations with many unique characteristics. Our only moral worth is that endowed in each of us by our Creator, and no person has more inherent worth than anyone else does—oppressed, oppressor, native, immigrant, rich or poor.
- We should love everyone, and we should treat every individual with respect, regardless of any physical, emotional or spiritual qualities.