Bishop Robert Barron, the well-known auxiliary of Los Angeles who founded the Word on Fire media apostolate, went on Reddit this week for his third AMA, “Ask Me Anything.”
The bishop responded to all sorts of questions related to faith, pop culture and theology, among other topics. It was his response to a question about racism and critical race theory that caught my attention – and that elicited some heated responses on Catholic Twitter.
“I completely subscribe to the view that social injustice should be fought whenever and however it raises its ugly head,” Bishop Barron said to one “redditor.” He added: “Racism, sexism,, oppression of the marginalized, etc. should never be accepted in any form. Having said that, I’m not a fan of CRT. I am deeply suspicious of its philosophical underpinnings in Nietzsche, Marx, Foucault, and Derrida. I don’t agree with the antagonistic social theory that it proposes; I don’t think we should analyze society purely in terms of power relationships. I don’t like programs of collective guilt. I believe in equality of opportunity, but not forced equity of outcome.”
I tweeted the bishop’s response during the Reddit AMA, and later mentioned it in a story I wrote for Our Sunday Visitor.
The general issues that people had with Bishop Barron’s answer was that he misrepresents critical race theory and attributes it to philosophers whose thinking have nothing to do with CRT. The critics also said this is part of a pattern of Bishop Barron demonstrating a huge blind spot on today’s racial justice movement, as evidenced by him going on right-wing platforms like The Babylon Bee and meeting with conservative commentators like Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro to blast “wokeness” as “a vile movement.”
Bishop Barron told another redditor that he will speak to anybody to advance the Gospel, that he has also spoken to liberal venues, and in doing so he often angers those on the left and the right. He has indeed at times drawn the ire of traditionalists, in particular for his musings on the hope that hell could be empty, i.e. that God wills that everyone be saved. The “trad” vitriol on social media was such that the bishop had a meeting with Catholic media outlets to raise his concerns.
The responses I saw on Twitter to the bishop’s point was that he does the occasional “token” appearance in left-leaning venues, but that the majority of his time and energy is placed in speaking to white-majority, conservative audiences. One 40-minute podcast guest appearance in America does not balance out his right-leaning media appearances, the critics argue.
Asking the philosopher
On the philosophical question – Is Bishop Barron wrong to say critical race theory has its underpinnings in Nietzche, Marx, Foucalt and Derrida? – I asked Sam Rocha, a Catholic philosopher and academic who has written about critical race theory, for his thoughts.