Critical Race Theory now pervades almost every corner of American society. It is in schools, government, entertainment, sports and, yes, in churches and seminaries. It is an unavoidable monstrosity that is often misunderstood. In part, because it is not entirely understandable. Reasons for this ineffability will hopefully become transparent below. However, one Christian philosopher and CRT advocate inadvertently explains why so many fail to comprehend CRT:
This movement contains competing and complementary traditions (e.g., some conditionally accept political liberalism while others completely reject it). Each tradition houses multiple methods and claims. CRT therefore is not a single theory, method, or analytic tool. It’s a diverse, contested, multi-layered movement.
Nathan Cartagena, at https://faithfullymagazine.com/critical-race-theory-christians/ [emphasis added]
If Cartagena is correct, then it makes sense why so many pastors, priests and church leaders are befuddled by critical race theory and its proponents. Even critical race theorists don’t fully understand what it is!
Nevertheless, there are three features of Critical Race Theory that Christians, theists, and even atheists who defend the scientific method and universal applicability of reason should be very aware of. These core features are: 1) CRT is not a truth-oriented theory, 2) CRT is inherently and purely political, and 3) CRT is a fundamentally moralistic endeavor. In a later post I will explain how points 2 and 3 are not contradictory. Another feature of CRT that I will also discuss in a later post is how CRT can act as a replacement religion, something that should concern the religious and non-religious alike (see Bill Maher’s interview with Megyn Kelly, for example).
In these next three posts I will try to elucidate more precisely each core feature and show how they harm society.
Feature 1. Critical Race Theory is Not Oriented Toward Truth
Critical Race Theory, like any Critical Theory, is a strictly immanent enterprise. On Critical Theory, there is nothing outside of society itself that can act as a metaphysical marker for truth. There is no transcendent Principle, Person or Identity (e.g., a “Nation,” “Child of God”) that acts as a shared banner or universal fixed point under which people of various ethnic backgrounds, different genders, or even discrete personal experiences can come together to seek truth, pursue justice, and find common ground for a variety of human endeavors. On any Critical Theory, society and the individuals who comprise it simply compose reality itself.
One of the founding fathers of Critical Theory, Max Horkheimer, articulated this core difference between critical theory and traditional theories:
Indeed, Horkheimer criticizes “traditional theory” in light of the rejection of its representational view of knowledge and its nonhistorical subject. Echoing Marx in The German Ideology, Horkheimer insists that for a critical theory the world and subjectivity in all its forms have developed with the life processes of society.
James Bohman, “Critical Theory” in Standford Encylopedia of Philosophy
For Horkheimer and other early critical philosophers like Theodore Adorno, the “world” develops as society progresses. This is a radically different view of reality and knowledge than almost all classical philosophy and classic Christian theology. In fact, it is here that the salient historical battle for Western culture is being fought. Many question whether we can return to the traditions of Plato and Augustine, Aristotle and Aquinas or whether we must capitulate to Marx and his successors. No solid answers are forthcoming.
Nevertheless, early critical philosophers like Horkheimer tried to avoid a “skeptical predicament” (Bohman,“Critical Theory”) which would make truth claims entirely relative to the whims of contemporary culture. However, ultimately, the sociological naturalism these thinkers challenged, a methodological naturalism that makes all “true” knowledge a mere product of historically situated social groups, won out. As such, common parlance today in places like Canada and the US speaks of knowledge as a “construct,” not a discovery.
These first-wave critical theorists might have wanted philosophy to organize and prioritize social data (Bohman, “Critical Theory”). They were hopeful that philosophy could act as the gatekeeper of the cumulative acquisition of knowledge gained over time. Regardless, today’s more radical, political approach rejects this earlier version of critical theory as critical philosophy. Today’s critical race theorist passionately descries almost all of past (Western) knowledge as essentially “white supremacist,” an idea that would have been foreign to the predominantly German thinkers of the Frankfurt School. Of course, today’s critical race theorists 0perate in a post-Vietnam, post-Sexual Revolution culture. Politics, not philosophy, is the new gatekeeper of knowledge (or so they claim). The line between academic and activist has been seriously blurred.
Popular critical race theory now claims that any knowledge, let alone wisdom, which has emerged since the Reformation and the Enlightenment is indelibly infected with racism and, therefore, worthy of complete negation. Knowledge birthed out of the Western European context, to include that of the early critical theorists themselves, is tainted with racial corruption and must therefore be excised from culture. This may smack of one massive Genetic Fallacy. However, on a CRT view, informal logic itself may be questioned as a construct of white culture.
As such, Critical Race Theory is Marxist in this regard, regardless of what defenders of CRT might say. It is Marxist since truth, according to any Critical Theory, is entirely relative to historical conditions and the societies living under those conditions. Moreover, CRT is as close to a philosophy actualized as we have seen Lenin.
While current Critical Race Theory may reject other aspects of “vulgar” Marxism, e.g., its purely materialistic dialectic, this historicism with regards to truth is fundamental. In a CRT world, Archimedes’ “Eureka” is no longer translated as “I have found it!,” but rather “I have invented it!”
The Fallout of CRT’s Socialized Knowledge
Theologically speaking this view of socialized knowledge has implications. On this view, the Bible (or the Koran or the Torah) has little application for us today. Even if biblical “truths” might have been applicable to the “life processes” of the ancient cultures that produced them, why should that be the case now? Material and social conditions have changed and, therefore, so has the reality in which we now live. The idea of “universality” (across space or time) is again but a product of localized social groups.
Further, Critical Race Theory, like Gender Theory or Feminist Theory, does not limit its criticism to just religious claims. It also brings scientific claims under scrutiny, making them relative to historical, cultural and social conditions. On CRT, there are no shared principles of right reasoning– no logic that acts as a universally applicable standard or norm by which we can grasp truth about the world and know something about how it works. Instead there are “logic(s)” that are relative to discrete social groups. Each of these “logic(s)” is perhaps only partly compatible with some other or perhaps not compatible at all.
And so today we even see highly objective disciplines like math come under the all-seeing eye of Critical Race Theory. Math, once considered a sign of the Divine Mind itself, is now relative to society and its racial subgroups. A statement by the Mathematical Association of America last October made it quite clear how under CRT’s acid lens, the ontological status of math has been drastically reduced:
It is time for all members of our profession to acknowledge that mathematics is created by humans and therefore inherently carries human biases. Until this occurs, our community and our students cannot reach full potential. Reaching this potential in mathematics relies upon the academy and higher education engaging in critical, challenging, sometimes uncomfortable conversations about the detrimental effects of race and racism on our community. The time is now to move mathematics and education forward in pursuit of justice.
This is a far cry from Pythagoras’ divine numbers indeed!
Embracing Critical Race Theory should lead to a stark anti-realism about scientific proclamations, if one is consistent. One should therefore consider any “firm” conclusions in the hard sciences (chemistry, biology, geology, physics, etc.) as mere invention of the scientist or scientific community doing the research. That “scientific” invention will itself be based primarily on the social group that the scientist, or majority of scientists, ascribes to or sees themselves as coming from.
One should say, for a culture ever more given over to finding its security in medical technologies, this should be very disconcerting to those who want to “follow the science.” On a CRT view one cannot follow “the science,” one can only follow “scientists.” In the next post I will look more specifically at how this approach makes all things, even science, political.
In sum, Critical Race Theory is not a truth-oriented project, rather it is a “truth” constructing one. However, the construction of knowledge is not something that originates in the intellect. As with any creative act, it emerges foremost from the will, more particularly from the realm of desires. This leads to the next core feature of Critical Race Theory: its inherently political nature.