A Christian Critique of Critical Theory

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About a year ago, I ran across this blog post on apologetics. It posited six premises of Critical Theory and quotes to illustrate them. I was inspired to do a series of sermons based on these premises. I used various quotes archived on the blog post to do a critique of Critical Theory from an Orthodox Christian point of view.

Unfortunately, the audio recordings were not the best and they took a lot of effort to get them to the point where they are now. So, I apologize that these are not up to a standard I would like to have, but I do think these sermons are interesting and important enough to archive publicly here:

Premise #1: Individual identity is inseparable from group identity as ‘oppressed’ or ‘oppressor’

Premise #2: Oppressor groups subjugate oppressed groups through the exercise of hegemonic power

Here are the quotes I used in this homily:

“Whiteness rests upon a foundational premise: the definition of whites as the norm or standard for human, and people of color as a deviation from that norm.” – Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility, 2018, p. 25.

“Power is typically equated with domination and control over people or things. Social institutions depend on this version of power to reproduce hierarchies of race, class, and gender.” – Margaret Andersen, “Social Change and the Politics of Empowerment”, Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology, p. 450

Premise #3: Our fundamental moral duty is freeing groups from oppression

Here is the quote I used in this homily:

“Prior to celebrating diversity, we must first eliminate intolerance. No matter what form it takes or who does it, we must all take action to stop intolerance when it happens. Working towards a celebration of diversity implies working for social justice – the elimination of all forms of social oppression… Social injustice takes many forms. It can be injustice based on a person’s gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, or economic class.” – Mary McClintock, “How to Interrupt Oppressive Behavior,” Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, p. 483

Premise #4: ‘Lived experience’ is more important than objective evidence in understanding oppression

Here are the quotes I used in this homily:

“The idea that objectivity is best reached only through rational thought is a specifically Western and masculine way of thinking ” – Margaret L. Andersen and Patricia Hill Collins, “Reconstructing Knowledge,” in Anderson and Collins, Race, Class, and Gender, p. 4-5

“There is no single true, or all encompassing, description.”– Richard Delgado, “Storytelling for Opposistionalists and Others”; in Critical Race Theory, pp 71

To live with equality in a diverse, pluralistic society, we have to accept the fact that all groups and individuals have a legitimate claim to what is true and real for them” – Cooper Thompson, “Can White Men Understand Oppression?”, Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, p. 478

Premise #5: Oppressor groups hide their oppression under the guise of objectivity

Here is the quote I used in this homily:

“The gendered practices of everyday life reproduce a society’s view of how women and men should act. Gendered social arrangements are justified by religion and cultural productions and backed by law, but the most powerful means of sustaining the moral hegemony of the dominant gender ideology is that the process is made invisible; any possible alternatives are virtually unthinkable (Foucault 1972; Grasci 1971).” – Judith Lorber, “’Night to His Day’: The Social Construction of Gender”, Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, p. 207.

Premise #6: Individuals at the intersection of different oppressed groups experience oppression in a unique way

Here are the quotes I used in this homily:

“individuals appear at differing points on the sexuality and gender continuum and n the path toward a definition of their identities; and individuals come from disparate racial, sexual, gender, class, ethnic, religious, age, and regional backgrounds as well as physical and mental abilities. Therefore, the weight of oppression does not fall on them uniformly.” – Warren J. Blumenfeld, “Heterosexism,” Readings…, p. 265

“Time and time again, I have observed that the usual response among white women’s groups when the ‘racism issue’ comes up is to deny the difference. I have heard comments like, ‘Well, we’re open to all women; why don’t they (women of color) come? You can only do so much…’ But there is seldom any analysis of how the very nature and structure of the group itself may be founded on racist or classist assumptions.” – Cherrie Moraga, “Shifting the Center”, Race, Class, and Gender: An Anthology, p. 26

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Race vs. Culture

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Race in politics has been a focal point in the U.S. for a long time; however, in the last several years it has become more important than at any point in my lifetime. So much that I have written on the subject before here.  Given the events in Charlottesville, VA and the reactions to these events, I must now speak again upon the topic of race.

As a preface to these thoughts, however, I want to meditate upon how Scripture describes God. St. Athanasius the Great defended the divinity of the Holy Spirit in a letter to his friend Serapion. He identifies what he called paradigmata, or paradigms that illustrate to us the nature of God. For example, he points out that the Father is equated to a fountain (Jer 2;13; Bar 3:12), the Son is called a river (Psalm 65:10) and we are told that we drink of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:13).

The pattern can be described this way: the Father is the source of the metaphor (fountain), the Son is the incarnation of the metaphor (running water) and the Holy Spirit is the means by which we participate in the metaphor (we drink).

Thus, if the Father is a poet (which shares the same etymology as the word “create” in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth”) the the Son is the Word (John 1:1) and the Holy Spirit is the breath (wind) through which we hear and speak that poetry:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them.—Acts 2:1-4)

Therefore, as Peter declares in 2 Peter 1:4, “through these [promises] you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature,” God’s desire is for us to participate in Him. Due to the fact that we are created according to the image and likeness of God, He also desires that we participate in each other as well: “I have given them the glory you gave me, that they may be one as we are one” (John 17:22). This is key to understanding race and culture in a world obsessed with both.

Culture is something that can be shared and participated in. For example, I can watch Korean movies and television, eat and cook Korean food, wear traditional Korean clothes, learn to speak the Korean language and learn how to behave in polite Korean society. Being Korean would make the learning curve on all these things shorter, but it is not necessary that I be Korean to participate in all these things.

Race, on the other hand, is not something I can participate in. I am not and will never be Korean by race.

Therefore, culture, as a concept, can help us see the image and likeness of God in other people. It allows us to step in other human being’s shoes and live like they do. It allows us to see a different perspective. It allows us to grow ever closer to God’s deepest desire that we be one like He is one.

In radical contrast, race prevents us from seeing the image and likeness of God in others. As a concept it really only has one purpose: to separate us and prevent us from talking to each other and therefore experiencing that which culture invites us to experience. In a practical sense, race is only useful to those interested in power. Race de-humanizes people so that they can be easily pitted against each other and used and abused to gain and maintain power.

In other words, if I am White, African-American, Latino, Asian, Native American or any other race, than I am merely a tool used by those interested in power to gain and maintain power. It is arguable that I am not even human.

If, however, my culture is European, American, African-American, Latin-American, Asian, Native American, etc. than I and other human beings can freely share our cultures with each other and therefore more easily see the image and likeness of God in our fellow human beings.

Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scyth′ian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. — Colossians 3:11

Bible Study Gospel of John Pt. 16

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Thank you to all who send questions. There were some really excellent ones this week. Please keep them coming!

Beginning this week, our normal Bible Study time will usurped by the Presanctified Liturgies of Great Lent. In truth, however, people are not showing up in person to the study, but rather prefer to listen on their own time and send questions via email. Thus, I can record in part or in whole at various times during the week, knitting together recordings as necessary. In other words, we will continue to study the Gospel of John throughout Lent and I will encourage people to continue to send in questions.

The text for next session will be John 4:1-13.

The audio for this session can be found here.

Music: http://www.bensound.com

Bible Study Gospel of John Pt. 14

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Thanks as always to those who send me questions. For those that think of questions after Wednesday, please do still send them. I always do the questions last, so I can always record a response and tack it on to the end of the audio or I can always deal with them during the next Bible Study Session.

The audio of this week’s session can be found here.

The reading for the next session will be:

John 3:22-35

Music: http://www.bensound.com

Bible Study Gospel of John Pt. 11

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Thank you to all who sent in questions. This week someone wanted a clarification of a verse from last week and this was tremendously useful in framing the discussion for this week. Therefore, do not be shy about asking questions even about things that are not directly related to this weeks reading.

The session from this week can be found here.

The reading for next week is Psalm 68(69). In case there is confusion over the difference in the LXX and Masoretic numbering, the Psalm begins with the verse, “Save me, O God, for the waters flood my soul.”

This Psalm is quoted by John in John 2:17. I did not touch upon this in the session from this week because I think it deserves its own session.