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Understanding CRT

Spiritual insights are paramount

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Christians were right in 2021 to criticize critical race theory, but in 2022 let’s criticize accurately. We often hear that CRT is Marxist, but it’s not classic, class-based Marxism. Its fixation on race is a virulent variant.

Here’s some backstory. In the 18th century Jean-Jacques Rousseau sneered at the Christian concept of original sin and argued that civilization made humans bad. Rousseau’s favorites became known as “noble savages,” even though Rousseau himself was more savage than noble: He dispatched all five of his babies to orphanages where most infants died.

Rousseau’s belief in original goodness caught on, and the search began for people uncorrupted by church life or capitalism. In the 19th century Karl Marx thought it poppycock to put primitivism on a pedestal. Having no confidence in the rural majority, Marx sought another revolutionary agent and thought he found it in the proletariat, the noble industrial workers of all ethnicities who would respond savagely to savage employers.

CRT can remind us of structural problems But also promote tribalism.

Early in the 20th century, Vladimir Lenin knew the Russian proletariat was small and often faithful to the Russian Orthodox Church, so he portrayed the atheistic Communist Party as “the vanguard of revolution.” In 1917 he relied on Russian navy sailors to be the noble savages who initially provided the muscle: Later, he killed them. Josef Stalin intensified Leninism, murdering not only his enemies but his friends. 

In the 1960s members of the American “New Left” did not like the proletarians they observed: These workers seemed content to own a home and a boat—how boring! The New Left self-appraisal: We’re wiser and purer. The new idols: foreign communists like Fidel Castro, an intellectual who went to the jungle and remade himself into a noble savage.

In the 1970s and 1980s, some radicals idolized an assortment of savages: the Symbionese Liberation Army (kidnappers of Patty Hearst), the Shining Path in South America, and even the Baader-Meinhof Gang. None produced lasting inspiration, but I can commend some of the radicals in one respect: Red or yellow, black or white, all were precious (or plutocratic) in their sight.

The “black is beautiful” movement in the late 20th century was helpful in many ways, because some racists had contended that lighter skin is better than darker and hair straighteners are essential tools. Some black children internalized that bias and suffered psychological damage. But the 21st century has brought in a “white is ugly” movement. My wife and I have learned much from living in and traveling to places where whites are the minority, but it’s wrong for a teacher to suggest to a child that he or she is of less value because of skin color.

That type of bigotry is not Marxist, though. Marx emphasized class. The Apostle Paul said in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, and communists can claim that race and ethnicity also don’t matter in their belief system. Since most readers won’t go back to the 1990s, and since my predictions are so often wrong, I’ll semi-sheepishly summarize for 2022 a column I wrote in 1998 headlined, “Scrips vs. Bloods: The philosophical battle of the 21st century is shaping up.”

That was a playful reference to two famous gangs with origins in Los Angeles, the Crips and the Bloods. By “Scrips” I meant those who read Scripture and realize that spiritual understandings—not race, ethnicity, or gender—are paramount. “Bloods” are those who emphasize physical differences like skin color.

Blood emphasis is twisted predestinarian: A specific consciousness goes with membership in a particular group. Young radicals can recycle traditional Marxist values by muttering about oppressed groups: “people of color” substitutes for the working class, “angry white males” for the bourgeoisie, and “homophobes” for other oldtime villains.

CRT can remind us of structural problems such as real estate redlining and bias against charter schools. But CRT also promotes tribalism, which has been a disaster throughout history—Bloods stomp other Bloods. Scrips, though, know God’s transformative power and look to bring in the sheaves, not burn them. Providentially, God turns some Bloods into Scrips.

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is the former editor in chief of WORLD, having retired in January 2022, and former dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.



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