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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 editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism.

@MarvinOlasky

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DCal3000

Thanks so much for this column. Thank you too for noting that CRT promotes tribalism. Many of us who oppose popular manifestations of CRT get accused of not caring about the fight against racism. But many of us do care - we want to fight the evils of racism. Some aspects of CRT, though, seem on the other side of that fight; the fruit of CRT's often racist tribalism is evident each day in the news and on social media and seems to be increasing pain, animosity, etc., throughout the world.

SAWGUNNER

EveryBLM dot org
A good Christian rebuttal to the distortions of BLM CRT etc

CWHI2183

Thank you for this informative and substantive discussion!

SAWGUNNER

One thinks of anyone who "strays off" the liberal plantation today. The vile attacks on Clarence Thomas or Allen West or Tim Scott expose the worst sort of intolerance. "No True Scotsman" indeed!!!

JetstreamPenman

"Blood emphasis is twisted predestinarian: A specific consciousness goes with membership in a particular group. "
I would like to add that this is often paired with a "No True Scotsman" attitude towards dissenters within the group. If members of a given ethnicity, gender, or other category step out and say that they disagree with the latest activist ideology, then they are sidelined as having "internalized" the values of the opposition and aren't "really" members of the group that claims victim status. It's akin to the diagnosis of "sluggish schizophrenia" to discount and eliminate members of a group that would offer any counter-argument.

A second thought I have often is the apparent hypocrisy of critical theory activists who divide the world into powerful oppressors and oppressed victims, and demand that power be stripped from the oppressors and given to the victims, in the name of "justice." If they succeeded completely, and there was a total power reversal, they would have done nothing more than turn the victim groups into new oppressors. They would be bound to resist, or else have the hypocrisy of their revolutionary dream exposed. "Justice for the oppressed," when it calls for a power reversal, seems to be nothing more than saying, "We want this group to be the oppressors instead of that group."

Meg I

If people really want to understand CRT in light of the Scripture and in light of the culture, Neil Shenvi has practically read and analyzed every primary source written on it. With his PhD in Theoretical Chemistry , Shenvi has the ability to process truth versus trash like few others. Also, Monique Duson who lived CRT for years is very clear with its incompatibility with the Word of God. Thankful that you wrote on this and extremely thankful for these two young and well read believers too.

Salty1

I think it is not worth to quibble over the mechanism the radical left are using to bring about revolution. Whether it is class or race they are still working the same agenda. They still display the fist, they praise Castro and other communist revolutionaries. Their goal is to erase our history, like other Marxists. They want absolute control so they exploit pandemics, open borders, and idiotic ideas like it is good to get rid of the police and let criminals go free. I don’t see anything good in CRT so let us remove it. If we want to talk about specific injustices, then let us talk about them but let us keep CRT (with the can of worms that comes with it) out of the discussion. A lot of this injustice talk is focused to vilify Christianity and it fails to present a balanced perspective on it. Youth buy into this Christian-hate and leave the faith.

Joseph Fox

Excellent article but there's one point I think Olasky could explain a little better. True, the radicals of the 60s and 70s were not Marxists in the classical sense but Frankfurt school thinkers, like Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse, laid the groundwork CRT by shifting the emphasis away from class and to other forms of percieve systems of oppression. It'd be better to say that the New Left were and are neo-Marxists using the same dialectal approach and theorizing but with an emphasis on race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. It's in this sense that the shell games that Leftists like to play over definitions are disengenious. They intentially obfiscate that ideas can evolve over time because they don't want to debate ideas or policies. They want action regardless of the consequences or broken communities they leave in their wake.