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Losing faith in leftism

Three reverse deconstruction stories, and three questions

Edwin Ramirez YouTube/The Proverbial Life

Losing faith in leftism

Firsthand accounts of notable celebrities from Christian culture either abandoning their faith or revising it beyond recognition have become all the rage. But we rarely hear about the many reverse deconstruction stories. Consider three.

Liat Kaplan ran the intensely trafficked “Your Fave Is Problematic” Tumblr page dedicated to exposing celebrities’ transgressions, rounding up online mobs to march with digital pitchforks demanding public penance. Kaplan’s “List of Problematic Celebrities” calls out many stars who already stand far left of center: Zooey Deschanel for “appropriating the kimono”; Justin Timberlake’s “appropriation of cornrows”; Taylor Swift who “plays at being the ugly, unwanted loser, despite being a thin, attractive, wealthy white woman”; and on it goes. A high school senior at the time who boasted 50,000 followers, Kaplan now looks back at those judgments “with shame and regret—about my pettiness, my motivating rage, my hard and fast assumptions that people were either good or bad.”

Kaplan confesses in The New York Times, “My brain wasn’t ready for nuance. I was angered by hypocrisy and cruelty. … I just wanted to see someone face consequences; no one who’d hurt me ever had.” We will return to Kaplan’s wise words, but next meet Conor Barnes.

Barnes moved into a radical commune as an 18-year-old, “depressed, anxious, and looking for answers.” His new community “lived and breathed concepts and tools like call-outs, intersectionality, cultural appropriation, trigger warnings, safe spaces, privilege theory, and rape culture.” As this ideology brewed in his soul, Barnes recalls, “I did not engage with individuals as individuals, but as porcelain, always thinking first and foremost of the group identities we inhabited.”

The more “exhausted and misanthropic” he became, the more he fell into the destructive circular logic of far leftism. The capitalists and the cops, he concluded, are not only to blame for poverty, war, and racism, but they must also be the culprits behind Barnes’ declining mental state, creating a vicious feedback loop. After ending up “a burned and disillusioned wreck,” he found freedom. Barnes’ advice to anyone swept up in such ideologies is simple: “Flee the cult!”

What would it look like if extremist political groups saw their membership rolls crash because there were just so many vibrant Christ-centered communities offering substantial answers to the human predicament and seeking justice with the fruit of the Spirit rather than endless outrage?

Lastly comes New York pastor and podcaster Edwin Ramirez. “When I was ‘woke,’” he confesses, “I did not realize how much resentment I harbored. … Everything was about racism all the time. If a white person did not see things my way, I convinced myself that their racial bias left them hopelessly blind to social injustice.”

A change came in a rural church as Ramirez watched an elderly white woman sing one of his favorite hymns. The truth hit him hard. “That’s my sister in the Lord! … I had been so blinded by an ideology that divided people by skin color, that I missed the blessing of the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement.” To those missing that blessing, Ramirez offers sage advice: “Examine your hearts. What effect is reading oppression into all of life having on your soul? Is it giving you a sense of moral superiority, or making you dependent on the righteousness of Christ? I know how a noble desire for justice can replace love in our hearts with resentment. By God’s grace, I have been set free. You too can exchange the suspicion and rage of wokeness for the love and joy of the gospel of Christ.”

There are droves of Kaplans, Barneses, and Ramirezes still stuck in the brimming-with-rage stage. You know some. It is one thing to sneer and treat them as faceless soldiers to slay on cultural war battlefields—that’s easy and can be perversely gratifying—but it is quite another thing to look beyond unbiblical culture war categories to see them as imperfect image-bearers like us.

Some reach far poles of the ideological spectrum because they have been wounded and likely sinned against. Recall Kaplan’s angry quest to make others “face consequences” because “no one who’d hurt me ever had.” Some political activism is a toxic balm, a self-destructive substitute for true justice and healing. Does what we say (and how we say it) to those hopelessly using politics as personal therapy point them toward or away from the God who “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”?

Some join far-left or far-right tribes because, like Barnes, they face depressing isolation and long for a community on a mission. What would it look like if extremist political groups saw their membership rolls crash because there were just so many vibrant Christ-centered communities offering substantial answers to the human predicament and seeking justice with the fruit of the Spirit rather than endless outrage?

Many more take to bad politics for deeply spiritual, even soteriological, reasons, looking for justification and righteous status, longing for a better kingdom than the systems of “the present age.” So we close with a question inspired by Ramirez’s double deconstruction: Are we offering those around us—and especially those we see as against us—“the love and the joy of the gospel of Christ”?

Thaddeus Williams

Thaddeus Williams is the author of the best-selling book Confronting Injustice Without Compromising Truth: 12 Questions Christians Should Ask About Social Justice (Zondervan/HarperCollins, 2020). He serves as associate professor of systematic theology for the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University and resides in Orange County, Calif., with his wife and four kids.

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