Even during a season of numerous tectonic shifts in American life, one that deserves special note is the massive leftward political tilt that has occurred among many Christians. People who just a few months ago were filling their social media accounts with photos of their children, cooking recipes, and inspirational Bible verses now voice some of the most radical left-wing talking points about gender, “privilege,” and “Whiteness.” Pastors promote the work of Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo as if they were sacrosanct; post long, progressive screeds to their blogs and social media accounts; and insinuate that those who disagree are guilty of white supremacy. Christianity Today publishes articles that bemoan the fact that Christianity is not central to the activist movements going on in the streets and is instead “more like an awkward extra appendage to progressivism than its beating heart.” Dan Cathy, the outspokenly Christian CEO of Chick-fil-A, suggests that whites should shine the shoes of black people out of a sense of racial guilt. Groups of white Christians are filmed bowing down before their black church members to ask for forgiveness for the sin of “systematic racism.” As if some switch had been flipped, a huge portion of the professing Christians are suddenly parroting the most extreme views of what was, until only yesterday, the fringe left.
When politics and Christianity have mixed directly, it has most often been the latter that has come away the worse for it.
Those Christians who do so rarely, if ever, understand how specious this movement’s arguments are or how they manipulate language by loading familiar words with entire orthodoxies. (For example, isn’t it interesting that words as well as silence are now routinely described as “violence,” but looting and setting fire to buildings isn’t?) Nor are they aware of how radical the agenda is. “Black lives matter” is an indisputably true statement, and there are legitimate causes for concern when it comes to policing, but why, for instance, does the official Black Lives Matter website have so many references to transgenderism? Why are there exhortations to “dismantle cisgender privilege” and “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family”? Why all this talk of fostering a “queer-affirming network” and freeing themselves from “the tight grip of heteronormative thinking”? Why is there video footage of BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors, calling herself a “trained Marxist”? Does the average Christian supporter of BLM understand this language? Are they familiar with the ideology from which it springs? With terms like intersectionality and poststructuralism or names like bell hooks (who intentionally writes her name without capital letters) or Judith Butler? Are they aware that the “progressive” stance on protesting now includes a defense of looting? I have reason to doubt it.
For some time now, renegade academics James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose have been writing and speaking on the subjects of Social Justice, identity politics, and the problem of activism infiltrating academia. In their new book, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity and Why This Harms Everybody, the two take on the daunting task of untangling the origins of the nascent secular religion known as Social Justice. Not to be confused with the lower-cased, general term “social justice” (the liberal pursuit of a more fair society), the political movement that has taken the name Social Justice is a complex amalgamation of neo-Marxist and postmodernist theories about power, language, and knowledge that became popular in academia in the 1960s. As Pluckrose and Lindsay explain, these theories, originally so extreme and unstable as to prove self-defeating, went through major alterations in the ’90s and 2010s, eventually evolving into forms that, with the use of identity politics, were politically actionable. These origins are too complex to cover here, but suffice it to say that Social Justice is marked by cultural and moral relativism, a neo-Marxist lens that must interpret all things as interactions between oppressors and oppressed, extreme cynicism, and, as Douglas Murray points out in The Madness of Crowds, an increasingly visible inclination towards the politics of revenge.
Bret Weinstein, an evolutionary biologist and former professor at Evergreen State College, was propelled to national attention in 2017 when the Evergreen campus was taken over by a mob of students who had been radicalized by the dogmas of Social Justice. These students targeted Weinstein individually for objecting to and refusing to comply with a newly altered “Day of Absence,” in which white students and faculty were told not to come to the campus. For speaking out against an obviously racist event, Weinstein was himself labeled a racist, targeted by a mob of activist students, and eventually forced to resign. The footage emerging from that episode is disturbing, and serves well to illustrate how Social Justice in practice differs from how it presents itself. “Whiteness” is referred to as “the most violent system to ever breathe.” White people are described as cave-dwellers. Weinstein describes food and seats at events being reserved for non-whites only. Since his experience at Evergreen, Weinstein has been trying to warn anyone who would listen about the dangers of buying into Social Justice based on “the label on the box” without actually knowing or investigating what’s inside that box. But Social Justice’s penchant for reproducing the same evils it claims to abolish is not the only reason that Christians should be skeptical of it.
People forget that the institution of a separation between church and state was not meant to protect the state from the church. Rather, it was to protect the church from the mutilating power of politics. When politics and Christianity have mixed directly, it has most often been the latter that has come away the worse for it. There is a sense in which it is true that modern progressive movements have some roots in Christianity. There have been times when the moral foundations of Christianity have been used as a force for the improvement of the political sphere (most notably the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s). But what is occurring today it is not Christianity acting on politics but the reverse; it is the political usurping Christianity. Social Justice, while happy to use the Church when it suits its purpose, has its true origins in the secular ideologies of Marx and his successors. In case it needs reminding, Marx famously referred to religion as “the opiate of the masses” because it dissuaded them from pursuing what Marx considered to be far more important: politics.
Though they are different in nature and desire different destinations, there is a place where Social Justice and Christianity cross paths, an intersection created by language, by words like “love,” “equality,” and “justice.” Christians fail to understand that, out of the mouths of Social Justice Progressives, these words are merely homophones, concealing crucial definitional distinctions grounded in questions as philosophically bedrock as whether or not human beings have free will or objective truth exists. As a result of this confusion, a great many Christians have (probably unawares) switched paths. Undoubtedly, part of this shift has occurred because Social Justice is less difficult than faith. Its arguments (though deeply flawed) are superficially attractive because they are easy to grasp, appeal to readily available sentiments of compassion and empathy, and confer cheap and easy “virtue” upon those who voice them.
But Social Justice is a radically different religion with its own epistemology and metaphysics that are incompatible with (and indeed hostile to) Christianity, which it ultimately views as a colonizing Western force and another source of oppression. As a political ideology, Social Justice is totalitarian. It cannot tolerate the presence of dissent or opposition and is never slow to play the censor when and wherever it achieves power, eliminating whatever it finds “problematic.” The ceaseless proliferation of outrage and grievances, easily observable in online cancel culture, is not a bug but a feature. In time, the Church too may be dismantled in the name of Social Justice. We can already observe the beginning stages.
In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the Venerable Bede records a letter from 601 A.D. in which Pope Gregory writes to the missionary Mellitus advising him on ways to ease the process of converting the Anglo-Saxons to Christianity. He suggests that Mellitus repurpose pagan temples (only throwing away the idols inside) and allowing recent converts to continue their practices of feasting and animal sacrifice (now to be dedicated to the Christian God). In a similar fashion, Social Justice may simply retool Christianity, annexing its houses of worship and its language of “love” and “justice,” replacing the spiritual with the political in order to, ever so slowly, banish Christ. For an idea of what this might look like, one can observe China and the numerous reports of increased persecution of Christians by the government. In 2018, a Vatican bishop praised the Chinese communist government for being the “best [at] implementing the social doctrine of the Church.” Today there are reports that the government is forcing churches to replace its religious icons with images of political leaders, crosses are taken down, and underground churches are outlawed.
None of this is meant to deny the evil of racism, or to say that social justice (no caps) is desirable and necessary, or that we shouldn’t want to create a society in which immutable characteristics don’t infringe on one’s ability to pursue happiness. All of these are good and worthy goals. It is also not to say that Christians should not be concerned with politics and should not attempt to influence it. It is only to say that Social Justice is not capable of delivering on any of these goals, that it is a cure worse than the disease (if it is indeed different from the disease), and that Christians, in particular, should be very skeptical of any movement that prioritizes the political above the spiritual.