Critical Race Theory

It was about 4 years ago, when I began to learn about this view of the world called Critical Theory. Before that I had heard of Critical Race Theory or CRT but I really did not know what it was.  Today I look around and see that Critical Theory is everywhere in various forms, and in many cases it is called CRT even when it has nothing to do with race. It is foundational for the concepts of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Equity is pretty much just CRT.  So what is it and as Christians how do we respond to it?  I will focus on CRT and not the other Critical Theory variants, but they are all interconnected.  You will find that in most cases the only difference is the focus on race in the case of CRT.  Unfortunately, CRT has been defined in many different ways, but I will try to give a good definition of it.

First, though CRT is incompatible with Christianity, it does highlight some truths that we as Christians can agree with.  There are norms, social structures or institutions that perpetuate ideas that are opposed to the truth.  Secularism can be one dominating structure and racism is another one that still lingers today.  Racism is nothing more than a social construct.  One could use hair color instead of skin color to divide people.  What if the darker your hair was the better and more desirable the person you became.  The point is these ideas are still being intentionally or unintentionally promoted and can be used to oppress, dominate, and divide.

Critical Theory seeks “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” (Max Horkheimer, 1982).  Critical Theory and CRT sees the world and relationships in terms of power dynamics.  The world can be divided between the oppressed and the oppressors.  The goal is then to liberate people by dismantling the institutions and structures that subjugate and oppress. Racism is one such dominating structure that still exists today.  If you listen to the stories of black people, you can not deny that racism exists today.  We, whites, many times are always not aware of it, and may not be aware sometimes of our own racist actions.  These are the remnants of slavery that colored our thinking.  I believe that even blacks are colored by these remnants of slavery.  According to CRT, the worst thing one can do is to continue in this state of oppression, and it is a virtue to pursue liberating people from this oppression.

Christians are also in favor of liberating human beings, however we recognize the reality that we are broken, sinful, self-centered people, who can not save ourselves.  We look outside ourselves to our loving Creator, who is able to save us from ourselves. We are liberated from our sin, and because of God’s love for us we can love others and care for them.  We see others and the world through the lens of God’s love, and not in terms of power dynamics.

We need to move to being color blind in regards to race and move towards reconciliation.  Unfortunately, that is not what CRT is about.  Racial color is important to define who the oppressors and the oppressed are.  Though CRT wants to liberate the oppressed minorities from racial discrimination, I believe it ends up reinforcing the racial separation.  Instead we all can work together to help  blacks and other minorities overcome past mistreatment by helping them identify the unique gifts and talents God has given to each of them individually.  Doing so can help them understand God’s guidance that will allow them to achieve their full potential.

In order to move towards reconciliation, white Christians need to listen to the racial minorities in our towns.  We need to learn their stories and understand where they are coming from.  CRT claims we can not understand them because we are not the oppressed.  They say the oppressed have the truth because of their lived experience.  There is a kernel of truth in that but the truth is not dependent on our lived experiences. To the best of our ability we can try to understand them as individuals. The truth is found in God’s Word, the Bible. We need to connect and reconcile with them whether they be hispanic, black, asian, native American, or some other racial brand.

We need to share God’s love with them, help them fight against oppression and victimhood, and show them there is hope for them. They have hope because they are loved by God and God will lift them up.

Inside, Outside, Upside Down

Das Bean Photo by Mark Publava

Today, many of us feel like the world has been turned upside down.  Now today’s emerging culture has people looking inside at their feelings and desires to determine if they are male or female and whether or not they are gay.  It used to be that you looked at the outside, and found out whether your body was male or female.

Again today we look outside of ourselves to find what is wrong in the world, and we look inside to try to find a solution to all that is wrong, because we are considered to be good by default.  This is upside down from the Christian Faith, which points out that when we look inside, we find that we are self-centered and selfish, and that is the origin of all that is wrong in the world.  And as Christians we look outside to God for our help and salvation.

So this emerging culture change is very much upside down from the previous Christian influenced culture.  So which worldview or culture is right-side-up? It depends on how you look at it.  I believe the Christian worldview is right-side-up, but you can make an argument that the nonChristian worldview is dominant and thus it should be right-side-up. About 2000 years ago, the Thessalonians referring to Paul and Silas, shouted “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also” (Acts 17:6-7).  Christianity has always been countercultural to the sinful ways of the world.

I have friends who have a grown child, who is gay.  I believe this person looked inside to discover their homosexual desires and looked outside to blame the parental upbringing for all the struggles the adult child currently faces.  And this young adult also blames the conservative government where they live for their problems.  It appears that this young adult is quite unhappy, and I believe their issues and their unhappiness is due to their worldview.  That is to say this person has embraced this emerging worldview that they are good and anything wrong that happens is outside themselves. They think they are not to blame.

This means this emerging worldview also takes a dim view of forgiveness.  Forgiveness allows the offender to not pay their dues, while the forgiver takes on the offender’s “debt”.  Forgiveness is not fair, and some say it promotes injustice, but reconciliation is very hard without forgiveness.  Forgiveness goes against human nature.  We want justice and vengeance for those who have harmed us.  However, we would rather not take the punishment for our own wrongdoing.  As Christians we note that God has forgiven us.   Every one of us is a sinner and is in need of God’s forgiveness.  Because God has forgiven us so very much, we are able to forgive others and bring peace and reconciliation.

In this post-Christian society, there is this darkness of unhealthy thinking that is causing a lot of chaos, suicides, and mental problems.  As Christians, we can be lights to show a better way to live.  We show a life that offers love, peace, and security that is only found in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness is a key tool Christians can use to show God’s love and bring some peace and reconciliation to the world. There will be pushback because Christianity is countercultural and counter to our human nature, but we have the answer.  Therefore let us go out in love to serve, to speak the truth in love, and to lovingly correct the wrong thinking. 

American Caste

When I think of a caste system, I think of India. Though it has been outlawed in India since independence, it is still very much alive.  Much of the time today you know by the surname of the person who is of higher caste and who should be subordinate. “Caste is the granting or withholding of respect, status, honor, attention, privileges, resources, benefit of the doubt, and human kindness to someone on the basis of their perceived rank or standing in the hierarchy.” A caste system has several principles or characteristics that define it.  There is a belief that the inequality is divinely or naturally ordained.  You inherit your inferior status from your parents. This means that it is wrong for people of two different castes to marry. Your caste status decides what job you can do.  There are fears of an upper caste being polluted by a lower inferior caste.  The upper castes are more superior than the lower castes.  The lower castes are less human than the upper castes. Violations of these principles would result in severe punishment.  The resulting caste system is more than just a rank.  It creates a state of mind that affects all in the culture.

I believe there is an American Caste System that is alive and well in the USA.  While it is no longer codified into law and I believe we have made major improvements toward racial and ethic equality, it is still a part of American culture. Like the air around us, we may not realize it but it is there as an unconscious bias in our culture.  We need to be aware of this unconscious bias and fight against it.  Today being racist is a bad thing, but less than 100 years ago skin color was a defining factor and racism was the norm.  African-Americans were considered to be the lowest caste and their status was cruelly enforced in many ways.  

One extreme way of enforcing compliance through terror was by lynching, which was usually by hanging.  Many times it was not a secretive event.  Many times it would be publicized and there would be crowds and a photographer who sold pictures and postcards of the event.  People would buy souvenirs and mail off the postcards.  Lynchings were events that terrified the African-Americans and comforted the Whites in their superior status in society.  More common was the beatings that were inflicted on the lower caste.

According to a 2017 study, 59% of poor people depicted in the news are African-American when they make up only 27% of the poor people in America.  (Only 22% of African-Americans are poor.)  66% of poor people are White and yet the White poor were depicted in the news only 17% of the time. African-Americans represent 37% of criminals shown in the news, but consist of 26% of those arrested.   The FBI crime reports show Whites make up 77% of crime suspects and yet the news media portray Whites as criminals only 28% of the time. Ask yourself, why the disproportionate coverage of African-Americans in poverty and crime.  Could it be an unconscious bias (or a conscious bias) that is supporting the American Caste System?  I believe this is an effect of the caste system, and it is still alive and well today, even if we do not realize it.

The caste system was not just Whites and African-Americans. There were subcategories or classes.  If you were from Northwestern Europe (English, Dutch, German, Scandinavian, etc.) with the exception of the Irish then you were in a higher class than those Irish and those from Southern Europe or Eastern Europe. If you were from outside of Europe, then you were in a lower class than the Europeans. There were also the economic classes where you were of a higher class if you were richer.  But the big difference is that the discrimination was codified for the African-Americans (and in many cases for other non-whites too).  The African-Americans were the lowest level of the American Caste System with Native Americans possibly there too. These caste distinctions still exist today though sometimes “quotas” reverse the discrimination in hiring.

I have a relative who is African-American.  He dresses up to go shopping.  Why?  He wants to avoid being mistakenly arrested.  He has been followed several times through a store by store employees.  He will lead them to a remote part of the store and then turn and tell them they do not need to be following him. He knows what is happening because he was at one time in charge of an anti-shoplifting effort at a store.  He also does not run at night.  He does things that a White person would not consider necessary to do to make certain those around him are not mistakenly concerned.  I believe this fear is a remnant of caste behavior.  Unfortunately there are still good reasons for his behavior, because Whites have a tendency to judge the actions of African-Americans more harshly.  Many Whites expect the worst from an African-American.  Again this is caste behavior by the Whites.  Would you rather meet a big muscular Black person in an alley or a big muscular White person in the alley? I admit I would be less afraid of the White person.  That is an unconscious bias of this caste system that I need to fight against. 

We need to recognize that there is a caste system in place and it will take a lot of effort and time to remove it from the American consciousness.  But to dig deeper into the problem, we find that we are selfish sinful people.  That is the real problem, and that means hierarchical discrimination is worldwide and not just in America and India.  America and India have in the past been more extreme in their discrimination.  

As a Christian, I need to be aware of the caste system, recognize it, and fight against it by giving everyone the love, respect and dignity they deserve as a human being regardless of their skin color.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  We are not there yet. People are still being judged by their skin color. Unfortunately, it still matters in American society.

I was inspired to write this post by the book, “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent” by Isabel Wilkerson

PS My thoughts that follow do not apply to caste systems directly but to the poor.  What makes it hard for them to climb the economic ladder? The lack of available cash or inherited wealth can keep a poor person from college or starting their own business.  When you are living from paycheck to paycheck with no funds for anything extra, it becomes hard to improve your life. (Yes, there are some grants and loans available to those who qualify and are able to navigate the requirements.)  My parents paid for my room and board at college.  My grandmother gave me some cash to help me buy a car.  When my parents died, I received some funds that made me feel like I was finally going to have enough money to be able to retire.   Those little gifts helped me.  A poor person does not have access to those funds and opportunities. A rich person has access to a lot more possibilities with all the extra funds that are available to them.  What more can we do for the poor to give them more opportunities?

The Identity of the Expressive Individual

Living Network 2 (Peter Farkas Photo)

The individual is king in today’s Western Culture. I  just finished reading a very enlightening book that made sense of how this messed up world in the West has changed in the last 50+ years.  This excellent book is “Strange New World” by Carl R. Trueman.  While reading it, there were times, I stopped and said to myself, “So that is why those people think that way” and by the end of the book I was also wondering how much of my thinking has been influenced by these ideas. The problem is every good lie has a kernel of truth in it.  That is what makes these false ideas believable for many people.

The expressive individual wants to be authentic and to express the real person they are, so they look inside themselves to find their core feelings and intuition, while dismissing any external influences, such as the surrounding culture. That defines them and gives them their identity. The person then expresses their inner core to be an authentic individual. The authority is only in themselves.  Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) developed the idea and you can see his influence in the following centuries.  The traditional identity authorities of nation, family and faith would say of me that I am an American, son of Erwin and Irene Hein, and a Christian.  And there are also other ways to identify oneself (e.g. occupation, sex, marital status, etc).  Whereas the expressive individual rejects all that and only looks to oneself as the only authority.

Along comes Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx who both said that morality is society’s way of oppressing or controlling the individual.  In other words, they believe that there is no natural morality. It is only a societal construct used to oppress or control us.  That idea is present in today’s culture.  Also today’s cultural thinking was strongly influenced by Sigmund Freud, who declared sex is fundamental to human happiness.  He considered that the inner self was primarily defined by our sexual desires. Because of Freud, our identity became our sexual psychological self,  His student, Wilhelm Reich, a Marxist, put it all together to form the intellectual underpinnings of today’s culture change.  Only one thing missing was the technology to make it practical.  The birth control pill allowed sex to become much more recreational, and the internet allowed the porn industry to easily reach us and influence us in all things sexual.  (Note the author of the book, Carl Trueman, said the evolution of this culture change is more complicated than his broad overview, and in this post I have significantly simplified it a whole lot more.)

So an expressive individual today will usually look inside oneself and decide one’s identity with the eye on one’s sexual desires. With the collapse of the traditional identities (nation:loss of trust in government, family:high divorce rate, and faith: church scandals), the LGBTQ+ community has stepped in to encourage the individual to consider their alternate sexual identities.  They have become a major influencer, in part, because they also provide a sense of belonging as they praise you and validate your chosen sexual identity.

With the individual being the only authority, it has left Western Culture in a very unstable fluid state.  Your self, your identity, is fluid.  It can change. It can be anything.  Nothing seems to be solid. You get to decide.  With your identity being personal and psychological (and many times sexual) that sets situations where one’s identity can offend another identity. Or one finds a viewpoint to be oppressive to them and an attack on who they are. Dealing with a variety of identities can be tricky business. This is especially true with transgender people. How do you handle a boy who identifies as a girl or vice versa? Do you let a transgender boy, who is biologically a girl, use the boy’s locker room? Or let a transgender girl, who is biologically a boy, use the girl’s locker room?  This is happening today.

Also today’s thinking is that moral codes of society are oppressive and  support the (past) status quo (where white heterosexual males dominate). So then, one needs to rebel against this systematic bias, and oppose all institutions (like the Christian Church) who were part of the old culture.  They declare that they are victims of this systematic bias, and therefore deserve our support.  If this sounds a lot like Critical Theory, that is because it is at least related to it.  Anyone who does not support them is an oppressor who is attacking their identity, the core of their being.  Those whose identity is found in the past status quo could be considered to be a threat to the emerging status quo and must be censored and in this way prevent hurting the feelings and thus the identity of the oppressed victims. Thus, this radical freedom of the individual can end up restricting freedom of speech, in the name of preventing an attack on an individual’s identity and feelings.

As Christians, we need to realize that this emerging culture is not friendly to the Christian Faith. Because of this we need to have strong communities in our local churches. We need solid meaningful worship services. We do have our identity as forgiven and loved children of God, being found in Jesus Christ.  We are his. We need to know that and have a firm foundation in the who, whats, and whys of the Christian Faith.  Though the Bible is our authority, it is not an authority for many people today, so we will need to also use Natural Law to help share our Christian ideas.  Those ideas are quickly becoming lost to Western Culture.  We need to stand firm in the Christian Faith.

The book ends with this paragraph:

The world in which we live seems set to be entering a new, chaotic, uncharted and dark era. But we should not despair. We need to prepare ourselves, be informed, know what we believe and why we believe it, worship God in a manner that forms us as true disciples and pilgrims, intellectually and intuitively, and keep before our eyes the unbreakable promises that the Lord has made and confirmed in Jesus Christ.  This is not the time for hopeless despair, nor naive optimism. Yes, let us lament the ravages of the fall as they play out in the distinctive ways that our generation has chosen. But let that lamentation be the content for sharpening our identity as people of God and our hunger for the great consummation that awaits at the marriage feast of the Lamb. 

A New World

You have been set apart and chosen. Photo by Gift Habeshaw.

Today, we in the West are living in a new era or a new world that is very different from the one 50+ years ago.  Today, there is no social benefit to being a Christian. In fact in many cases, there is a social cost.   Christian values are seen by many as oppressive, incomprehensible, and/or outdated.  Today, Christian values are very countercultural.  So how does a Christian interact in this new world?

We need to be intentional.  We can not wait for people to ask about our faith.  We need to identify ourselves as Christians, and explain what we believe.  Note today many people think they have an idea of what a Christian believes, but many times they have wrong ideas.  Christian ideas can seem strange to a non-Christian (e.g. people are not naturally good).  We may need to start by explaining some very basic Christian concepts, because these concepts have been forgotten by society.

Society today is hyper-individualistic.  Everything revolves around oneself, and freedom is a key concept.  The ideal that is promoted is that you are free to be whoever you want and to do whatever you want.  Ultimately this means everything is dependent on you.  All moral values are determined by you.  All relationships end up being transactional since you are at the center.  Your identity is fragile because it depends on you and others’ opinions.  And life fulfillment is also dependent on you and your circumstances. The end result is that many of today’s young adults are struggling with anxiety and depression, and with life in general. 

We Christians have the answers for a full life with purpose.  Because of Jesus Christ’s saving work, we have a purpose and meaning to life that suffering cannot take away.  Circumstances cannot take away our joy or satisfaction with God in control.  Because of our secure identity as a loved and forgiven child of God, our relationships can be more than just transactional.  Because of God’s forgiveness, we do not need to be burdened by guilt and we can offer forgiveness to others.  We also can offer a generous justice to those oppressed without becoming an oppressor, because of God’s love for all.  And because we know God is good, we can face the future with a sure hope that not even death can take away. We Christians have a lot to offer this hurting world.  We need to help them see that their needs and longings are really echoing their need for God.  We have God’s love as our driving force, not power or the need for freedom.

And it all comes down to the fact that throughout history our attempts to create a utopia, a good full life for all, have utterly failed. We are broken beyond our repair.  We can not save ourselves, but God can and in Jesus Christ he offers freedom from our brokenness, so we can live that full life to his glory.

Because society in the West today is at best neutral-Christian and at worst anti-Christian, we need to make certain ourselves and our children are well grounded in the faith. The dominant worldviews today are not Christian. We need to not only know why the Christian worldview is the right one but why the dominant worldviews are lacking when compared to the Christian worldview.  This way we can be “vaccinated” against the dominant worldviews.  Not only should we teach ourselves, but we need to let society know the love of God and what Christians are all about.  One of the best ways to do that is for Christians integrate their faith life into their work life. Do not compartmentalize your life.

The early Christian church formed a unique community.  They were racially, ethically, and economically diverse.  Everyone was welcomed.  They were highly committed to caring for the poor, the sick, and the marginalized.  They did not retaliate but rather were committed to forgiving.  They were strongly against abortion and infaticide, so to make certain any unwanted baby was cared for. And they had a unique stance on sex.  It is only for married couples.  Today when we look at these five characteristics we would call the first two liberal and the last two conservative.  You can not pigeon hole the early Christian church, so we Christians in today’s non-Christian culture should not be pigeon holed. We might want to model that early Christian community today.

Looking at what is happening in the West, one might think Christianity is on the decline, but that is not the case.  By God’s grace, Christianity is growing (but not in the West).  At least 70% of Christians live outside the West.  The Christian Church is definitely global, and because of that there is hope for a revival in the West.  God can do it.  God has started sending missionaries from “deepest darkest Africa” to the West.  Some have already arrived.

This post was based in part on the article “How to Reach the West (Again)”.


America has a very individualistic culture.  It has a culture where the emphasis or priority is placed on the individual instead of the group.  We, Americans, are oriented around the self.  Individualism sees the individual as its main focus, and values independence and self reliance.  With Individualism, we don’t want society to get in the way of our goals, desires, and self expression. Individualism can be seen as another worldview.

There are several popular slogans that emphasize Individualism in society.  Here are a few

  • Be true to yourself.
  • Follow your heart.
  • You do you.
  • You be you.
  • You need to find yourself.

Notice the ‘you’ in all of these slogans.  They are saying what is most important is yourself.  That means your freedom, your happiness, and how you define and express yourself is the highest good.  Everything else is secondary.  It is all about you.  Advertisers know this.  Their ads promote sayings like “you deserve it”, “you need it”, and “we will take good care of you”.

What are the beliefs of Individualism? You decide what is right for you. You are the ultimate authority.  External authorities are to be considered, questioned, and/or rejected. There should be nothing that restricts your freedom or your self-expression, so you can be truly authentic.  You are effectively an autonomous person.  Tolerance of others is defined around accepting the identities and expressions of others.  An individualist believes that if everyone did this, the world would be a better place, because humans are inherently good.

There are some good things about our individualistic society.  We tend to put value on each and every person.  Our Declaration of Independence says “all men are created equal”. That comes from our Christian heritage, because Christianity says each and every one of us are of very high value in the sight of God for God fully and completely loves each and every one of us.

Unfortunately, we all have this tendency to be self-centered. The worldview of Individualism promotes this self-centeredness. Many times we are willing to do whatever in order to fulfill our goals and desires.  And many times our goals, our desires, and our self-expressions are not good for society as a whole or for our neighbor next door.  The problem is we are not inherently good.  We need boundaries. We need to have restrictions on our desires, our goals, and our self-expression, so to protect others.

Technology has made us less dependent upon each other.  In general, technology supports Individualism. Many times, we do not need to interact with others.  We type our own letters and emails.  We purchase stuff from the comfort of our own home.  We research ideas and concepts without attending a lecture or debate.  Technology has made this possible, and it can be very isolating. 

I think Individualism has created some of society’s problems.  We are very divided as a country.  We have done our own thinking and will not listen to the opposing side because we are the authority for ourselves.  We do not want to be ordinary, so we find unique ways to express ourselves and define ourselves (think gender fluidity).  We hide our real selves, so to craft a self we think people will like.  We leave relationships because at the moment we are not feeling the “love”.  We do not worry about the long term consequences of our decisions and our actions on ourselves and others, but we rather expect society to welcome our authentic self.

I think many of today’s problems boil down to the “Me First” mentality of Individualism.  Because of the “Me First” mentality, Americans have lost sight of the needs of others.  They will only deal with the needs of others only when it does not negatively impact themselves.  God is not on the throne of their heart.  They are.  I believe American culture has taken the individual too far.  We need to be less selfish and more concerned with being good members of society.


Living Network 2 (Peter Farkas Photo)

Mary is a sweet old grandmother who just cashed her Social Security check at the local bank.  It had been a busy day but she got her check cashed just as the bank was closing.  John looks around the corner and sees Mary walking home.  He really wants to grab her purse and get that money, but he is debating with himself on whether to do it or not.  What is going through John’s head?  What is holding him back?  Is it that someone might see him and he would be arrested?  Or is he thinking how Mary needs that money to live on and stealing the money would be really hard on her?  The former reason is where our human nature takes us.  We don’t want to be caught and suffer the shame and consequences.  The later reason is more common in cultures where Christianity has influenced the culture.  Concern for others is a trait emphasized in Christianity.

The former reason is part of an honor-shame culture, which is common in much of the world because of human nature.  Today it is showing up more and more in the West because of our post-Christian society.  The “Cancel Culture” is one manifestation of it.  Cancellation is to bring shame upon the person for actions or words that a group considers disgraceful and objectionable.  The purpose of canceling is more than just a group expressing displeasure.  The purpose is to make the person so undesirable that it destroys the person’s reputation and causes people to avoid them.  Many times that includes demands that the person lose their job.  In fact maintaining a relationship with a shamed or canceled person could cause you yourself to be canceled.

Cancellation is a tool used by critical theorists to fight against unjust societal structures, especially with regard to race. Two recent cancellation examples are the removal of statues of slave owners and the canceling of people who had years before blackfaced themselves.  From these examples, you can see cancellation has no time limit, and there is no forgiveness or restoration for canceled people.  You can be canceled for something you did or said in the past that you now regret.

An interesting side point is that in our postmodern society, moral truth is supposed to be relative.  However for these people who cancel, the current moral truth is fixed and rigid, but for many of those being canceled the moral goalposts have been moved and what was okay back then has now become an objectionable offense.  The moral standard has changed.  I do believe in a fixed moral standard as determined by Christian scripture.  That standard has not changed.  It has been set for thousands of years.  We all fail to live up to that standard, but there is forgiveness and restoration found in Jesus Christ.

As Christians, how do we approach someone who believes in canceling?  First start with prayer. Ask God for guidance and for him work through you.  Second, be humble and listen. Try to understand and learn where they are coming from.  Many times they are trying to right actual wrongs in society.  If they are critical theorists, they will believe that removing the oppressive norms of society will solve the problem.  As Christians, we know that the root problem is our sinful nature, and that liberation from societal norms will not solve the problem. Remember the restoration and forgiveness found in Jesus is the solution. Third, realize that there will be differences of opinion.  You don’t have to convince the person.  Just plant a seed and let God do the rest in his time.

Worldview: Critical Theory

Living Network 2 (Peter Farkas Photo)

A Postmodern optimist will seek to change the world and will often do it in the framework of critical theory.  Critical theory looks at society and critiques it looking for the underlying structures of domination.  It seeks “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” (Max Horkheimer, 1982). It will often look at time honored traditions and critique them for bias in order to free society from the underlying oppression.  Critical theory also appears many times in literary criticism.

Critical theory is about power.  A critical theorist, who is a white woman, is concerned with being oppressed (as a woman) and also with one’s place in a dominant group (white privilege), besides other groups that she may be a part of.  She would be concerned with liberating nonwhites from the oppressive norms of society, as well as being concerned about her own oppression as a woman.  She as a woman would have special insights into the truth because of her “lived experience”, but also she would be missing the insights that a nonwhite person might have.  Critical theory says she would need to accept the truth that a nonwhite person might share because she does not have that “lived experience”.

For a literary example of critical theory let us take a look at the “generic he” (and the “singular they”).  Because English does not have a generic singular pronoun, the pronoun ‘he’ has been used to refer to a person of unspecified gender.  Do you say “A person entered and he sat down at the table with his notebook”?  Or do you say “A person entered and they sat down at the table with their notebook”?  Or do you say something else. Traditionally, you would use the “generic he”.  A critical theorist would see the sexist bias in the “generic he” and call for a change.  They (or He) would be more happy with using the “singular they”.  In fact that has become standard practice these days. It avoids societal gender bias.  I have also seen a “generic she” used instead of the “generic he”.

Today, with declared genders being flexible, the critical theorist would call for the use of the pronouns depending on personal preference to avoid the two gender lock-in.  I have seen at the bottom of emails a list of pronoun words to use in responding to the person, and I have seen documents recommending flexible use of pronouns based on personal preference.  A critical theorist would want to free the person from the societal constraints of genderism.

As a Christian I see some truth in critical theory.  There is oppression and domination in this world, not only overtly, but also in the hidden structures of society.  They are problems that need to be rooted out.  However, the Christian sees the root problem not as oppressive norms of society but as the sinful nature of each and every person.  Liberation does not come from being free from the norms of society but from a restored relationship with God.  When I would talk to a critical theorist, I would ask questions and do a lot of listening.  I would acknowledge the oppression, but would share that the root cause is our sinful nature and liberation from societal norms does not solve the problem.  We can not solve it, but God can.

This is a worldview that I am less familiar with, but I see people using its concepts.  For some more reading on critical theory, check out a short summary at and for an in-depth look check out .

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism Genie by Adam Ford

What do Americans believe?  In my last post, I suggested that even though 65% of Americans say they are Christian, I and others believe that many (most?) of them are not. Many of them believe in the Moralistic Therapeutic Deism worldview and not the Christian worldview.  What is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)?  Those with MTD beliefs tend to believe in 5 tenets.

  1. A God exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

This comes from a survey of teenagers (15+ years ago). The survey (Smith, Christian; Lundquist Denton, Melina (2005). Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers) also asked where the teens got their beliefs.  For most, their beliefs came from their parents, so these beliefs cover at least a few generations. 

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an organized faith, however it is so pervasive in America that some call it the civil or civic religion of America.  Tenets 2 and 5 describe the moralistic beliefs while tenets 3 and 4 describe the therapeutic beliefs. They are considered deists because of the minimal interaction of their creator god with the world (tenets 1 and 4). One can see these beliefs in American culture over the past 50+ years.

Even though many MTD deists will say they are Christian, MTD is not at all like traditional Christianity.  First MTD is very “Me” oriented and is not focused on God and what he has done for us.  For MTD, god is not involved and there is no relationship with us except being ready to help when needed.  In Christianity God desires a relationship of love with him and is very involved in the world.  Life as a Christian is about serving him in love and thankfulness, not as MTD says about being happy and feeling good. In fact, the God in Christianity does not promise happiness, but he does promise being there in the tough times.  

The Christian Faith is about bad people going to heaven, not good people, because we all are bad and in need of God’s forgiveness and grace. We find our identity in the fact that we are loved by God, not in our own goodness.  We can be realistic about our shortcomings because we are loved by God.  

Tenet 2 says “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”   That is true in a broad general sense, but with Tenet 5 it makes MTD into what we do to get to God, not God reaching down to save us as the Christian Faith declares.  It also implies that all major world religions are effectively the same. That is far from the truth, but is a fairly common belief among Americans. 

So what do you say when you are talking about spiritual matters to an American?  First you can not assume they believe what you believe.  Americans tend to pick and choose what they believe.  MTD is a summary of what the common beliefs are.  You need to ask and listen carefully to what they say they believe.  Ask questions and nail down the best you can of what they believe.  And then respectfully share with them what you believe.

Check out this explanation of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in comic form by Adam Ford.

Christian Worldview

What do you believe?  Though 65% of Americans say they are Christian (Pew Research, 2019;, I believe that most of them view the world in a very different way from the traditional Christian view of the world.  Here is a short summary of what I believe. I believe this fits into that traditional Christian worldview.

When I look at myself, I see that I have a strong tendency to be selfish and self-centered. I look around and I see that I am not alone. Self centeredness is part of our human condition.  Because of it all kinds of evil and injustice exist. We are able to dream of utopia, where everyone is well behaved and loved and everyone works for the common good, but we are unable to achieve that. That is because we are messed up and broken.  Deep down inside of each of us we are selfish. This is the root of our problems, and this eventually corrupts every human institution and undertaking, no matter how noble.

I believe there is a solution. We can not fix ourselves but God can. God loves each and every one of us. Jesus came into the world to show us God and how much he loves us. He died for our selfish wrongdoing and wrong thinking.  And he rose from the dead to show us that he has a good life of love for us. Trusting in him, starts a process of changing us into loving people and removing that self centeredness. We, who believe, will one day be fully renewed, and will  be in a full and complete relationship with God. That is what I believe and what I have experienced.

For a much longer version, 22 years ago I wrote this “creed” of what I believe.  If I wrote it today, it might look slightly different but it is a good summary of what I believe.  Read it here: