- Despite contemporary critical theory (terminology from Neil Shenvi) and Christianity sharing the goals of liberation and ending oppression, CCT and Christianity are fundamentally at odds with each other. Don’t know what CCT is? Read Part 1.
- This article shows why they are incompatible worldviews.
- CCT and Christianity disagree on many things: humans’ fundamental problem and solution in life; what our primary identity is; the nature of Truth and morality; and what constitutes hegemonic discourse and oppression
Humans’ Fundamental Problem
Christianity believes that the fundamental problem in human society (and every human heart) is sin. By “sin,” Christians mean that we live in ways that are opposed to God. Our bodies, minds, hearts, and souls, though originally made perfect by God, are marred by desires to live in ways that do not align with God’s will for our lives. Sin affects the heart of every human that has ever lived, except one, our savior Jesus Christ. Because of our sinful nature, we treat other humans (and ourselves!) in unjust and oppressive ways.
Because of our sinful nature, all humans are set at odds with the holy, perfect, and sinless God. If there is no solution to our sinful nature, our destiny is eternal separation from God’s presence – Hell.
On the other hand, CCT believes that the fundamental problem in human society is not sin but oppression. CCT believes that the battle is not ultimately with sin and how sin perverts everything it comes in contact with, but rather the battle is a power struggle between unequal groups, the oppressors and the oppressed.
The Solution to Humans’ Fundamental Problem
Christianity believes that the solution to our fundamental problem of sin is salvation. Salvation is God’s gracious forgiveness of all our sins and eternal union with Him. We receive salvation through repenting of our sinful nature and believing that Christ’s death on the cross paid for our sins. When we are saved, God’s grace through the power of the Holy Spirit equips and inspires us to live our lives after the example of Christ. Because Christ modeled a life of promoting justice and ending oppression, Christians should do likewise.
For CCT, the solution to the fundamental problem of oppression is liberation. Liberation is achieved through activism. Activism takes the form of raising awareness of oppression, protesting, and generally “dismantling” hegemonic power. The ultimate goal is not salvation but liberation and equality.
Clearly, Christianity and CCT have different understandings of ultimate problems and ultimate solutions. However, this might not convince you that Christianity and CCT are incompatible. You could say, understandably, that it is okay that CCT does not look at root causes like sin. You could suggest that Christians can affirm that sin is the real problem, but that we can work within CCT to alleviate the problems of sin – injustice and oppression – even if some do not affirm the root cause of sin. And you could likewise say that it is okay that CCT does not have the ultimate goal of eternal salvation, but rather just concerns itself with the here-and-now.
Such a working relationship between Christianity and CCT would be tenuous, at best. Unfortunately, CCT only gets more incompatible with Christianity from here, so a working partnership is impossible.
In Christianity, all humans are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). Likewise, all humans are fallen and sinful (Romans 3:23) and in need of God’s mercy. These are our primary identities in life. Yes, people are born male or female, of any number of races or ethnicity, with many different abilities, and in many different parts of the world. But none of these secondary “identities” means you are more or less a child of God. No identity grants you greater or lesser access to God’s grace. We are equally God’s good creation, equally fallen as sinners, and have equal access to God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
CCT has no understanding of an individual’s primary identity as an image-bearer of God. Instead, CCT utilizes secondary identities like race, sex, sexual orientation, among others, to define who you are. You are not primarily a child of God; you are the intersection of your many identities, each of which is either an oppressor identity or an oppressed identity.
CCT’s understanding of identity has no place in Christianity. Scripture states that for those who are in Christ, aka the Church, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor is there male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). This does not mean that the biological differences between males and females are erased, or that there are no meaningful cultural differences among us. It means that, in the Church, all Christians are utterly equal in their identity in Christ. No secondary identity can define or divide us.
Likewise, the oppressor/oppressed identities do not work with Christianity. In Christianity, we are all oppressors (sinful) in some way or another. We are also all oppressed (living in a world of sin) in some way or another. In Christianity, we do not fight class-based identity power struggles as in CCT. Instead, with our identities found in Christ, our battle is with sin in all forms. We fight sin, not the sinner, and certainly not the sinner’s identity as white, black, male, female, or otherwise.
Christianity believes that absolute Truth exists and is available to all people. The way we access Truth is through reason (such as philosophy and mathematics) and Scripture. Anyone can reason well and read Scripture and have access to Truth. Truth is true no matter who is stating the Truth, or whether or not someone is living by that Truth.
Because humans are sinful and finite creatures (that is, not possessing all the perfect attributes of God), we will, at times, disagree on Truth. But the fact that we disagree does not reflect poorly on Truth – it demonstrates our fallibility as humans.
CCT has a different relationship with truth. As we saw in Part 1, CCT believes that an oppressed individual’s lived experience grants them greater access to truths that are inaccessible to the oppressors. CCT believes that oppressors are either consciously suppressing truth to dominate with (false) hegemonic discourses, or are merely unconsciously blinded by their privilege. Either way, the result is that the oppressors have less access to truth.
So, Christians cannot coexist with CCT’s understanding of truth:
Christianity says that truth is available to all people. CCT says that some groups (the oppressed) have greater access to truth.
Christianity says that disagreements on Truth are due to our fallibility as humans. CCT says that disputes on truth are due to the oppressors protecting their privilege.
Christianity says that disagreements on Truth can be addressed with reasoned debate. CCT says that disputes on truth must be resolved by the person with privilege (the oppressor) accepting without qualification the oppressed individual’s vision of truth.
Christianity and CCT have utterly incompatible understandings of Truth. Things are true or false, no matter who says it. A math equation has a right or wrong answer regardless if a male or a female solves it. A theological doctrine expounded by John Calvin or Pope Francis is not false because it wasn’t written by a female of color. God’s truth is not racialized, genderized, or anything else. God’s Truth is the same for all, in all places, at all times.
Christianity’s understanding of moral accountability is similar to its understanding of Truth. Morality, like Truth, is absolute. Morality, like Truth, is also equally applied among all humans. While some moral responsibilities might change based on your stage in life (a married person has moral obligations that a single person does not have, and vice versa), in Christianity, no one has a different moral standard.
CCT has a different understanding of morality. First, in CCT, your identity group bestows morality or immorality on you. If you are white (or member of some other oppressor group), you are “complicit” in all the perceived immorality of that group. If you are black (or a member of some other oppressed group), you are bestowed with the inherent morality of that group.
Second, in CCT, what is immoral for an oppressor can be moral for the oppressed. CCT allows the oppressed to “punch up,” but oppressors cannot “punch down.” CCT does not just let the oppressed to punch up, it encourages it. Calling out oppressors, sometimes utilizing means that would be immoral for an oppressor to use, is the moral action.
Take note of the logic of this last point: the oppressed can justify their oppression of the oppressors. This is rank hypocrisy. The ironic result is that so-called “oppressor groups,” such as white males, can justifiably claim that they are being oppressed and thus CCT gives them the right to oppress their oppressors in the same way. The apparent outcome of CCT is a never-ending cycle of oppressed/oppressor power struggles – the oppressed begin to oppress their oppressors, who then become oppressed and turn back to oppress their oppressors.
This never-ending cycle of oppression can only be broken by forgiveness, a Christian ideal that is utterly absent in CCT. The lack of forgiveness in CCT should be enough to convince any Christian that CCT is incompatible with Christianity. But the problems with CCT’s morality do not end there.
Differing moral standards, as in CCT, is thoroughly unchristian. Christianity does not say that morality is different for someone because of their lived experience as an oppressed identity. Christianity does not allow us to say that you are inherently immoral because of an attribute that you cannot control, such as sex or skin color. Every individual is equally responsible for the moral expectations of the one, holy, and living God as put forth in Scripture.
Furthermore, CCT makes Christian ethical critique nearly impossible. If you are part of a privileged group, CCT makes it almost impossible to critique those who are not. If you are part of an oppressed identity group, nearly any critique of oppressors is justifiable because of your “lived experience.” Moral critique in CCT is not based on Truth and is not a two-way street. Morality becomes subjective and relative, based on an individual’s personal perception of their life. Thus, reasoned debate centered on an absolute and equally applied moral code becomes impossible.
Hegemonic Discourse and “Oppression”
There are two other ways CCT and Christianity are incompatible.
First, CCT is built on the rejection of hegemonic power. As you recall, a hegemonic discourse is a singular narrative about the set of values and norms that everyone should follow. CCT views such totalizing discourses as inherently oppressive and to be rejected.
The problem is, Christianity is a hegemonic discourse! Christians believe that Christ and Scriptures are the only Truth that can save you. Religions that say they are the absolute Truth and seek to convert people, like Christianity, are oppressive given CCT’s logic.
So, you might be a Christian who wants to use CCT to be “anti-racist” or to support “ending oppression,” but guess what? Once you agree with CCT’s view of the world, how will you defend your Christian faith once it becomes the target of those who say it is oppressing them?
Beyond the fact that Christianity as a whole is oppressive since it is a totalizing discourse, there are hosts of other Christian beliefs that are individually considered oppressive. Here are just two examples:
Christians believe that marriage is between one male and one female.
CCT says that this belief is oppressive to homosexuals, non-gender-conforming individuals, polyamorous individuals, and a host of other identity groups that do not believe in traditional marriage.
For Christians, raising your child in the faith is considered a fundamental role of a good parent. CCT considers raising your child to be a Christian as oppression through the religious colonization of your child.
These are examples of what CCT would call “oppression,” but what Christians must affirm. Christians agree that oppression is terrible – but we disagree on what oppression is.
Let’s be clear – Christians absolutely must support ending oppression. That is unequivocally part of what it means to follow Christ.
However, Christians must be careful when we say we support “ending oppression.” We cannot end oppression on CCT’s terms. We cannot allow others to think we tacitly agree with CCT’s vision of ending oppression. We must work to end oppression on God’s terms.
As we have seen, Christianity and CCT have different assumptions about the world. They disagree about:
- what the fundamental problem in society is
- the solution to our fundamental problem
- the nature of and access to truth
- moral accountability
- our primary identity
- what “oppression” looks like
There can be only one conclusion. Christianity and CCT are utterly, wholly, and completely incompatible. Christians cannot participate in CCT discourse and remain faithful to Christianity. CCT is a rival worldview to Christianity, and possibly a rival pseudo-religion. All of our future work against oppression must be separated from any organizations and rhetoric that are associated with and take inspiration from CCT.
Check out Part 3 for CCT resources and further information.