AWARENESS – NOT WOKENESS
Each generation witnesses the tying of political agendas to Christian aims, and sometimes, vice versa. Sometimes the union of the two is symbiotic, and at other times, conflicted. Among the prominent social justice issues of our time are racism, misogyny, and discrimination against sexual minorities (those who are usually grouped under the LGBT+ heading.) Many Christians support efforts that seek to end such discrimination – and this is a very good thing.
Yet ideas have consequences and the underlying thinking, ideas, and analysis of social issues matters. People can advocate for justice and inclusion in misguided ways. Not all means to obtaining social progress are open to Christians. This is a subtle argument well worth further consideration.
Today many expressions of progressive politics utilize an underlying neoMarxist theory. Marxism is a social and political philosophy that interprets human history as a function of economic class struggle and conflict. Marxism’s aim to eliminate oppression by creating a classless society of economic equality.
At first glance, Marxism would seem to have much in common with Christianity – a desire for equality, liberation, and an end to oppression. Doesn’t the logic of the Kingdom of God understand Empire as oppressive and therefore to be resisted?
Yet at the heart of Marxism and Christianity are anthropological differences than render them incompatible – each understands the human person differently – differently enough to make Marxism an unsuitable political theory for Christian action. For the Marxist, the human person is primarily driven by concerns of economics, class, and social power structures. In addition to this reductionism, Marxism interprets all social interaction in terms of power and oppression, including family relations, and even relations between mother and child. Marxism can only logically function if there is an identified oppressor to be resisted and undermined. Further, that oppressor must be eliminated or neutralized – essentially oppressed in turn.
Today’s neoMarxist ideology is little different. While it may yield useful insights concerning some social conditions, its anthropological flaws and reductionism present a vision of the human person at odds with any sense of Christian understanding. NeoMarxist ideology is rooted in resentment rather than forgiveness, and meta-marginalization rather than participation and solidarity. As such, it is ultimately at odds with the gospels.
Today, many progressive social movements often adopt, unconsciously, a neoMarxist ideology to explain and analyze their social justice concerns. And many Christians and Christian groups have aligned themselves not only with these causes, but with their modes of thinking and arguing. The result has been some initial positive change, but often at the expense of authentic Christian community as well as the integrity of the Christian social vision. The result is a Christianity that opts for certain policies and positions, with genuine concern for the marginalized and powerless, but also with attitudes and analysis rooted in resentment and power struggle as interpreted through Marxist thought.
The gospels stand opposed to the categorization of human beings inherent in neoMarxist thinking. Authentic Christian community is based in the affirmation of human dignity of all persons. In the New Testament, even the dignity of the oppressor is affirmed, thus motivating some sense of love and call to repentance. From a Christian perspective, people are redeemable.
NeoMarxism, rooted in claims of inescapable conflict, is inherently predisposed to violence, as history has shown with clarity. As such, neoMarxism undercuts the commitment to justice through nonviolence and a non-brokered society heralded by Jesus and glimpsed throughout the scriptures. NeoMarxism stands in contrast to the open table practiced by Jesus that recognized the dignity of all and invited personal transformation through loving engagement.
Identity politics, much of which is also nestled in neoMarxist analysis, dehumanizes and establishes the category of “other” – a violation of Biblical commands to avoid tribalism and resist artificial boundaries created by Imperial forces – it also violates justice by treating as morally culpable, individuals, due to their belonging to social categories (often artificial in nature) and not their actual behavior.
To point out neoMarxism in Progressive Christian theology and practice is argue that reverse marginalization is also an injustice and as such violates the gospels and their message of the authentic inclusivity of Christianity.
Obviously, not all on the left are neoMarxists. And not all who work for social justice are Marxists of one form or another, either. And I wish to avoid demonizing neoMarxists, many of whom achieve commendable results. The issue is the thinking behind the movements and actions.
Further, pointing out the neoMarxist ideology of many of the left is not to deny that injustices, oppression, and marginalization occurs. Nor is it to argue for undoing much of the good that has happened – a greater tolerance and empathy for peoples who have genuinely been marginalized. Finally, to point out faulty intellectual underpinnings is not invalidate all on the left, or even to recommend conservative alternatives.
Authentic Christian action seeks to maintain the fundamental commitments to justice, inclusion, and equality of dignity that are inherently part of the Christian social vision, while filtering out the neoMarxist and other influences foreign to the gospels. Christianity, at its best, seeks to resituate the individual in organic, authentic community, preventing the relentless drive toward isolated individualism natural to neoMarxism.
This is achieved through a careful application of Scripture in the context of community, applying the biblical wisdom to foster a balance of individual concern and communal cohesiveness, and encouraging diverse people to maintain loving bonds of unity by encouraging kenosis – the renouncement of power for the sake of justice and peace – rather than embracing power by disassembling communities based on narrowing politics of identity and control.
If Christians believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, while these may be valid insights into the nature of Empire – they are not valid insights of the internal logic of God’s Reign.
TOLERANCE, INCLUSION, & PARTICIPATION
Participation in the full array of social institutions and structures is essential for the well-being and development of socially-natured humans. Human fulfillment is impossible outside of community. Therefore, concerns of inclusion and participation are serious matters for Christians, and all people of good will. Unjust exclusion isn’t simply unfair, it’s damaging to individuals and whole communities in lasting and profound ways.
The contemporary culture’s emphasis on values such as equality, inclusion, aid to the needy, and justice for all have part of their roots in the Christian tradition. Granted, many conservative Christians have violated these principles, as have some on the left.
As in any age, primary social values are often invoked unreflectively, resulting in prevailing moral sentiments that are in need of better reasoned footings. Moral and social concerns often are expressed in the buzzwords of the day, yet unfortunately, those words and terms are often nebulous.
Not everyone shares the same views or even the same values. We will find ourselves disagreeing with others concerning politics, economics, and cultural issues. Further, the behavior of others may be found wanting, lacking the approval of some. In such cases, civil, respectful, reasoned, and open dialogue is encouraged, and demanded by human dignity. A just society finds ways to encourage inclusion and participation even amongst disagreement. Key to maintaining inclusion and participation is the notion of tolerance.
Toleration is the tacit acceptance of an action or idea which one dislikes or disagrees with, and where one is in a position to disallow it but chooses not to. As such, toleration implies disagreement and disapproval, and therefore is not the same thing as full acceptance or agreement.
Inclusion is the desire to foster the highest degrees of participation as possible, extending hospitality to all people of good will. The opposite of inclusion is exclusion, which seeks to prevent others from full participation in the normatively prescribed activities and institutions of the society in which they live. Ongoing exclusion, particularly due to one’s identifying with a particular cause or group, is considered marginalization.
Yet inclusion and toleration have proper limits, despite the connotations of much of the current rhetoric. The notion that no one, for any reason, should ever be excluded from certain aspects of society is misplaced. The biblical commands to welcome the stranger do not apply to the invading barbarians outside the gates seeking to destroy you and your way of life. Nor do they apply to those who wish to do us harm. There are people – be they violent, abusive, oppressive – who are not fit for civil society and actually pose a danger to others. While such people should be treated humanely, they also help us understand something of the limited nature of inclusion.
POWER & FREEDOM FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Nor does the Church close her eyes to the danger of fanaticism or fundamentalism among those who, in the name of an ideology which purports to be scientific or religious, claim the right to impose on others their own concept of what is true and good. Christian truth is not of this kind. Since it is not an ideology, the Christian faith does not presume to imprison changing socio-political realities in a rigid schema, and it recognizes that human life is realized in history in conditions that are diverse and imperfect. Furthermore, in constantly reaffirming the transcendent dignity of the person, the Church’s method is always that of respect for freedom.– John Paul II, Centesimus Annus
Social power is the ability to influence the thinking and actions of others without the need for coercion. Social power compels, influences, motivates – but never forces. Coercion is a form of power unto itself, rightfully contained in government, employed by police, military, and overseen by impartial courts.
Christianity owes its initial growth to its social power – the appeal of its message and the integrity of the witness of the early communities. Love, forgiveness, kindness, generosity, and humility are usually attractive in their own right. A community that embodies such values and seeks to meet the needs of others, while respecting the freedom of others, should be highly appealing.
Yet there is a sense when reading the gospels that the Kingdom of God operates under different rules – we the rejection of power in nearly all forms when we read turn the other cheek, love your enemies, pray for your persecutors, blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, and Jesus’ example of nonviolent resistance to Rome and even his own execution.
The soft, but very real, power of the Kingdom is rooted in peace and nonviolence. Peace is achieved through justice rather than conquest, unity and cohesion achieved through love rather than conformity.
Classical Greek and Roman political philosophy conceived of freedom as a cultivated condition of the human person, achieved through self-discipline, the practice of virtue, and knowledge of the good. Christianity echoed these sentiments, understanding that freedom was freedom from – tyranny, oppression, hardship – but also, freedom for – goodness, love, service, and so on – a notion strongly asserted in Judaism.
In the classical view, freedom is the acquired state of being able to govern one’s self according to truth and goodness. Granted, freedom extends to a freedom of conscience to determine for oneself what is true, good, and meaningful.
However, freedom understood as the ability to do whatever one wants, without restraint other than concern for harm of others, is not the classical or Judaism or Christian view, and accordingly is understood as a pseudo-freedom. Any sense of freedom that understands the concept as the ability or right to pursue any desire so chosen typically ends in slavery to ego, the passions, addictions, or our baser instincts.
All content copyrighted with all rights reserved. Gregory Gronbacher, 2021. (C)
Identity politics, much of which is also nestled in neoMarxist analysis, dehumanizes and establishes the category of “other” – reinforcing tribalism and erecting artificial boundaries created by Imperial forces – it also violates justice by treating as morally culpable, individuals, due to their belonging to social categories (often artificial in nature) and not their actual behavior.
Those who believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, while these may be valid insights into the nature of oppression – they are not valid insights of the internal logic of a healthy and enduring culture of justice and participation. .