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Competing Plans For The Redemption of the World

One plan requires agency, the other requires power. Where have we seen this before? A few more thoughts on CRT, Christianity and BYU.

In this essay, I strongly encourage BYU and its administration to rely on the spirit and substance of the Statement on Belonging that President Worthen introduced in a University Conference in August, rather than the spirit and substance of a university document produced by the Committee on Race Equity and Belonging. For some time it has seemed that BYU was settled into, and been content with, or even committed to, the language, constructs analyses, diagnoses and prescriptions of the CoREB report dominated and defined by the language and constructs of Critical Race Theory (CRT), which had essentially no connection with the Christian commitments and mission of BYU and its sponsoring church.  

In this sense the new Statement on Belonging suggests that BYU’s essential Christian mission and perspective have, in the end, not been immersed and dissolved in the acidic solution of CRT and related neo-Marxist metanarratives. Because it is not yet clear what role CRT as a metanarrative will play in the unfolding of BYU’s response, and the resultant conversations, practices, policies and bureaucracy, to the issues entailed in “belonging,” it is important to expose the foundations of the two possible approaches (CRT and Christian) and understand the premises and implications of the two positions.  There is much at stake in this discussion.  Ultimately, this essay concludes that any commitment to CRT is ill-advised intellectually, and not in the best interests of the unique Christian mission which is the foundation and purpose of BYU and its sponsoring church.

While there are many important and telling criticisms of CRT and its related Critical Theories offered from a number of perspectives, including broadly political and religious/moral perspectives, I will focus here on intellectual and academic issues  that make important contact with Christianity itself, necessarily making the short form of the arguments (of course).  The focus is on the history of ideas—in keeping with BYU’s essential intellectual mission as an institution of higher learning.  

On Picking Up the Wrong Stick

All ideas, theories, or systems of thought have histories—both chronological and conceptual.  Such history constitutes an assumptive base for the theory.  This is to say that for every theory, such as CRT, there exists already a set of other theories and ideas that must already be considered reasonable and true in order for CRT itself to be considered reasonable or true.  We will refer to this set of ideas as the assumptive base of CRT.  In other words, if we are to take CRT to be “true” (i.e., it provides a true understanding of what really is the case, or what really is happening, regarding the issues it concerns itself with), what other theories and ideas must we already assume to be the case in order to give us confidence in the truth or value of CRT itself?  In addition, every theory has an implicative horizon, a set of other ideas and conclusions which, once we have accepted an idea or theory as true, for example, CRT, we are obligated to also accept and believe to be true in order to maintain our rational consistency and integrity.  

This analysis of assumptive bases and implicative horizons is an academic way of reminding ourselves of the truth of the saying that if we pick up one end of a stick, we necessarily pick up the other end as well (and any leaves and branches attached to it).  When we adopt or even legitimate an idea, doctrine, or theory, we will also be obligated to its assumptive base (without which it makes no sense) and its implicative horizon (without which that idea has no “telos” or purpose).  The fact that if we pick up one end of an intellectual “stick” we always necessarily pick up the other end of the “stick” as well makes it all the more important that we are confident that we are dealing with the right (intellectual) stick in the first place.

The Costs of Pragmatism

One might try to argue here that it is possible to adopt a theory for purely pragmatic and intellectually eclectic reasons, without bothering to affirm either its assumptions or implications. (Unfortunately, some might even take up an idea regardless of its truth or falsity for purely political reasons, including the pursuit of power and influence.)  Such a position is difficult to maintain (or even understand) unless one ceases to reason about it, and is never forced to defend the theory from among other possible theories.  Such a position moves us from scholarship, analysis, and reason to ideology and dogma. This seems like a poor strategy for an educational institution in particular.  There are also “opportunity costs” in employing a theory or perspective for purely pragmatic reasons with no plan to defend it or establish its truth value or even its superiority against other possible theories. That is, speaking of CRT, what is it that we will NOT be thinking, believing, pursuing, and deploying to bless lives and build Christian testimony while we are busily employing CRT and its concepts instead?  The argument of this essay is that the intellectual and spiritual opportunity costs associated with CRT are too great a price to pay.  A type of pathological pragmatism might also argue for the possibility of employing a theory such as CRT without falling prey to it—or even having to believe any of its assumptions or implications.  However, my experience with such attempts is that they are never successful—except in those very rare cases where there is absolutely nothing of value at stake.  Such is not the case with CRT as the primary analysis, response, mind, and voice of BYU when it comes to race and ethnicity.  Such attempts to simply ride the bandwagon are very much like the proverbial attempts to “ride the tiger.”  Almost inevitably one “ends up inside.”  Such would be an entirely unnecessary risk and bring us to a virtually certain bad end.

Extending the ”Power Fist” or Extending the Hand of Christian Fellowship?

What has been lacking in the University’s response to the issue of racism, and the seemingly uncritical adoption of CRT language, constructs, assumptions, and implications, is an open, penetrating, sophisticated discussion and analysis of CRT itself, including its intellectual origin, standing, and intellectual and moral trajectories—as would be expected at a university, especially one that is serious about its Christian heritage, and its mission to “assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.” It seems reasonable to expect some serious discussion regarding the compatibility of CRT with that essential mission.  So, rather than speed the process toward a conclusion, and appearing to privilege—indeed to yield the ground to—CRT, there should be a time of, and forum for, substantive, penetrating analytical discussion of CRT as the solution to the issues as perceived at BYU.  

Rather than embracing a particular reading and response to issues of race, equity, and belonging (REB) and using CRT-inspired categories and language so quickly, a university should encourage sophisticated intellectual and analytical discussion of the issues and proposed solutions—examining, rather than committing to—CRT while going about the business, with determination and spirit, of solving what REB problems we may have by taking full advantage of the power incumbent in our distinctive Christian commitments, practices, and resources.  All Christians must take seriously the many ways in which the Gospel of Jesus Christ can and will solve this problem (REB).  We should lead among institutions, but we seem not to have considered the power of our Christian faith and commitments in resolving what are clearly the ethical and moral problems of the present age.  We might expect BYU to lead the examination of what, if anything, a Christian or a Christian entity, might gain and what it might lose by taking CRT seriously as a response to our current situation/issues, and as an explanation and understanding of our LDS position and possibilities in the moral world of today.

In short, I am convinced that Critical Theories, including CRT, have nothing Latter-day Saints/Christians need to remake the moral world.  Christians have been transforming people, peoples, and cultures for more than two millennia, using “secular” learning when helpful and necessary—but never as the leading light of the Christian message.  A cynic might here point out that Christian societies have not always successfully overcome the practices and institutions of a sinful world.  But here we might well ask which people, and which doctrines or theories have better records? And Christian hearts and institutions are always open to self-correction, at least as open as science is to self-correction, and certainly more open to correction than most political theories or movements have ever shown themselves to be.  

Effective self-correction and improvement are particularly likely in the context of prophetic and apostolic guidance and continuing revelation all under the shadow of the cross.  The most important factor is, however, that Christian hearts, efforts, and institutions are not doomed to rely on mere self-correction, but they are always open—or at least vulnerable—to correction by the power of grace, the workings of the Holy Spirit, and the will of God.  Neither CRT nor any other secular theory of REB has anything they can rely on for success or self-correction that rivals what is available through the light of the author and finisher of our salvation, and through apostolic guidance.  Christian schools like BYU owe it to the world to put this light visibly on display.

Two Contrasting Strategies for Achieving Our REB Goals

Two well-known quotations from prominent thinkers of the modern age capture in simple terms the fundamental problem with CRT and related theories, and the distinctly Christian alternative that I advocate here.  I present both here and deal with them separately below.  First, from Karl Marx:

“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will . . .  The totality of these relations . . . constitutes the . . . real foundation . . . of social consciousness. . .. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” Karl Marx in the Preface of his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy [emphasis added]

The second quotation comes from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn writing as a lapsed and then recommitted Christian with poignant experience with Marxism:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties eitherbut right through every human heartand through all human hearts.Gulag Archipelago (Part 4, Chapter 1, “The Ascent”) [emphasis added]

Christianity and Marxism (including the cultural Marxism at the heart of CRT) compete for the same intellectual and moral space in the human world and in the human heart.  They constitute competing and irreconcilable metanarratives.  Human agency is right in the center of the difference; indeed it is the gulf that separates them.  

Cultural Marxism Whether You Like It or Not

First, we consider Karl Marx (Solzhenitsyn will be taken up below).  We need to note here that many CRT advocates maintain that CRT is not Marxist and that criticisms that it is are proof that the critic does not understand CRT.  Any even moderately careful student of the intellectual history of the 18th through the 20th centuries (and up to the present) knows, however, that if someone cannot trace Critical Theories back through the decades through the Frankfurt School, including its asylum years at Columbia during WWII, and beyond, and back through the “young Hegelians,” of whom Marx was a student, and back further to G.W.F Hegel, they cannot claim the authority to speak of Critical Theories, what they are, and what they are not.  Many CRT proponents just dismiss any critique based on a claim that CRT is Marxist.  Most of the time this must be naivete at work, likely based on the fact that CRT does not openly propose Communist government with all its excesses or Marxist economics with all its failures. However, the influence of Marx is much more subtle, and for that, all the more dangerous. Some contemporary thinkers have suggested that Karl Marx is the most influential philosopher of the 20 Century, but not for his political theory, nor his economic theory.  Rather they claim that his preeminence is due to his epistemology, in other words, his theory of knowledge, what knowledge is, its origins, how knowledge accrues in individual minds and lives, and the possibilities knowledge affords for power and control in the world . . . as well as inherent limitations on human knowledge.

CRT should not simply be “given a pass” on all the tough questions related to morality and human nature, and naively adopted because its adherents are “just trying to help people and to do good.”

A very clear statement of Marxist epistemology (and its central place in all Marxist-influenced thought) is found in Marx’s own statement from the Preface of his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (introduced above and reproduced here.

“In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will . . .  The totality of these relations . . . constitutes the . . . real foundation . . . of social consciousness. . .. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness.” [emphasis added]

Several important conclusions and implications naturally follow from this account of consciousness (i.e., the essence of human “intelligence”), which is a key defining element of Critical Theories, including CRT.

 1.  Given its roots in, and acceptance of, the premises of cultural Marxism, CRT is not simply a recognition of racism and inequity in our society.  Rather it is a theory of racism and inequity.  It is a metaphysical account of our humanity itself applied to the understanding of our current social situation, and it is an epistemological position on the nature, origins, and limitations of human knowledge.  It is, in short, a philosophical explanation of our humanity itself (i.e., our very nature) thus providing a particular explanation of what kinds of beings we are, the origins and nature of all human knowledge, and therefore an explanation of the definition and ontological status of morality itself:  “social existence . . . determines . . . consciousness” —including moral consciousness and moral principle.

2.  Therefore, CRT should not simply be “given a pass” on all the tough questions related to morality and human nature, and naively adopted because its adherents are “just trying to help people and to do good.”  It cannot simultaneously claim to be a true and comprehensive approach to racism and morality while neglecting to offer a historically and philosophically accurate account of itself and its agenda—its assumptive base, and its implicative horizon—(or resist anyone attempting to provide such).  Resisting such scrutiny would be like rushing to the medicine cabinet for a remedy for some illness without bothering to read the label regarding the contents and effects of what’s actually in the bottle.

3.  As a comprehensive theory of human nature, and therefore, of our human ontology, epistemology, and morality, CRT will necessarily always bring with it a “world-sized” set of metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical assumptions and implications. And it must be held to account for them.  To accept CRT as nothing more than the secular manifestation of what we refer to in our religious tradition as “building a Zion people” is as naïve and potentially harmful as blithely assuming that a Marxist economic system (e.g., Communism) is just the secular manifestation of what we refer to as “the United Order,” or “the Law of Consecration.”

4.  CRT and its companion Critical Theories are non-agentic theories.  Rooted in a Marxist epistemology as CRT is, CRT must hold that consciousness (what we think, desire, and understand) is the product of lived experience in the social world (within whatever constraints that the socio/material world might impose).  Unless (in contrast to CRT)  we understand ourselves as possessed of some eternally present intelligence at the very heart of, and co-eternal with, our being, no genuine human agency is possible.  CRT proclaims that we are not actors on the stage of the world; rather we are stages upon which the world, i.e., the ideas and meanings that constitute social/political/economic realities essentially “work themselves out” within whatever constraints the brute material world of givenness might impose. To the extent that our Christian commitment entails a commitment to our nature as children of God and individual moral agents answerable to God, our Christian commitment cannot be reconciled with the fundamental grounding tenets of CRT and its cousin theories.

Some might argue that we can just accept CRT without “going that far,” that is we don’t have to accept its fundamental grounding assumptions, but just use the “good parts.”  But, as we argued above, this is intellectually naïve, if not obfuscatory.  Recall the metaphor of necessarily picking up both ends of a stick.  And, keep in mind that the seemingly “good parts” of CRT would not exist if not for the “bad parts” because CRT grew up as a whole theory with a history.  It is not at all certain that we can just “break off what we want” and leave the rest confident that the part we want will be clean and free from its history and fundamental defining make-up.  This seems a bit like furiously rummaging through a Christmas stocking full of coal—quite sure that “there’s a pony in there somewhere.”  And, what of the opportunity costs?  What are we not doing in the Christian cause, and the moral refinement of eternal morally agentic children of God, while indulging in our intellectual dalliance with Neo-Marxist aspirations to power?

5.  Because within CRT all consciousness is social consciousness, ultimately socially produced by social realities external to us, all problems of any consequence are also socially produced by realities outside us.  We are all essentially swept along—except for a few enlightened ones who can see and understand the reality of the larger sweep of history and ideas, and somehow rise above the masses.  In describing the intellectual world of the 20th century, Nobel Prize winner F. A. Hayek referred to this intelligentsia as jointly comprising a sort of “supermind.”  Such persons occupy an elite position and are tasked with helping the masses understand the unseen realities and powers that control their lives, their being, their morality, their loves, their desires, their faith, and their fate.  In such a world, all important problems are “systemic” problems, because they—and, in fact, all meaningful things—are caused by the social/moral/ epistemic system of ideas that constitute the unseen but true reality of which we, as sentient persons, are merely functional products (i.e., bearers of consciousness produced by larger abstract systems of social ideas and practices).  

Thus “systemic” is not a simple descriptive word meaning, essentially, “wide-spread,” or “broadly dispersed.”  ”Systemic,” rather, refers to things arising from, and within, that whole cosmic abstraction invoked as the underlying reality and source of the meanings and moral consciousness that envelopes (and shapes) us all.  Thus to accept the existence of, and adopt the language and the reality of, “systemic” racism (or anything that is truly “systemic”) is to adopt a metaphysic, an epistemology, and a moral system from the Neo-Hegelian, Neo-Marxist/Cultural Marxist, Critical Theory perspective.  Treating our problem as “systemic” is not an agentic person-centered, and certainly not a Christian, way of dealing with them.

6.  If our important problems are taken to be “systemic,” as CRT holds, then real solutions to those problems are way too broad and too vast to be addressed effectively at the level of individual human agents.  The solutions must also be “systemic.”  Any attempted solution operating at any level less than the grand system itself will be incapable of producing any genuine, effectual solution.  Because of the scope and dimensions of systemic solutions, they will always require power to bring them about.  It is beyond the scope of this essay to trace the history, but Critical Theories and “power relations” have always been intertwined.  The influence of thinkers such as Michel Foucault is obvious in the literature of Critical theories.  CRT is about equity and belonging (defined in a particular way), but it is also about power.  It needs power to run.

Latter-day Saints have some special insight into the relationship between grand (systemic) designs involving good and evil and the role of power in those (systemic) plans (Moses 4:1—4).  From an LDS perspective, the world was created for a moral purpose—the testing and perfecting of the individual human soul.  How might that be accomplished?  One plan suggested that the key was suspending agency through the imposition of power (i.e., God’s own power).  The other plan entailed honoring human agency and an offer of Grace and acceding to the will of God to save us one by one through his grace and our agentic repentance.  We thus have reason to be cautious about any grand systemic plans which might be realized . . . but only through the imposition of power.

7.  If all real important problems are systemic, and if we have no real agency, because our identity and consciousness are manifestations of the effects of broad systemic (and socially determined) facticity, ideas, meanings, and forces, then it will be hard to maintain emphasis and sustained concern for smaller-scale, individual sins, and failings.  Indeed, it is hard to attach meaning to what we might call “local, personal morality,” or “local personal sins.”  In the grand systemic design of things where systemic evils have evolved and must be eradicated by systemic actions, how are we to account for, and maintain due concern for, anything like individual sins, or individual morality?  If our consciousness itself is a social product, then surely our moral sensibility is a social product as well.  And our all “sins” will be social products also.  The meaning and moral content of our lives as well as our moral assessments of our lives are equally social products.  Under this metaphysical and epistemological regime, it is difficult to see how we can in any way maintain a sense of great importance attached to our personal and private actions, and how any of what we may do on the very small scale of our personal lives can hold our moral attention in the face of the grand systemic moral questions of our day.  In short, under the auspices of CRT and related Critical Theories all sin is systemic sin, and personal morality (outside the socio-political sphere, i.e., not being sufficiently “woke”) is more akin to “the effects of a frenzied mind” (Alma 30:16). The only repentance that really matters is social repentance, a.k.a., becoming “woke,” because the only sin that matters is systemic, collective, social sin.

8.  Finally, the neo-Marxist metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics at the heart of CRT and its related Critical Theories, because they hold that our minds, including our consciences, are born of social realities working upon us,  can offer no way to account for transcendent truth except as that systemic ultimate reality toward which the abstract ideas and ideals are moving (in and of themselves).  And this will be available only to the few of the SuperMind trained to “see” it.  For the rest of us, “truth” is only what the prevailing social activity that comprises our lives and our selves presents to us as reality.  Individual sin, guilt, and repentance are only minor textures or tinctures of our personal moral consciousness that the idiosyncrasies of our personal social experience may provide us). 

As individuals, the neo-Marxist critical theories must claim, we lack the capacity and the principles (unless one is counted among the “supermind”) for judging truth; all standards are community standards.  Those community standards are the only ones that count, and the ones that can be meaningfully enforced.  The only standard common human beings (i.e., non-members of the “supermind”) have for assessing truth and value is their own lived experience, along with whatever congruence and validation can come from conversations and relationships with others based, in turn, on their social lived experience.  Thus, one’s own lived experiences are the only standards by which one can meaningfully judge one’s life and world.  Thus, one’s private lived experience can give rise to any number of selves, identities, and orientations.  Because there are no objective standards beyond how such identities map onto the systemic moral agendas one’s society has enshrined as proper,  one is left completely in charge of one’s self and identity as it/they emerge from one’s lived experience.  But, because there is only socially derived experience and understanding to serve as standards, it turns out to be much easier to validate one’s emergent identities than to subject them to meaningful rational and moral evaluation.  Thus, so long as one is not in violation of cultural requirements in regards to systemic morality, one can be left to his or her own devices to make all other moral evaluations judged only against one’s own lived experiences and the consequences for one’s own life. This is how one makes one’s own “truth.”  

It is a real question how long a moral purpose, worthy of an atoning sacrifice to anchor and enable it, can be maintained in such a critical-theory-dominated world.  The central problem for CRT and other critical theories arises when people’s private morality conflicts with the larger public morality that the “system” produces and seeks to enforce.  In societies that are further down the Critical Theory road, and which have evolved more systems of power, it is quite easy to ensure that the public morality trumps private morality every time.  This is a significant problem for Christian salvation history, i.e., given that morality itself is socially produced, we must ask, for whom was the atoning sacrifice made, and why?

Of Tigers and Pockets 

A thoughtful interlocutor at this point might grant that the foregoing analysis is relevant to formal Cultural Marxism and perhaps to purely philosophical analyses of Neo-Hegelian and Neo-Marxist perspectives but not to the present world caught in the throes of Systemic Racism.  So, it might be argued, we can use the language and structure of CRT and some of its concepts without being caught in the problems outlined in this critique.  To that eclectic position, I respond by invoking again the metaphor of riding a tiger, as briefly noted above.  It seems that it can be very dangerous trying to “ride a tiger” without ending up inside the tiger (even if riding it allows one faster travel).  And, as other versions of that “riding the tiger” image point out, once one decides to ride on the tiger, one generally fears the consequence of actually dismounting (i.e., fears the effects of CRT’s implicative horizon).  One generally prefers, therefore, to stay on for the entire ride.  And the dismounting will be even more difficult if there is not a clear alternative, including a plan and a clear place to “get off,” and avoid the problems we have articulated here.

Indeed, to true believers of CRT and the intellectual tradition of which it is a part, there really is no place to “get off” the tiger.  There is no other competing reality to stand on or build upon.  True to their Marxist roots, critical theories are essentially “theories of everything, and thus do not share the metaphysical ground (i.e., assumptive base of ideas and dogma about reality) that sustains them with any other theories—there is no other metaphysical ground in play historically or intellectually.  This is the real danger of any eclectic position on these fundamental issues. For example, “consciousness is produced by social realities” . . .  and what else?  If the claim is true, there is nothing else.  Shifting to a new metaphor to make the point, we observe simply that “living out of two pockets”— one full of Critical Theory and one Christian—is impossible since they are both comprehensive theories of everything, and what entails the one precludes the other—if one is intellectually serious and consistent.  

More importantly, perhaps, the point as developed more completely below is that there are substantial opportunity costs that will accrue to Christians trying to use critical theory without compromising themselves too much when they could be developing far better understandings and far better strategies which draw on the powers of heaven and unleash the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the plan of salvation against the problem of racism and the broader underlying problems of metaphysics, epistemology, and morality as Christianity (not CRT) understands them.  We illustrate this possibility by appealing to the second quotation mentioned above—very much in contrast to Marx on consciousness.  

A Christian Alternative

We turn next to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the nature of human moral consciousness.  In these lines from the Gulag Archipelago (Part 4, Chapter 1, “The Ascent”) he makes the point—the Christian point—about as succinctly as it can be made:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties eitherbut right through every human heartand through all human hearts.” [emphasis added]

In his essay, “Repentance and Self-Limitation in the Life of Nations,” Solzhenitsyn expresses the point more particularly:

After the Western ideal of unlimited freedom, after the Marxist concept of freedom as acceptance of the yoke of necessity—here is the true Christian definition of freedom. Freedom is self-restriction! Restriction of the self for the sake of others! Once understood and adopted, this principle diverts us—as individuals, in all forms of human association, societies, and nations—from outward to inward development, thereby giving us greater spiritual depth.

This summary of the human condition is an overtly and unapologetically Christian one, penned, we should keep in mind, by one who lived through and suffered at the hands of a secular political and intellectual regime grounded in secular Marxism and committed to the belief in the influence of ideas, conscious and unconscious, inculcated by social forces and the march of history. This state of affairs to which Solzhenitsyn responds should sound familiar to anyone acquainted with CRT.  I draw from this expression (and others) of the Christian metanarrative, several points relevant to the seeming support for CRT and the willingness to adopt its language that is found in the document produced by the BYU CoREB committee, that its authors invoke to influence the life of the university, and, seemingly, the life of the Church.

 1.  The Christian position on human nature is an overtly and unapologetically agentic one.  Latter-day Saint Christianity is no exception, and expressions of how and why agency is essential to faith, knowledge, and the purposes of God are abundant in our scripture and our teachings.  Only a human agent, whose heart has been “cut through” by that line dividing good and evil requires a Savior who can heal that heart and, through the power of His grace, make good on the promise of a new heart so that that a new person, with that new heart, can give him/herself to God and to God’s children.  For those without such a heart (those whose consciousness is made and remade by the forces of social systems and the march of history), there is no clear moral pathall available paths are first political and historical and subject to annihilation based on changes in social situations.  Most directly put, Christians (and many people of other persuasions) recognize that there would be no “systemic racism” if there were no people behaving badly toward others.  If human agents cease behaving badly toward otherspersonally, politically, economically, and in other waysthen racism would cease (or become entirely impotent).  Racism always requires human action thought, feeling, or behavior. Without human agents acting, racism would be merely an abstract descriptive idea consisting of thought and possibilityhovering, perhaps, over the psychic reservoir that is always attached to any human culture.  This is sufficient to demonstrate which is more fundamental: systems or moral agents (i.e., ideas, or the minds that have ideas)?  We believe it is historically obvious that eliminating alleged various “systemic” evils may have a temporary moral effect, but human agents with their human hearts will find some other struggle with that omnipresent “line between good and evil.”

 2.  Like trying to “use only the good parts of CRT,” as noted above, one might try to “baptize”[ref num=”1″] some particular systemic approach (such as CRT),  some moral language, structure, path, or moral frame as a guide to dealing with moral issues, or running a university. But, such will necessarily be  done without real moral sensibility and conviction because there is no real agentic heart being “cut through.” Remember that in all Critical Theory traditions, hearts, like consciousness, are socially formedi.e., they predate and precede any particular locus of humanity.  If social realities teach us right from wrong as they produce our consciousness, surely they must also produce our (woke) responses.  In such a quasi-Marxist, structuralist world no human heart is pierced because no real human heart is in playexcept the one produced by social circumstances themselvesi.e., social realities produce the heart and then they pierce it. And thus whether or not a heart is pierced must also be determined by social circumstances. If any particular human heart is not pierced with some approved social “good,” it must be because said heart is poorly engineered, and in need of repair or re-education.  It must be “woke.”  Thus, human beings are the stages on which this “morality play” unfolds, not the actors who determine every act and how, for each actor, it will end.  In the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 2:11-12) we are taught the importance of good and evil coming into every human heart (i.e., agency).  The alternative is that all things become a “compound in one . . . having no life or death . . . no happiness or misery . . . no sense nor insensibility—[and] no purpose in the end of its creation.”  Such a lifeless mass has no purpose and therefore has no need for a Savior.  The god of “Liberation Theology” is quite sufficient for such a lifeless world of all things in one.  The world of human beings with real agentic hearts requires, for its salvation, a Savior Theology.  This is the Christian message for our time and the essence of a Christian response to the fundamental moral issue of our age . . . or any age.  So, the Christian call is to free ourselves from a false and clumsy model of the moral question of our age, and rather, to deal with the realities of our humanity and not convenient political fictions.  Christians, perhaps uniquely, can do this.  BYU’s response to the REB issues should reflect this indelible Christianity, and should not reflect the language, occult philosophical commitments, and the claims of authority, manifest in CRT- focused (or CRT-influenced) approaches.

3.  A BYU response, structured within the categories of, and employing much of the language of, and taking advantage of, the “virtue signaling” inherent in the CoREB-produced, CRT-focused approach that has been produced thus far by the university committee cannot help but also signal confidence in the power of, and by extension, the truth of, the Neo-Hegelian, Neo-Marxist, Critical-Theory-based approach to our humanity and its meaning that is CRT and, concomitantly, signal a lack of confidence in an explicitly wholehearted Christian approach to the same issues.  Such an approach as we see forming at the university essentially ignores the power of allegiance to the cause of Christ in favor of allegiance to a set of secular understandings, constructs, and abstractions on offer from CRT and its cousin-theories.  This is essentially trying to generate an ethical/moral system and to create ethical/moral commitment, motivation, and judgment from a secular intellectual world without specific and full-throated endorsement of the power and enlightenment incumbent in our Christian understanding and commitments.  I hold that we should not sell out (sell our birthright) in this way, diminishing the centrality of our living faith by trying to enlist, encourage, and reward moral allegiance to secular constructs in a secular language and system. This is especially damaging in the absence of vibrant discussion, debate, and engagement of the issues, and when various attempts to attach a gospel imprimatur to the CRT-inspired programs are already in process in various committees and departments.

4.  Many supporters of CRT, and many who would not consider themselves to be supporters of CRT but are content with the analysis,  the language, and the prescriptions it offers for “systemic” racism, will be inclined to protest that the analysis herein presented goes too far.  Some might argue that there is no harm in the sort of eclectic position that can glean from CRT good and useful constructs and combine them, or integrate them into analyses, language, and courses of action reflecting our faith.  I must strongly argue against such a position for a number of reasons, some of which are outlined above.  It is to be remembered that ideas always have consequences (because they have assumptive bases and implicative horizons); even when not accepted wholly, they have the power to drive the discourse, affect which analyses are made, and which are not, and to exact any number of other opportunity costs and unintended consequences.  In the analysis given above, I used the metaphor of “riding a tiger.”  Once mounted, it is very difficult, and often dangerous to safely dismount.  It seems unlikely that we, or any other organization, can set up the problems according to CRT, use the language of CRT to identify and articulate both problems and approaches to solutions, engage the rhetoric of CRT to understand what we are doing and why, i.e., providing both diagnosis and prescription for issues of REBand yet not be drawn away from alternative approaches, including deeply Christian ones.  Rather, it seems, the strong pull would be to modify our Christianity to fit the model CRT has already established in our minds and hearts. This is one particular danger that we have not seen or heard articulated very often. 

The study of the history of ideas suggests that the Hegelian and positivist roots of CRT and its cousin theories must deal with religion because they compete for the same meaningful human ground that religion has traditionally occupied.  When neo-Hegelian theory has dealt with religion, such as in Europe in the 19th century, at least as Soren Kierkegaard describes it, it had the effect of obviating (and thus destroying) real faith and the life of the Spirit.  From a Latter-day Saint perspective, that very phenomenon can be counted as contributing significantly to the necessity of the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the knowledge of the nature of God in the 19th century.  There was good reason behind Kierkegaard’s referring to the Hegelian-theology-inspired Christianity of his day as “The System,” and attributing to “the system” the dearth of spirit and the emaciation of faith that he found within the Christianity of his day.

We need to consider carefully what message it sends to the young people of the Church (and other members as well) if the Christian Gospel and the Restoration of the Gospel in the last dispensation play no crucial role—even a secondary role to that of CRT—in the comprehension, description, articulation, recognition, and response to, what CRT and other social theories claim to be the most important moral issue of our time.

In short, we ought to be careful of what we give ourselves over to.  Ideas always come trailing implications, consequences, and opportunity costs, and they always open some horizons, just as they inevitably foreclose on others.  Our obligation is to carefully examine all of these things.  And to be Christian first.

To many Latter-day Saints, and to other Christians, and among these, particularly perhaps to the rising generation, the issues of racism and its related phenomena as framed and understood via CRT and related post-modern theories,  just are the important moral issues in their lives. To some they may appear, from the standpoint of today, to be the most important moral issues in their lifetimes, or perhaps in eternity.  In this context, we need to consider carefully what message it sends to the young people of the Church (and other members as well) if the Christian Gospel and the Restoration of the Gospel in the last dispensation play no crucial roleeven a secondary role to that of CRTin the comprehension, description, articulation, recognition, and response to, what CRT and other social theories claim to be the most important moral issue of our time.  What can we expect the rising generation of the Church to think and how can we expect them to respond when we allow secular theories, analyses, and understandings, to play the central role in framing the moral history of the world and the moral call of the present day, while Christianity is largely left on the sidelinesnot in the forefrontof moral response, and certainly not at the center of framing and producing concrete responses and solutions (as, for example, what the CoREB committee has produced).  

There is a very real danger that our Christian faith will be relegated to the level of merely providing “style points” in our moral response.  This is likely to become an especially important issue when, although the Christian Gospel and our Church and religious faith did not serve as the center of, or defining feature of, our response to really important moral REB issues, Church or BYU leaders attempt to stress the great importance of gospel principles and Church standards in regards to personal issues such as one’s sexual behaviors, what one can and cannot consume, and for BYU students, even how they dress and groom themselves.  There is an extremely important unintended consequence, i.e., potential damage, in failing to center our response and approach to racism and REB issues in our comprehensive Christian religion and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Essentially leaving the gospel out, or even leaving it in the background, or making it ancillary to the secular narrative, explanations, causes. and solutions, offered by secular theories like CRT will surely invite Christians, members of the Church, and particularly the rising generation, including BYU students, to conclude that the gospel surely, therefore, need not play any important, up-front part in the smaller moral issues of their lives such as standards of sexual behavior, alcohol other substance use, and even dress and grooming.  To put it colloquially:  “If the gospel doesn’t really matter (is not the core) in the big stuff (REB), why should we sweat the small stuff (e.g., my sex-life, what I eat and drink, and how I dress)?”  Simply put, how will the university be able to effectively ask young people to use the gospel of Jesus Christ as the center of their lives and moral decisions if the university (and, thus, by implication the Church) failed to use the gospel as the center of its most recent and most public moral challenge?  

5.  Additionally, I must point out that effectively “baptizing” CRT, i.e., by yielding to the CRT metanarrative in the formulation and articulation of the important moral issues of our contemporary lives,  will certainly suggest that any number of other secular theories and perspectives can also be “baptized” and integrated into our Christian organizations and into our individual Christian lives (often muscling themselves to the front of the line of our moral priorities).  In other words, we must take great care how and where that line between good and evil cuts through every human heart, recognize that is happening at the level of the individual human heart, and even rejoice in our being moral agents with hearts that can be sliced through and remade.  This is the Christian but not the Neo-Marxistmessage.  Our humanity and the triumph of good over evil require not power, but the repair and subsequent yielding to God, of every and all riven human hearts.

In Summary

To conclude,  I express support and hope for the realization of the vision expressed by the German Christian Theologian and pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose firm resistance to the Nazi regime cost him his life just days before the camp that was his prison was liberated.  His work on the role of Christianity in, and its relation to, the secular world has become very influential.  May we take up the cause.

The “justification and renewal” of the West, therefore, will come only when justice, order, and peace are in one way or another restored, when past guilt is thereby ”forgiven,” when it is no longer imagined that what has been done can be undone by means of punitive measures and reprisals, and when the church of Jesus Christ, as the fountainhead of all forgiveness, justification, and renewal is given room to do its work among the nations.  (Citation from, Joseph L. Thomas,” Paths of Resistance:  Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Timely Search for a Christian Response to Nazism,” Touchstone:  A Journal of Mere Christianity,  March/April 2021, p. 50.)

The Gospel of Jesus Christ and neo-Marxist Critical Race Theory are irreconcilable perspectivesunless both are drastically simplified, emaciated, and disconnected from their conceptual and historical roots.  As a Metaphysical Foundation, for our humanity and our human nature, Christianity proclaims that we are offspring of deity, endowed with and possessed of agentic reason and moral sensibility.  All human life and every human life has both meaning and purpose beyond itself and beyond any social realities human beings might create.  The destiny is godliness.  As a metaphysical foundation, CRT holds that powerful social realities and the force of culturally produced abstractions create our humanity and our human nature.  Our consciousness and our conscience are culturally produced, not innate and irreducible.  The meaning and purpose of life are created by those same social forces and subject to the structures of power that may arise within the social world.  Our destiny is to achieve and further the inevitable march of abstract historical forces, or to be cast aside by them

As an Epistemological Foundation, Christianity offers the hope of revelation and insight into the mind of God. Agentic human beings acquire knowledge exercising powers of reason and acting in the contexts available to them in the meaningful world which such agentic beings help to create.  The promise of knowledge and revelation open an additional avenue to knowledge and truth. God, and the truths of heaven anchor human life and human endeavor and draw us upward as a primary purpose of life.  Truth as knowledge of things as they really are is part of the Christian promise, and truth, as embodied in the Son of God, has a poignance that can not come in any other form.  Within CRT, with its neo-Marxist roots, truth can only be understood as defined by the givenness of social structures and mundane social realities.  Without agency, knowledge and truth are always input rather than created and achieved.  And ultimately knowledge has not a perfective, but a pragmatic function.

As a Moral Foundation, Christianity places morality at the core of our humanity as a fundamental purpose of our existence.  There are eternal moral truths because there are eternal moral beings engaged in fundamental moral actions.  Moral truth presupposes moral agency and proclaims that moral integrity is a fundamental purpose of all and every human life.  Grace, forgiveness, and moral renewal offered through a real savior shape the destiny of the human world.  As a moral foundation, CRT can only invoke social structures, and the habits and forces incumbent in social life.  There is an inevitable moral relativism at the core of every and all human life. Because human beings are fundamentally social products, and not agentic, morality can only be established and maintained by power, subject to the whims and vicissitudes of social structures and the march of history.  Because human life is the product of the reality of social life as it is, the moral in human life can only be defined as what socially is.  Thus CRT only offers a relativist morality.  The ought always derives from the iseither the concrete “is,” or an “is” as produced by a vision of an alternative social reality either already real someplace perceived in the seeds already part of the current “is. “ Moral change must always take the form of some imposition of power in the social realities, and is always primarily political and only secondarily, and derivatively, moral.

For all of these reasons,  Christianity and CRT really are incommensurable.  We are faced with a historical and an intellectual watershed.  We cannot do both.  Figuratively, to formulate a response to issues of REB in the language and concepts of CRT and then raise the clenched fist of power as a symbol of the pursuit of justice cannot be reconciled with a response to those same issues within the language and concepts incumbent in and derived from the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, and symbolized by the open hand of Christian fellowship.

[footnote num=”1″]This metaphor of “baptizing CRT” is admittedly a somewhat cynical one.  It is usually used to invoke the image of the wholesale mass baptism of conquered heathens into the Christian faith—with very little concern for real conversion of the state of the heart of the convert.  It conjures up part of what may have been said at the baptism —as you were heathen now you are Christian.  It is often stated that St. Augustine “baptized” Plato by importing into Christian doctrine Platonic philosophy, and by the same token St. Thomas Aquinas “baptized” Aristotle.    My use of the image here is to emphasize that it is not enough—and rather intellectually sloppy—to simply declare, “As you were Marxist and secular, now you are agentic and Christian ”—because we need your metanarrative, political prestige, and the pathway to power these provide.[/footnote]

 

About the author

Richard Williams

Richard N. Williams is a Professor in Counseling Psychology and Special Education at Brigham Young University, and former director of the Wheatley Institution. He has edited or co-authored several books, including most recently On Hijacking Science. He has a Ph.D. from Purdue University.
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