As I observe from a distance the current debate in major conservative denominations over the possibility of employing aspects of Critical Theory (CT), including Critical Race Theory, keeping the meat and throwing away the bones, it occurred to me that a number of the disputants (on both sides) seem unaware of a fundamental facet that would set the entire debate on a new footing — or abolish it altogether.
The early 20th century Frankfurt School of Critical Theory as well as the roughly contemporaneous Cultural Marxists outside Germany like Antonio Gramsci (GROM-shee) and György Lukács (LOOcotch) developed their program in conscious interaction with and reaction to an already de-Christianized intellectual climate. For them, the seminal intellectual sparring partners were Kant, Marx, and Hegel, and the schools of thought that served as their foil were the Enlightenment and, to a lesser degree, Romanticism.
Anybody who has read Max Horkheimer’s dense and brilliant (and pernicious) foundational essay “Traditional and Critical Theory” (download the chapter here) knows that he and the others weren’t assaulting Christianity, certainly not directly. To them, Christianity and Christendom were simply not a part of a plausibility structure. Their animating attitude could be summarized as: “Given that Christian theology and Greek metaphysics are no longer tenable, how then should we think and live?”
Both Classical and Cultural Marxism are nearly conscious alternative religions devised by intellectuals attempting to create a world-and-life view within the intellectual atmosphere of the 19th and 20th centuries (much earlier de-Christianized). That atmosphere was not so much opposed to Christianity as simply forgetful of it. They didn’t consider fighting Christianity because Christianity to them, at least, was already defeated and irrelevant. Christianity wasn’t their antithesis; it wasn’t even a player.
Now, it seems to me, the problem with the Christians today wanting to incorporate aspects of CT into a Christian social analysis, the usable meat as opposed to the unusable bones, is they’re unintentionally taking this lack of explicit conflict with Christianity on the part of CT as opening the possibility for the adoption of some of its contributions.
But if they understood that CT is grounded in a plausibility structure in which Christianity is not an enemy but simply an irrelevance, they might think differently. It’s not a case of this particular erroneous CT tenet versus the corresponding accurate tenant of the Christian faith.
No, CT is an entirely alien system developed within an intellectual architecture out of which Christianity is hermetically sealed.
This also means — and this is perhaps the most important point of all — that the leading tenets of CT make sense only within that de-Christianized intellectual atmosphere. This might sound like I am importing a form of Kantian idealism, but in reality, I’m simply recognizing that CT is a particular pernicious form of intellectual rebellion that by its very nature excludes anything Christian.
To be Marxist is to presuppose what Christianity excludes, and to be Christian is to presuppose what Marxism excludes.
This is why Cultural Marxism and CT are not merely objectionable on the grounds that they’re all bones and no meat.
They’re an entirely different species altogether (“aliens”), and Christianity was never designed to relate to them other than to refute them at their very root — and abandon and incinerate them.