By Scott Allen
A powerful ideology has swept out of our universities and into the broader culture with incredible speed and force in recent years. Today, it is the dominant worldview, not only of our systems of education but of much of our elite, professional culture, including big business, big tech, media, entertainment, and nearly every aspect of the federal government.
It is also making significant and alarming inroads into evangelical churches, universities, and organizations, many of which attempt to sync historic Christian beliefs with the basic principles of this ideology to one degree or another.
This ideology goes by many names—identity politics, critical social theory, Critical Race Theory, intersectionality, antiracism, and cultural Marxism, to name a few—but its millions of devotees signal their loyalty to this belief system by speaking proudly of their commitment to social justice. While this term has historic Christian roots, since the 1970s, it has been captured, redefined, and pushed into service as the primary label of this deeply anti-Christian worldview.
In today’s broader culture, the term “social justice” means the work of dismantling and deconstructing traditional systems, structures, and norms deemed to be oppressive and the redistribution of power and resources from oppressors to victims in the pursuit of “equity,” or equality of outcome.
Let’s look at a few core axioms upon which this definition rests:
There is no God, and therefore, no objective truth or objective morality. Reality is socially constructed and is reduced to a zero-sum competition for power, control, and domination between various social groups.
Human beings are, at root, evolved social beings and the products of social groups they belong to, particularly groups based on race, sex, and gender identity.
The world is divided into “oppressors” and “the oppressed.” Nothing exists outside these categories. Oppressors are morally evil, and oppressed victims are morally innocent.
At present, White heterosexual males are the “oppressors.” Everyone else is oppressed by them to some degree. Over centuries, this oppressor group has established an elaborate web of social systems, structures, norms, and narratives to advantage (or “privilege”) itself at the expense of everyone else.
Proof of the existence of systemic oppression is found in group disparities. For example, if White students have higher per capita SAT scores than Black students, this disparity necessarily proves that our educational systems are “systemically racist.” Ibram X. Kendi articulates this axiom with admirable clarity: “When I see racial disparities, I see racism.” The same applies to disparities between sexes or any disparity between “oppressor” and “oppressed” groups.
To be “woke” is to be conscious of this vast and often hidden array of systemic and structural oppression. To fight for social justice is to engage in the effort to expose, deconstruct, and dismantle these oppressive systems and structures and eliminate all group disparities in pursuit of a utopian equality of outcome.
Starting in the 1950s, these basic worldview presuppositions took root and incubated in American and European universities, particularly in schools of education and social sciences under the broad rubric of “critical social theory.” Today, university graduates shaped by this ideology are in leadership positions in nearly every area of society, reshaping our institutions and culture with alarming speed.
Understanding something about this ideology is essential for faithful Christian living in the twenty-first century, particularly as it relates to the education of our children.
Here are ten things every Christian should know about social justice ideology:
1. Its roots are in atheistic philosophy.
Social justice ideology can be traced back to the Continental philosophical tradition and to the ideas of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), Georg F.W. Hagel (1770-1831), and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). From this ideological soil, both Marxism and postmodernism emerged. The architects of social justice ideology were atheists and social revolutionaries, including the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), the French postmodern philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984), and the Frankfurt School social theorist Herbert Marcuse (1898-1979). Because their starting point was secular atheism, ideological social justice and biblical Christianity are distinct and incompatible worldviews. They are opposed in their understanding of reality, power, authority, human identity, morality, epistemology, and much more. These differences matter. They will eventually lead to vastly different kinds of societies.
2. It diminishes the reality of human beings as unique individuals.
According to social justice ideology, human identity is entirely socially constructed. People are reduced to puppets of social forces, powerless to rise above the communities they belong to. In this view, the notion of a person as a unique individual is radically diminished. Christian theologian Nancy Pearcey explains this dehumanizing belief: “Everyone’s ideas are . . . merely social constructions stitched together by cultural forces. Individuals are little more than mouthpieces for communities based on race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.” The idea of the person as an individual, with agency, creativity, and God-given rights and responsibilities is anathema to proponents of social justice ideology.
3. It is virulently anti-family.
A leading organization advancing social justice ideology today is Black Lives Matter. Its mission statement includes a commitment to “disrupt the Western prescribed nuclear family structure.” For BLM, and other social justice organizations, the traditional family, built upon the foundation of male-female marriage and sexual monogamy, is a source of evil and injustice. The male-female binary is oppressive toward transgender and queer groups. Male-female marriage is oppressive toward gays and lesbians, and male leadership in the home (“the patriarchy”) is oppressive to women and children. Herbert Marcuse, a key leader in the development of social justice ideology, was a “founding father” of the sexual revolution. This upheaval has utterly devastated marriages, families, and children since the 1960s with its skyrocketing rates of divorce, cohabitation, sexually transmitted diseases, collapsing fertility rates, and abortion. Speaking of abortion, it is described by social justice advocates as “reproductive justice.” But this so-called “justice” has led to the most horrific injustice in American history—the violent deaths of more than sixty-two million innocent children since it was legalized in 1972.
4. It is anti-American.
A key supporting pillar of social justice ideology is its loathing of America and our constitutional republican form of government grounded in individual liberty. Its proponents regularly portray the United States according to its worst historical attributes while completely ignoring the good. They regularly speak of how systemic racism is found in the very DNA of our nation and how America is defined by slavery, colonization, greed, exploitation, racial superiority, misogyny, imperialism, and genocide. Ta-Nehisi Coates spoke for social justice advocates everywhere when he wrote: “White supremacy is not merely the work of hotheaded demagogues, or a matter of false consciousness, but a force so fundamental to America that it is difficult to imagine the country without it.” In her introduction to the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones adds, “Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written.” This highly selective and deeply distorted (not to mention profoundly ungrateful) view of America is a necessary precondition for the revolutionary agenda behind social justice ideology. There is absolutely nothing worth preserving or improving upon. It all must be torn down, discarded, and replaced.
5. It hides behind innocuous euphemisms and redefined words and manipulates human empathy.
Social justice ideology is deceptively branded by various innocuous euphemisms, including “social justice” and “equity, diversity, and inclusion.” It is “antiracist” and believes that “Black Lives Matter.” Only haters, bigots, and white supremacists could oppose such things. Yet, none of these words or phrases mean what you might think. In fact, the ideology inverts them. For example, “equity” means equality of outcome, which demands various forms of social engineering whereby different groups are necessarily treated unequally. Diversity is strictly limited to skin color, sex, and gender identity categories and doesn’t apply to diverse viewpoints within groups. If your skin is Black, you are expected to think and act “Black.” This isn’t diversity but oppressive conformity. “Inclusion” certainly doesn’t apply to members of so-called oppressor groups; rather, such individuals are expected to exclude themselves or be forcibly excluded. This same manipulation of language is applied to words like “justice,” “racism,” “marriage,” and “white supremacy.” Older, established definitions have been jettisoned, replaced by new definitions that promulgate the ideology. Social justice ideology also manipulates our natural human empathy and twists it in service of the ideology. Whether it is pushing the false narrative of “hands up, don’t shoot,” or repeating mantra-like the words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe,” it advances by manipulating strong emotional responses while bypassing reason, facts, and evidence.
6. It is hostile to the foundations of free, self-governing nations.