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There is a cultural phenomenon at play today in our societies that has taken captive the minds and hearts of many. It is a dangerous and deceptive ideology that pretends to be a vision of justice and compassion but only brings destruction and violence. It has infiltrated almost every institution and area of society – from colleges and universities to government, to media and entertainment, to major corporations and multi-national organizations, and even into many churches and faith organizations. It acts like a Trojan horse that introduces what seems like a benign or even helpful tool but actually is a fatal poison that spreads disease throughout its host. It preys on people’s compassion and emotions and can turn friends, families and whole communities against each other. It destabilizes societies and brings devastation to nations plagued by its tenets.
What is this phenomenon?
It’s often called by many different names and related terms. Cultural Marxism is perhaps one of the names that it goes by that has generated a lot of controversies. Some other popular terms and related (but slightly different) concepts associated with it are Social Justice, Critical Theory and Wokeness. I’ll address these terms in future posts. Either way, this is the predominant ideology of the political left or what is more popularly called “Leftism”. These aren’t just your classical liberals of yesteryear – these are rather today’s ideologically radical left. The 2 spirit ones with the blue and purple hair, molotov cocktails and mostly peaceful protests that burn down half a city. This is the religion of much of our cultural elites and institutions of learning and media. It is the framework behind the bastions of “unbiased” reporting like CNN, ABC, MSNBC, CBC, CTV, CP24, and other acronyms of leftist political propaganda machines posing as fake news channels.
Before I lose some of you in the vagaries of my intro – if you live in contact with Modern Western society, you’ve all probably encountered this phenomenon of Cultural Marxism. We all watched as BLM riots broke out over the tragic death of George Floyd. This spark ignited the tinder which was already primed in our culture due to the saturation of the principles of Cultural Marxism that have been seeping in. Many have had to go through mandatory Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training, or seen or experienced affirmative action programs at work, schools and other institutions – a direct outworking of Critical Theory. The LBGTQ agenda has also made use of this ideology to further its causes, as well as the #MeToo Movement and other Victim Cults (not to downplay actual victims). We’ve seen this phenomenon at play in calls to tear down statues and other symbols, it is said, of an oppressive colonialism and past. Its principles are even seen in some initiatives by global elites who push radical environmentalism – zero carbon goals – and visions of a socialistic utopia if they would only be given enough power.
Defining the Term
Now, the term “Cultural Marxism” isn’t without its own baggage. There are some on the political left who try to gaslight discussion around the term by labelling it a radical right-wing antisemitic conspiracy theory because of its critique of ideas which stem from the Frankfurt School which was comprised of Jewish philosophers coming out of Germany. It is also often tied to what is painted as unwarranted critiques of political correctness. However, valid critique of bad ideas hardly could count as anti-semitic just because the originators happen to be Jewish. A bad idea is bad no matter the ethnicity of the person/people it originates from. Furthermore, the connection and lineage of Cultural Marxism to Classical Marxism’s ideologies are undeniable and despite attempts to discredit the validity of the term and dismiss its importance, we see the influence of this phenomenon all over our culture.
Now it is true that the term “Cultural Marxism” often lacks a clear definition and can be quite nebulous – a sort of “catch-all” label for anything that conservatives might deem as dangerous ideology. As the Christian apologist, Neil Shenvi points out, “What exactly is ‘a cultural Marxist’? What do they believe? If we can’t point to a body of academic literature, or a set of books, or a set of shared ideas with which the majority of ‘cultural Marxists’ would agree, then it’s not a particularly useful term.” So, I do think there is a valid critique of the actual helpfulness of the term. Perhaps some of the confusion around these issues is this lack of clearly defined terms to work with. However, not wanting to let this article die the death of a thousand qualifications (which it is already dangerously close to doing), the group of concepts that this term is meant to encapsulate are still pertinent points of concern. So, we’ll just go with it.
In any case, whatever the name you give this phenomenon, there are some defining characteristics about it which are important to understand today. Here are 10 defining features of this phenomenon of “Cultural Marxism” (or whatever you want to call it) which I perceive today as a common threat in our culture that Christians should be aware of. This is not an exhaustive list but rather meant as an introduction as I intend on more fully and academically exploring these ideologies in depth in future articles and episodes. Also, this list is more meant as a diagnostic and not a cure. Future episodes and articles will consider Biblical responses, although I think some may be pretty self-evident once we do this diagnosis.
In no particular order, here are 10 defining features of Cultural Marxism:
It is based on classical Marxism which was an openly naturalistic, materialistic, anti-theistic system of thought. It is not neutral and intentionally subverts the Christian worldview – thus, it cannot be used as a “helpful analytical tool” but must be rejected as a competing religion.
Some Christians and even Christian leaders have tried to co-opt some of the principles of this ideology to use them as helpful “analytical tools”. However, this is a fool’s errand. They don’t realize that these are not just tools held in abstraction that you can go pick up and use – like a cordless Dyson vacuum – without also drawing from its source and taking in its worldview. The “tools” of intersectionality, critical theory, affirmative action and reparations are not incidental but rather a part of the interconnected network of beliefs one has to implicitly accept in order to use it. You can’t milk this cow without buying it. This is because these tools only have worth if you agree with the starting principles and presuppositions of Cultural Marxist thought which has a very different view of origins, sin, redemption and future hope than the Christian worldview.
Karl Marx – whose thought and writings form the origin of much of the basis of these modern ideologies – was also a radical atheist who was set against God and Christianity in particular. (If you haven’t read or listened to the article/episode – “10 Dark Facts About Karl Marx” – you should go back and check it out)
We must be clear – these ideas and the ideologies that stem from Classical Marxism are radically opposed to a Biblical worldview. The Devil often wears his shiniest angel clothes when he’s trying to get you to drink his poison. Its answers to the fundamental questions of: where do we come from and what were we created for? What went wrong with the world and how can things be made right? are diametrically opposed to the Christian worldview and thus Anti-Christian.
The theme of oppression is one of the common traits of all the ideologies which could be nested under the umbrella term of “Cultural Marxism”. It believes that society is made up of systems of power and privilege that need to be deconstructed. If Cultural Marxism had a doctrine of original sin, this would be close to it. It sees all of reality in light of Oppression and divides society up into “classes” or identity groups. The chief examples of these identity groups are men versus women; heterosexuals versus homosexuals and transgendered; whites versus blacks, Hispanics, and Asians; First world citizens versus Third World immigrants; rich versus poor and business owners versus employees. These “identity groups” are today’s adaptations of Classical Marxism’s proletariat and bourgeoisie classes.
This focus on oppression also leads to a related concept of intersectionality – which considers the multiple intersections of oppressed identities that a person may suffer under in order to figure out how to privilege them to compensate for their perceived disadvantage. Thus it tends to be radically cynical and suspicious – assuming that oppression is hidden in every system and institution and needs to be found, condemned, and dismantled… leading to many witch hunts to find the oppressive boogeyman lurking under the seemingly peaceful exterior.
These ideologies co-opt a biblical term – oppression – and twist its meaning to something anti-biblical. No longer is oppression about actual instances of unjust treatment or use of undue force, power or position to subjugate someone or a group unjustly. Instead, it is assumed to be inherent in any relationship where there is some disparity – either in power, roles, economics, or other factors. Oppression in this system does not need to be proven, it is assumed. And this will be a big part of the frustration in trying to reason with someone who is a true believer.
So, for example – you could happen to be a person of caucasian descent whose ancestors were enslaved by North African slave traders (something which actually happened quite a lot in the past), but the mere fact that your melanin count is lower than your more tanned or darker fellow image bearers makes you complicit in the system of oppression that now exists in Western nations that is said to favour people of lighter skin colours. You are an oppressor because of belonging to the majority identity group associated with power, not because of actual instances of oppression committed. This erroneous line of thinking has even been adopted by some Evangelical leaders and pastors who would have been considered “conservative”.
For example, Tim Keller, a popular pastor and author and co-founder of The Gospel Coalition has argued that if you have white skin, you are automatically complicit in the system of oppression and have an unfair advantage because of that “asset” (of white skin) to the sum of a million dollars or so. If that’s true, then my wife’s family would definitely like to find out where that million dollars went! Again here, even if Keller’s assumption was correct (it’s not), he takes for granted that that advantage must have been because of some injustice or oppression. It can’t possibly be that someone’s advantage in life over another person might have been gained through hard, honest work.
Furthermore, just because one person happens to have white skin does not mean we can draw a genetic line connecting them to every white person in the past who has committed injustices against others. Not only that, even if we could, that would be unbiblical to hold the descendants guilty for the sins of their forefathers. Biblical justice is always direct. As Deuteronomy 24:16 says, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” God is very explicit about this in Ezekiel 18:19-20;
“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.
Unfortunately, Keller and many other TGC writers and contributors, and even men who have been faithful Gospel heralds like David Platt and Matt Chandler, have been woefully unbiblical on this point – even though they have contributed many helpful other materials in the past. This is sad to see, as I and many others have benefited from their ministries in the past – but on this issue, they have badly dropped the ball and seem to have bought into anti-biblical presuppositions of wokeness and Cultural Marxism.
Related to the previous point – It sees all disparity as unjust and proposes a radical agenda of equality of outcomes. This is very different from the concept of equality of value and equality of opportunities – which produces actual justice and fairness. Here there are two terms that are often confused, and it is not helpful that they are not used consistently. They are “equity” and “equality”. “Equity” is often used to speak about equality of outcomes or results, whereas “equality” is often used to speak of equality of opportunities and status as image bearers. The former is a Marxist concept and the latter a Biblical one.
Pursuing the type of equality of outcomes that cultural Marxism champions necessitate discrimination, theft and actual oppression. This is where the concepts of reparations and affirmative action, which intentionally discriminate and even penalize people who are considered a part of the “oppressor” group in order to equalize the outcomes for minority groups, come from.
It is explicitly anti-capitalist and free-market, thus it tends to promote more socialist and communistic attitudes toward the economy and society since capitalist free markets lead to disparities which it perceives as inherently unfair.
However, just because Jonny has more money or has earned a place at an ivy league university doesn’t automatically mean that he got there by unjust means which necessitates punishment. Not all disparity is a result of injustice. Some people may simply have certain advantages due to their intellect, physical makeup, sex, the place they were born, etc. Also, each person is a unique individual who makes free choices that are different from others. This freedom necessarily means that there will inevitably be disparity. The only way to eliminate all disparities then is to eliminate freedom itself. Hence why these Cultural Marxist causes also tend to not like Western Liberal Democracies.
This concern for equal outcomes though is shown to be the farce that it is in that no one is calling for affirmative action for more white, brown or Asian guys in the NBA or other sports where black men have dominated historically. It is only when a minority or ‘oppressed’ group by the standards of the Cultural Marxists are involved that concern for equality of outcome is raised. Disparities are not necessarily unjust, they sometimes just are.
If I’m a 5’9” half-Asian who can’t dunk, then the LA Lakers picking Shaq over me is not unjust, it’s just common sense. Nor is it unfair that I can whoop him in Table Tennis. The only affirmative action needed here is affirming that watching Shaq dunk over guys is far more entertaining than watching me hit them with ping pong balls… at least in the long run.
4. NO OBJECTIVE TRUTH
Its thinking is closely tied to postmodernism which holds that objective knowledge is impossible. But cultural Marxism, especially in its activist forms goes further. Every absolute must be demolished because knowledge is seen as a construct of power (which is inherently evil) – except, of course, for the absolute that there must be no absolutes. Instead, truth is relativized and subjective – thus, the popular slogan, “speak YOUR truth” as opposed to THE truth. It also relies on the postmodern knowledge principle – that knowledge is actually not objective or scientifically discovered, but rather is the result of a construct of power perpetuated by public discourses.
This makes it very suspicious of scientific claims to objectivity because all claims to truth are also made from positions of power, and power bad… that’s why the Cultural Marxists need more of it to correct the ills of the world, right?
Nothing to see here… This negation of objective truth also makes it incredibly hard to reason with – since also logic and reason can be tools of oppressors, of course! A typical tool of truth finding for the Cultural Marxist is standpoint epistemology – which is just a fancy word for a new secularized form of popery claiming infallibility. However, in this system, to become the infallible popes you have to check your intersectionality credentials. If you’re a lesbian trans black quarter native poor Buddhist 2-spirit queer studies major – then you might as well inscripturate everything you say. But if you happen to be a straight, white, upper-middle class, Christian male, then you might as well just rename yourself Hitler and shut up. Standpoint epistemology asserts that the more oppressed your identity groups (or intersections of identities) then the more access you have to knowledge that privileged people cannot see (and do not want to see). An oppressed person’s viewpoint trumps all statistics and logical argument because you can’t argue with their experience. But really, should we be looking to the people who are confused about what is a boy and a girl for advice on how societies should best be run?
This is not to negate the importance of listening to people empathetically to hear stories of real hurt and injustice – but without objective truth as our foundation, any attempts at justice will be arbitrary and otherwise known as foolishness. Thus, their slogans of “elevating _____ voices” and “speaking truth to power” have real problems at their basic level of defining truth.
5. IDENTITY GROUPS
We should explain a bit more the importance of identity groups and its relationship to intersectionality. Cultural Marxism focuses on people belonging to certain identity groups – sex, gender identity, race, sexuality, immigration status, indigeneity, colonial status, disability, religion, and even weight. One startling omission in this list of intersectional identities is any meaningful mention of economic class… they sometimes raise the point but almost never substantively.
This is a distinction from Classical Marxism which was almost entirely obsessed with economic class. In contrast, Cultural Marxism seems to ignore it or give it fairly low importance – because this would be too inconvenient to the global elites who try to peddle this nonsense upon us. In Cultural Marxism, what identity groups you are a part of (defined mainly by external demographic and biological details) is absolutely foundational and forefront to your self-identity as a person. This is easily illustrated, for example, in Kimberlé Crenshaw’s 1991 “Mapping the Margins,” which is the foundational intersectionality text… For instance, for Crenshaw and her disciples, significant attention is paid to the importance of distinguishing “I am Black” from “I am a person who happens to be Black.” People are encouraged to primarily identify by their group identity – gay, lesbian, queer, disabled, ethnic background and even mental illnesses or depression and anxiety became identities.
Of course, doing this is strategically beneficial, since now any critique of their position becomes readily interpreted as an attack on their person and categorized as “violence” and “assault”. This is why questioning the transgender movement’s logic – even with questions as basic as “What is a Woman?” (That’d be a great idea for a documentary!) are met with charges of denying the humanity of transgender people and hating them. When applied to other fields within Cultural Marxism – like Fat studies, for example, it makes the primary identity one’s obesity and the only acceptable response to be unqualified praise of the 400lb bikini model in the ad for vegan zero-carbon avocado toast. This of course is nothing to knock at the inherent dignity and worth of a person who may be overweight, and even morbidly so, but if we cannot even affirm what are healthy norms, how can we truly say we are loving? How can a doctor diagnose health issues that might be related to weight?
Related to this need for constant affirmation – It does not understand the inherent sinfulness of man. The individual is believed to be innocent until corrupted by outside forces – be it society, civilization, religion, etc. It is the myth of Rousseau’s noble savage. Thus, self-actualization is the great human need not redemption from sin. Therefore, radical autonomy is championed and social barriers to self-actualization such as the family, the church and business, must be redefined, marginalized, or destroyed.
The ultimate goal is the self-actualization of the individual’s imagined perception of themselves or what they wish that it would be. Any assertion of norms based in anything outside of the individual are to be torn down – and thus, traditional religion that would hold firmly to any body of unmoving doctrine especially becomes a target. Any creational normativity, even the nuclear family structure is seen as a hindrance to true self-actualization. It is found in the chorus of every Disney princess’s theme song to let their true self out and be liberated from their parental suffocation.
So, we are supposed to affirm “furries” – kids who identify as pets and act as such in school (yes, this is a thing – as a public school teacher). However, no one’s willing to be consistent in this farce. If we put down dogs who bite and maim people and there have been instances of these “furries” going rabid and biting other kids… I’m not advocating putting down any kids, just recognizing that aiding a delusion is not for their good. If I’m laying on the train tracks in the morning with the GO Train about to make me a pancake, and not the type that goes well with maple syrup, the last thing I need you to do is to affirm how great my posture is on the tracks or assist me in my fancies of railroad self-actualization.n
It believes that the vast majority of the oppressed cannot realize their oppression or defend themselves, so it requires a social “elite” priestly class who are rightly educated, prominent and powerful in politics, media, and entertainment to champion their cause and guide the masses towards their vision of the best solution. Clearly, you have to be highly educated in the right degrees from the right institutions to be this foolish.nnJames Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose note in their book, Cynical Theories,
“It is therefore no surprise that many working-class and poor people often feel profoundly alienated from today’s left… It is profoundly ironic that a movement claiming to problematize all sources of privilege is led by highly educated, upper-middle-class scholars and activists who are so oblivious to their status as privileged members of society.” (p. 185)
The average blue-collar guy working hard to feed his family of 6 doesn’t have much use for a Queer Literature major’s stunning insights on economics. Nor does he have use for the policies of elite politicians born with silver spoons that they use to scoop his hard-earned money out of his pocket through excessive taxation and inflationary measures. The irony of course is that in combating “oppression”, these global elites who champion today’s Cultural Marxist causes oppress the actual vulnerable and call evil, good. Woe to these blind guides!n
Because it sees all truth and reality as constructs of power perpetuated in discourses (that’s just fancy speak for truth is a language game) there is a heavy emphasis on language and controlling narratives. It weaponizes language by redefining or hi-jacking terms and the use of linguistic shaming, name-calling and buzz-words such as “toxic masculinity”, “systemic racism”, “heteronormativity”, “white supremacy”, “neo-colonialism”, “Black Lives Matter”, and “cisgenderism.” Linguistic and logical traps are common such as Kafka traps and gas-lighting strategies.
For a ready example of a Kafka trap, read the book, White Fragility… or don’t – better yet, I’ll explain it to you in three sentences:
“White people are racist and cannot shut up and accept it because of their fragility over being labelled racists. If you challenge that truth, it’s because of your White fragility. Therefore, your options are to bow down and accept it as true, or reject it and prove it’s true.”
This is a logical fallacy and should be rejected.
Lindsay and Pluckrose note that,
“nearly all Social Justice scholarship is concerned with what is said, what is believed, what is assumed, what is taught, what is conveyed, and what biases are imported through teaching, discourses, and stereotypes. All this scholarship starts from the Theoretical premise that society works through systems of power and privilege maintained in language, and these create knowledge from the perspectives of the privileged and deny the experiences of the marginalized. Social Justice scholarship therefore targets science² and any other analytical methods that contradict these assumptions or claims made under them.” (Lindsay & Pluckrose, p. 187)
It believes we can achieve utopia through political power and thus politicizes everything. Because it frames all of life in terms of oppressed and oppressor – it is fixated on power dynamics and differentials. Consequently, it sees the need to seize power to forcibly remake society into its vision of utopia. This aspect is a direct offshoot from Classical Marxist theory which envisioned a proletariat revolution. Thus, it tends towards totalitarianism. Gene Edward Veith Jr comments,
“For both post-Marxists on the left and Nietzscheans on the right, all institutions, all governments, all art, all moral beliefs, and all religions are nothing more than a mask for power. All of culture—the family, social institutions, philosophical systems—is nothing more than one group exercising power over another group (men over women, whites over racial minorities, heterosexuals over homosexuals, humans over animals, etc.). Thus, every dimension of life is politicized and critiqued as part of a system of oppression. The only way to resist this oppression is to be transgressive and to seize power for your own group, which will include exercising oppression against your enemies (silencing them, marginalizing them, and otherwise punishing them).” (Veith Jr., Gene Edward. Post-Christian, p. 19-20)
Thus, all of these causes have become intensely political. This also has proven to be an effective strategy at silencing or paralyzing many Christians who have bought into the “sage wisdom” that you can’t bring religion into politics given by the leaders of the woke cult who bring their religion into everything. One of its central strategies is a focus on centralized power and top-down solutions (because the ignorant plebs who are actually working to create economic value can’t possibly understand how to make the world a truly better place). They obviously haven’t read enough Marx.
10. CONFLICT & GUILT
Due to its social evolutionary beliefs, it sees conflict as necessary and progress cannot be made peacefully. Its work is primarily deconstructive and aimed at dismantling the current “hegemonic” systems of powers with the belief that once these are gone, society will somehow magically right itself once freed of its “oppression”. For the Cultural Marxist, the creation eagerly awaits to be set free from its bondage to capitalism by the sons of Marx and obtain the freedom of the utopia of the World Economic Forum. Thus, they are noble warriors fighting for liberation from oppressive categories of male and female pronouns and cow farts. It is really impressive how virtuous Cultural Marxists can make their conflict theory sound.
There is no hope for redemption for the “oppressor” class – they can only perpetually “repent”, do “penance” via reparations and become an activist for the cause by divesting themselves of their power and privilege and elevating approved voices. Thus, this system also produces perpetual guilt without remedy. There is no one-for-all atonement that can bring absolution. Only a tiresome works-righteousness which will never actually justify the penitent.
There is much more that could be said about Cultural Marxism, and perhaps this list is not quite complete. But these are some of the trends I’ve noticed in common from my observation and research. Hopefully, these 10 markers will make it easier for you to identify some of these dangerous ideologies yourself.
In future episodes and articles, we’ll consider the cult of wokeness and also start to look at how Christians can bring a Biblical worldview to bear on these issues for truly good solutions and answers in our culture today.
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