Nov 4, 2021 • 12M

Everything You Need To Know About Critical Theory

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Erick Erickson hosts the Erick Erickson Show every weekday from 12pm to 3pm ET, now in national syndication from his flagship station, WSB in Atlanta, GA.
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We need to discuss critical theory. I'm going to do it as succinctly as I can. I feel very strongly that you need to know what it is. It is important to me that you understand it. The reason it’s important that you understand critical theory is because you will be asked about it. When they say critical theory is not taught in schools, you can respond and say, "Critical theory is a framework." Here’s what you need to know. First, you should subscribe to my premium newsletter for more exclusive content like this.

If you text the word "data" to 33777, Tim Keller has written my favorite takedown of critical theory and he makes it easy for you to understand. Text "data" to 33777. Now, I'm not going to read you what Tim wrote. I'm going to tell you my view of it. A lot of it is shaped by Tim Keller and other theologians. Ligon Duncan, the Chancellor of Reform Theological Seminary, was the first person in America to tell me I needed to pay attention to critical theory. He said it was coming and I needed to get sharp on it. He sent me a lot of resources and then Tim Keller came out with some great information on it. Keller and I have had a number of conversations about this.

Critical theory is a postmodern concept meant to describe power and justice. So, first of all, we need to ask ourselves, what is postmodernism? Modernism is the idea that there can be an objective reality and an objective truth and that everyone can find and grab hold of that truth. It puts factual analysis ahead of emotions. Postmodernism is the opposite. Postmodernism is the belief that there is no truth. You have your truth. I have my truth. It puts emotions and feelings above thinking. That's why you hear so many people these days say "I feel" instead of "I think." That's a sign we're in postmodern times. People put their feelings ahead of their thinking. Postmodernism is very relational. People find people who speak their truth back to them and those people become fans and have an emotional connection to them.

Postmodernism as well believes that reality is constructed not through observation, but through words, and words possess the power to construct reality. So if you and I go outside and we all look up at the sky and there's not a cloud in the sky and I tell you, "The sky is blue," that may be my reality, but that may not be your reality. If you are color blind, that's not your reality. Therefore, I can't tell you what objective reality is because it's not the reality you share with me. Now, this gets to the key point you have to understand about postmodernism. This is the key point. The exception becomes the rule in postmodernism. So on the transgender debate, there are people who are born intersex. They have characteristics of both male and female. They are the exception to the rule. They are in a biological anomaly.

We determine their true sex based on the priority of chromosomes. You can have XYXX, XYXY, XXXY, XXXX. The first two are determinative of the predominant gender of the person. But in rare situations, there are people who can be born as intersex. Postmodernists claim you can't say, “there are only two genders” because look at all of these other people. So, therefore they believe you can choose. They take the exception and they make it the rule. "The police are oppressors in the country. They are all bad." In postmodernism, they take the exception of the bad police officer and they apply it to the whole. That's what we're seeing in society, the exception becomes the rule. That is postmodernism. In modernism, there are rules with exceptions to rules. In postmodernism, the exception becomes the rule.

Now, you’ve got to understand all of that to understand that critical theory comes from postmodernism. Emotion trump facts, your lived experience trumps reality, and there is no general rule of life. Critical theory seeks to define power. Now, I'm saying critical theory, very specifically, because there are divisions of critical theory. Critical theory tries to explain power imbalances in the world through a group of intersections or characteristics people have. The one we focus on a lot in conversations is critical race theory, but you have the various intersectional dynamics of people. What is their sexual orientation? Are they cisgender? That is their gender and their biological sex align. Are they Christian or not? Are they White or someone else?

Your race, your sex, your gender, your religion, your lack of a disability or a disability, all of these things combine and the person who is White, male, cisgender, heterosexual, conservative, tall with no disability, you are the most oppressive person with the intersection. You are the most oppressive person, and the person who is none of those things is the most oppressed. Under critical theory, they believe that only the oppressed can see true reality. So those of you who are of the oppressor class, White people, you must be quiet and hear the oppressed person that is the non-White person. What they say is true and you must accept it as true because due to all of your oppressive characteristics, you yourself cannot understand what is real truth.

Reality is shaped under critical theory by something called dominant discourses, and the dominant discourse are those things the oppressors say, what White people say. You're hearing this in the conversations about the Virginia election. White people are saying the election was about education. The non-White voices on MSNBC are saying it's actually about White supremacy. According to critical theory, you White people must shut up and take Joy Reid as Gospel truth because Joy Reid is Black and female, therefore she is not of the oppressor class, she's of the oppressed class, and her truth trump yours. Critical theory is hostile to the idea of free speech because if everyone has free access to speak, the oppressor is always going to prevail under critical theory. The dominant discourse must be shut down.

Here is the key point you must understand, racial reconciliation is impossible in critical theory. Why? Because it's a postmodern view of power, which means there will always be the oppressed and there will always be the oppressors. So when the oppressor finally becomes oppressed, you have new oppressors and the dynamics continually shift. The critical theorists say, "That's not true. Once we have a power balance by the White people giving up their power, there will be no oppression." That's what they say. They can't explain why. So critical theory is a postmodern framework used to see the world. When we say critical theory is taught in school, we are saying it's how history is taught. History is now viewed not as a factual pattern of what happened, but as a history of oppressors and oppressed.

Black kids are taught that they are oppressed and White kids are taught that they are oppressors. White kids are taught they must be silent and only listen to the Black voices because since they're oppressors they have no real grasp of reality. So when they shove the microphone in your face and they tell you, "Tell me what critical theory is," you say, "Critical theory is not a thing per se. Critical theory is a framework by which they're teaching education. The critical theory framework is postmodernism and it means there is no real reality and we must revise history in light of the oppressed and the oppressor. We are not allowed to have real truth. Everyone has their own truth. And that means there can be no objective reality."

Last point for you people of faith, there are efforts to bring critical theory into the church. You cannot bring critical theory into the church and maintain real Christianity. Why? Because Jesus Christ says, "I am the way and the truth and the life." That means there must be an objective truth because God is real. So anyone who brings critical theory in is telling you to subvert the actual truth of Christ for some person's truth, and that gets you to idol worship. You don't want to do that.