Critical Theory and Truth
We are all aware of the battle over identity and race in our culture. The basic idea is this - what you believe about yourself is true and it is determinative and others must treat you accordingly. This is most clearly seen in the issues of gender (which is distinguished from biological sex) and race (or better the racism of others and the systems of oppression in which you live - which can be anything you want). If I want to be a woman - even though my genitalia and chromosomes say that I am a man - then I am a woman and everyone around me must acknowledge it and must treat me as a woman. If I am a person of color I am oppressed by the systems around me and by all white people whose default setting is racist. (See the horrible book by Robin DiAngelo, White Fragility. Seriously I cannot express to you how horrific this book is. It’s terrible. Like, really, really horrifically, terribly bad.)
Let me deal with the issue of gender identity first. We see this playing out all over the place in our North American culture. One particular instance which exemplifies this thinking has taken up front-page space in the national news on both sides of the border. The story is essentially this. Three female high school runners are sick of losing to male athletes who compete as women under the guise of being transgender women. These female runners are not just losing races, but chances at scholarships to universities as well. You can read about their story here - https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/feb/13/transgender-athletes-girls-sports-high-school
The core issue is that of the nature of truth. It is one which we have been dealing with throughout this series. Can I determine what is true (for me or for my group), or is it determined for me? To put it in terms of the gender issue - Do my feelings about myself - my psychology - determine my biology? Can I ‘decide’ what the truth is about my own self - my physical biology? This last point cannot be missed. The crisis over gender identity in our culture is one that is based on psychology being determinative of everything else.
To use more philosophical terms we would ask this - is truth objective or subjective? Gender theory says that truth is whatever I choose it to be - it is entirely psychological. Biblical theology says that truth is whatever God determines it to be. A massive difference.
The issue of race is another one that has been thrust to the forefront of cultural discussion for many reasons. But it is actually more complicated than simply the color of my skin. Race is now an essential part of how we are to understand the truth and the way truth is used as an oppressive power. The reason for the metanarrative nature of the discussion of race emanates from the irrational dogma of intersectionality - “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” (Oxford Dictionary) What this means in practice is that you are either part of a group that oppresses with truth claims (usually white and male and capitalist) or a group that is oppressed by them (women, people of color, disabled, overweight, non-cis-gendered, LGBTQ+, or any other of a seemingly endless set of categories). In fact, the more groups you belong to that are not white and male and capitalist, the more oppression you will have to endure. Your multiple spheres of existence determine your truth.
What this means is that your identity, your categories, determine your truth and no one from outside of your categories can speak against your truth. If they do, they are oppressing you. This is the ultimate relativism - your truth is yours and mine is mine and you cannot speak to me about my truth from outside of my identity. Truth is whatever I determine it to be.
This is playing out in a ridiculous way at the moment in Oregon. In a proposal entitled “Pathway to Equity” Oregon teachers are encouraged to stamp out racism in the teaching of mathematics. The course is designed to accomplish the following:
A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction is an integrated approach to mathematics that centers Black, Latinx, and Multilingual students in grades 5-9, addresses barriers to math equity, and aligns instruction to grade-level priority standards. The Pathway offers guidance and resources for educators to use now as they plan their curriculum, while also offering opportunities for ongoing self-reflection as they seek to develop an anti-racist math practice. (Find the entire course available here - https://equitablemath.org/)
In other words, mathematics is inherently racist. It is a system of white supremacist power that must be destroyed. In the first of five workbooks, this program states that math educators need to dismantle “white supremacy in math classrooms by visualizing the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture.” Where is the evidence for such racism? The workbook is clear - “the focus on getting the “right” answer”; “addressing mistakes”; classroom roles where “teachers are teachers and students are learners”’; as well as “grading practices [that] are focused on lack of knowledge.” And the list goes on and on. These “common practices,” the workbook concludes, “perpetuate white supremacy culture [and] create and sustain institutional and systemic barriers to equity for Black, Latinx, and Multilingual students.”
In other words, “mathematics is intrinsically sexist and racist because of its focus on objectivity and proof.” (Pluckrose and Lindsay) The very thing that makes mathematics so beautiful and simple - its objectivity - is what makes it racist. Strange.
Examples like this could be multiplied over and over and over. We see them in the news every single day. They also get getting more and more insane. (https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/oh-the-insane-world-of-identity-politics) How we deal with the individual issues that arise is complex and we must mix conviction with sensitivity in doing so. But one thing we can never hedge on is the nature of truth.
As Ben Shapiro states ad-nauseum, “facts don’t care about your feelings.” He’s right. To put it differently, truth doesn’t have a side. It doesn’t have a gender, a culture, an ethnicity, or a race. A claim, a propositional statement, is either true or not true on its own merits. It’s so easy to get caught up in taking sides, picking teams, and then sticking with that team and defending that team no matter what. When this happens the truth suffers because it becomes irrelevant.
Critical theory is nothing more than subjective truth on steroids. If we think that truth is subjective, then we certainly won’t let any external authority tell us what to think or how to behave – whether it’s the government, a religion, our family, our biology, or anything else. The only way forward is to pit ideas against each other to determine their validity / their truth. Without such we will simply have groups that yell at each other, beat each other up, and get nowhere.
In all of this talk of gender and race and identity, the issues are not the issue. What I mean is that these debates are symptoms of something more troubling. The debate is one of truth and authority. As Christians, we know that truth is objective and it is this way because God has set up the universe in this manner. Thus he is ultimately authoritative over us and our world. We do not give up the biblical view of truth simply because our society doesn’t like it. On the contrary. The world needs the truth now more than ever. Jesus reminded us that the truth is like a light that shines in the darkness. It releases people from captivity. It points people to the Savior. If we back away from the truth now, our world will fall further and further into darkness and madness.