The new religion we are exploring in this series is underpinned by a set of unquestioned worldview assumptions, or “givens” that frame everything else. As I’ve studied the new religion over the past few years, four major assumptions emerge as particularly foundational. You might think of them as the four core doctrines of the new religion. Understanding them is a prerequisite for understanding the values, beliefs and actions of its adherents.
I’ll cover these four core doctrines in two posts. In this post, we’ll consider the first two: (1) group identity, and (2) cultural relativism, or multiculturalism, both of which are rooted in postmodernism.
A biblical worldview uniquely affirms both the individual and the group. We see the significance of individuals throughout the scriptures. God’s call to Abram in Genesis 12 is just one example. God holds each of us accountable for our beliefs and actions (see Matthew 25:31-46 and Hebrews 4:13). Each of us has unique gifts, talents, and callings. As image-bearers of God, our choices influence the course of history. The Bible imbues every individual with incredible value, dignity and potential.
At the same time, the Bible affirms that we are made for relationship. We are part of communities, including families, ethnic groups, and churches. These profoundly shape who we are. We are acculturated into these communities by a shared language, values, habits, and history.
Yet while we are shaped by our communities, we are not completely defined by them. As image-bearers of God, we have a free will. We can make choices, real choices that shape history. We are able to step outside our communities, examine them critically, and make choices that run counter to their established norms.
In fact, as Christians, we are required to do this. We are called to manifest the culture of God’s Kingdom and to think with “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16). We are called “to take every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5) and to “be transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2). In short, we are called to think and act differently—not in accord with the accepted norms, attitudes and behaviors of our surrounding culture, but in accordance with reality as presented in God’s Word.
The new religious orthodoxy has a very different perspective. In short, it only affirms group identity. The beliefs and actions of individuals don’t matter. In her book Finding Truth, Nancy Pearcey describes this reductionist belief:
It reduces individuals to puppets of social forces … it implies that individuals are powerless to rise above the communities to which they belong. It … dissolves individual identity into group identity. (p. 121)
Everyone’s ideas are [held to be] merely social constructions stitched together by cultural forces. Individuals are little more than mouthpieces for communities based on race, class, gender, ethnicity, and sexual identity. (p. 118).
Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd referred to this as ‘the ideology of community.” The Harvard University student newspaper (The Crimson) put it very simply: “Everything is about race.” You’ve probably heard people say, “It’s a black [or female, or whatever] thing, you wouldn’t understand.” That’s an honest summary of this core doctrine.
While the biblical worldview affirms a human nature and a human identity that transcends race and culture, the new religion provides no such foundation. All of our choices and behaviors are determined by our community—our identity group. There is no basis for personal freedom, personal responsibility, or personal accountability.
We see this doctrine in the confrontation between the Yale students and Nicholas Christakis. Whether a Christian or not, Christakis speaks from a biblical perspective. He believes that, as human beings, all people share things in common: A human nature, a human experience, a human dignity. For him, “all lives matter.” The students aren’t buying it.
Christakis: “So I have a vision of us, as people, as human beings that actually privileges our common humanity … that is interested not in what is different among us, but what is the same. If you deny that, then what is the reason you asked to be heard?”
In response, a tall, black student moves threateningly towards Christakis. He gets right up in his face and says: “Look me right in the eye. Look at me! Your experience will never connect to mine.”
This, my friends, is what we call a clash of worldviews. The student is speaking from an unquestioned assumption that race defines identity, and because Christakis is a white person, his experience “will never connect” to that of the student’s. If that assumption is true, Christakis’ question begs an answer: “then what is the reason you asked to be heard?” Is discussion even possible?
What kind of society emerges from the student’s worldview assumption about group identity? Is it any surprise that we are experiencing ever-increasing social fragmentation, racial tension, and even hostility? Can there be any basis for unity—for America’s founding creed, “E Pluribus Unum” –if the new religion fully replaces Judeo-Christian assumptions at the core of the culture?
We are already seeing troubling signs. On college campuses, black students are self-segregating. Other identity groups are following suit. In the past, our schools and universities taught “American history,” but increasingly, this is being replaced with “black history” or “female history,” or “gay and lesbian history.” There is no single history we share. Any attempt to teach one is an act of cultural imperialism.
This is a profoundly dehumanizing belief. Nancy Pearcey gets it right: “Materialism reduces humans to products of physical forces. Postmodernism reduces them to products of social forces. Whenever a [religious ideology] absolutizes something less than God—no matter what it is—the result is reductionism, and a lower view of the human person.” (p. 122).
Cultural relativism or multiculturalism
The next “core doctrine” builds on the first. Postmodernism denies the existence of transcendent, objective truth or morality, so each identity group defines its own reality and morality, not subject to critique by outsiders. This is known as cultural relativism, or multiculturalism.
Again, Nancy Pearcey is a helpful guide to understanding this new religion:
Truth has been redefined as a social construction, so that every community has its own view of truth, based on its experience and perspective, which cannot be judged by anyone outside the community (emphasis added)…
If there is no objective or universal truth, then any claim by any [identity group] to have objective truth will be treated as nothing but an attempt by one … community to impose its own limited, subjective perspective on everyone else. An act of oppression. A power grab.
Even something as simple as enjoying food, clothing, or music from another ethnic group is taken to be an “act of oppression,” or in the parlance of the new religion, “cultural appropriation.”
If a particular Muslim group practices female genital mutilation or honor killing, multiculturalism forbids any value judgment from outside that culture. After all, it is their culture—it is their reality. Who are we to judge? Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali routinely challenges this belief.
At many American universities today, any critical examination pertaining to Islam, including Shariah and the treatment of women in Islam, is declared to be out of the realm of scrutiny. My thoughts on [this] were so terrifying to Brandeis University … that it withdrew its invitation to speak and accept an honorary degree. A strange irony that my story frightened the university more than the litany of honor killings and wholesale abuse of women in so many parts of the Islamic world.
If some racial or ethnic groups suffer from higher rates of poverty, unemployment, drug addiction, or divorce, multiculturalism disallows laying blame on the beliefs or actions of those within the group. In keeping with the first “core doctrine” of group identity, individual belief or action isn’t available for consideration. Rather, the blame must, by default, lie in the larger historical, social or structural forces. This is why the new religion is seemingly obsessed with “systemic or structural” oppression or racism. To attribute negative outcomes to the beliefs or actions of those within the community is “blaming the victim,” the cardinal sin in the new religious orthodoxy.
There is one major exception to the non-judgmental approach demanded by cultural relativism. The Judeo-Christian belief system comes in for very harsh critique, usually in the form of attacks against “Western civilization.” Because America’s history is part of the larger story of Western civilization, this explains the overwhelmingly critical view that adherents of the new religion have towards America and its history.
American history and culture, rooted in Judeo-Christian beliefs, is viewed as uniquely oppressive. That is the third “core doctrine,” or unquestioned given of the new religion. If this seems inconsistent, it will make more sense when you realize that this particularly view is grounded less in postmodernism, and more in a neo-Marxist ideology. We’ll explore this further in the next post.
- Scott Allen