Darrow Miller and Friends

Core Doctrines of the New Religion: Group Identity and Cultural Relativism

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.

Group identity

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.

identity becomes religionThe 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)

She continues:

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?

new religion threatens national unityWhat 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

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4 Comments

  1. S

    May 23, 2017 - 11:07 am

    Hi Scott-
    Thanks for your lucid article.
    It is good to identify the prevailing cultural ideology as a religion, because of the religious behavior of its adherents and the way that the worldview is preached throughout the culture broadly.
    It may be helpful to see that this religion finds significant justification from Darwinian evolutionary beliefs, and becomes essentially like pantheism.
    A few thoughts on this topic can be found at http://www.religioninscience.org – would love to hear your feedback if you are interested!
    God bless you!

    • admin

      May 23, 2017 - 5:15 pm

      Thanks for the comment. No doubt adherents of the new religion believe Darwinism is true, but I’ve found it helpful to make the distinction between classic Darwinism, or the British philosophical stream, and the continental philosophical stream. Today, the British stream is best represented by hard-core materialist atheists like Richard Dawkins, or others of the “New Atheist” camp. The new religion I’m dealing with in this series however, is much more influenced by the continental philosophical stream. Rather than absolutizing matter (as the British stream does), they absolutize community, and the forces of community. When I saw how the new religion is equal parts postmodernism (Foucault and Derrida), Marxism (via Antonio Gramsci) and Nietzschean will to power philosophy, things really clicked for me. Darwin plays a role as well, but not as prominently as these other influences. As an example, I’ve recently discovered that Sam Harris (one of leading “New Atheists”) is now making common cause with other lovers of freedom against adherents of the new religion.

      Scott Allen

  2. S. Kyle Johnson

    May 28, 2017 - 7:40 am

    So, I identify a number of problems here.

    First, the reduction of ‘postmodernism’ to an ‘ism’, seems intellectually flabby to me. Postmodernism is a broad category given to cultural and philosophical movements in reaction to modernity, namely the (perhaps caricature) of modernity as positing the unaffected, a-cultural, triumphant, human mind. There are few positive, universal, claims that one can identify so coherently as an ‘ism.’ Postmodernity is mostly a ‘negative’ (by which I do not mean ‘bad’ but in terms of ‘negating’) tendency. It critiques failures to identify the importance of power, group identity, etc in institutions and ideas. But to suggest that it amounts to a coherent, monolithic, ‘movement’ is dubious. In that vein, that the individual disappears in ‘postmodernity’ is unfounded. Is the stark individualism of modernity rejected? Yes. But no monolithic alternative is offered. Modern ideals about individual rights, popular messages about ‘be unique’ ‘be individual’ ‘achieve’ ‘dream’ are as prevalent as ever. I would argue that our era is actually more individual-centric than ever.

    The true error here is the propping up of a field of straw-men, that does not represent what anyone actually believes. If one hopes for Christians to be able to have a seat at the table of ideas, this absolutely not the way to do it. This is not good scholarship.

    Second, I don’t use the word ‘racist’ often, I focus on responding to poor arguments and let other people sort out the moral implications. But the portrayal of white, conservative, male, harbingers of agenda-less universal truth compared to the angry black ‘pagans’ is dripping with nefarious stereotyping and quick-and-easy justifications for why those black students are ‘bad’ and do not need to be listened to. The problems here are legion and I will only focus on a few. First, black group-identifying goes back centuries. Blacks created their own churches, campus organizations, institutions, schools, eons ago. This was inspired by a mixture of nationalism (in its most extreme cases) but more substantively a sense of not feeling welcome or respected in ‘mainstream’ institutions. It would behoove you, and Pearcey, to spend some time more thoughtfully and with greater intellectual honesty analyze the actual concerns and ideas driving particularly minority students to protest on campus institutions. Indeed, how do you explain the fact that today’s group identification is much much more tame compared to the ‘black power’ movement or the Panthers? The average black student is not interested in having a black history class because they believe only group identity matters, but because mainstream history courses still pretend to be universal but really only teach one group’s history.

    All this looks like to me is a long justification for why white Christians have no need to listen to the concerns (which are much more sympathetic and nuanced and complex than is allowed here) of people of color. Have we still not yet decided to stop wasting precious energy on drowning out every voice except the white Christian? Clearly we haven’t.

  3. Dan

    May 28, 2017 - 3:32 pm

    Hello Scott,
    I enjoyed your article. It was quite articulate and well reasoned. Though, wouldn’t you agree, on some level, the attack on the Judeo-Christian belief system (or “Western Civilization”) leveled by this “new religion” is warranted? Or, at least doesn’t it expose the hard place that fundamentalism/dispensationalism hardliners have trapped evangelicals? At some point, and I’m not sure when, fundamentalists started to intertwine their community identity with that of Americanism. You pointed out that society as a whole suffers because we no longer have a shared “American” narrative. I would argue that we never had a shared American narrative, just a dominant or unquestioned American narrative. I think Christians should divorce from Americanism in general. Our calling was not to establish a Christian nation in 1776 or force a political agenda (even if it come from a good place, if not a self-righteous place). Americanism is not Christianity. By making it so, we fall into the same Group Identity fallacy that your article so wonderfully points out.

    God Bless!

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