In the previous post in this series, I summarized two of the four unquestioned worldview assumptions of the new religious orthodoxy: group identity and multiculturalism. In this post, I’ll summarize the remaining two: (1) Western civilization as the ultimate source of oppression, and (2) justice demands equality of outcome. You can think about these foundational “givens” as the four “core doctrines” of the new religion. The first two “doctrines” are rooted in postmodernism. These two, however, are rooted in neo-Marxist ideology.
Western civilization as the ultimate source of oppression
To see the world through the lens of Marxism, either in its old or new form, is to see the world exclusively in terms of power relationships—a merciless, zero-sum world of domination, subjugation and oppression. It brings to mind this quote from C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters:
We must picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives with the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.
In its original form, Marxism was framed in economic terms. The oppressors were bourgeois property owners and capitalists, and the oppressed were the subjugated “workers of the world.” The newer form of Marxism thriving today on university campuses worldwide identifies Western civilization, rooted in a Judeo-Christian belief system, as the ultimate source of oppression. After all, it was this particular culture that gave rise to the capitalist economic system viewed by Marxists new and old as rapacious and destructive.
Western civilization (including the history and culture of the United States) is held by adherents of the new religion to be uniquely oppressive, imperialistic, colonial, racist, sexist, classist, and patriarchal. It has created (in the words of a student activist at Claremont Pomona University), “interlocking systems of domination that produce the lethal conditions under which oppressed peoples are forced to live.”
You might think he’s describing life in North Korea, but you’d be wrong. He’s talking about life for minorities in America, from his vantage point as a student at one of America’s most elite institutions.
If you happen to be a white, Christian (or Jewish), cisgender, heterosexual male, and you have anything positive to say about the contributions of Western civilization to human flourishing, expect to be labeled a “white supremacist.” You are imbued with a deep-seated cultural superiority and subconscious racism, sexism, and host of “phobias.” You have “privileges” that people of “marginalized identities” do not share, and you continue to enjoy these privileges at their expense.
Redemption is available, but only under certain conditions. You must confess and renounce your unconscious racism and white privilege. You must denounce America for her oppressive and violent history, and commit to working for her fundamental transformation, a sort of reverse pledge of allegiance to the flag (or at least a refusal to participate in that exercise which, for generations, marked the beginning of every school day). You must also actively “ally” with America’s many oppressed victims.
Everyone who is not a white, Christian, heterosexual male, is by definition, an oppressed victim. Women, Muslims, “people of color,” LGBTQ+ identity groups—all are victimized in a multitude of ways by the stealthy and diabolically oppressive systems and structures imposed by Western civilization. And while all non-white groups are oppressed, they are not oppressed equally.
“Intersectionality” is the trendy new word coined to describe the complex matrix of oppression. A white woman is oppressed (because she is a woman), but she is not as oppressed as a black woman. A black woman who is also a lesbian is more oppressed still. According to The Hudson Institute’s Heather Mac Donald, “individuals who can check off multiple victim boxes experience exponentially higher and more complex levels of life-threatening oppression than lower-status single-category victims.” And because victimhood accrues a host of benefits, including status and power, there is a kind of perverse competition—a “victimhood Olympics”—to be seen as the most oppressed of all.
As with all worldviews, this new religion defines a source of evil—Western civilization. Fighting against it gives adherents a sense of purpose, a mission that brings meaning to their lives. That brings us to the final “core doctrine.”
Justice demands equality of outcome
A primary objective of the new religious orthodoxy is to unmask or expose the many oppressive structures that are pervasive in Western civilization. Adherents do this by exposing inequalities and fighting for “social justice.” There are a plethora of examples.
Exhibit A: Laws and regulations that excluded gays and lesbians from the institution of marriage resulted in unequal and discriminatory treatment. Social justice demands that these laws, rooted in Judeo-Christian beliefs about the exclusivity of marriage as one male and one female, be overturned. This notion of marriage was judged to be hateful, homophobic and bigoted. It needed to be torn down—a dream realized in 2015 when the Supreme Court, by judicial fiat, made homosexual “marriage” legal in all 50 states.
Exhibit B: Norms and civic ordinances that exclude transgendered people from using the bathrooms and locker facilities of their choice are discriminatory. Equality demands that all people, regardless of gender, be able to use the restroom facilities, locker rooms (and eventually, to play on the sports teams) of their choosing. After all, the notion of a simple gender binary male-female reality is oppressive, a legacy of Western, Judeo-Christian beliefs that were structurally imposed on everyone.
Exhibit C: The percentage of black students expelled from St. Paul Minnesota public schools is greater than the number of white students expelled as a percent of their population. The superintendent cites the cause for this inequality as systemic racism. Others wonder if the actions of black students themselves might be behind their higher rates of expulsion, but the second “core doctrine” of the new religion, multiculturalism, stigmatizes anyone who would ask such a question. To do so would be to commit the cardinal sin of blaming the victim. Blame must be attributed to larger social forces, in this case, structural or systemic racism endemic in American culture. The solution: Require teachers and administrators to bring down the numbers of black expulsions, without regard to the actions of the students themselves. The result: Violent and chaotic schools that make learning almost impossible.
This notion of social justice is relatively new. In a previous post, I quoted New York University professor Jonathan Haidt: “A generation ago, social justice was understood as equality of treatment and opportunity… If black people are getting discriminated against in hiring and you fight that, that’s justice. Today justice means equal outcomes… [an idea that wasn’t] there 10 years ago.”
Os Guinness summarizes this final core doctrine:
[Social justice] movements must each deconstruct all that oppresses its victims anywhere … [They] invite an attack on all accepted truths, because unmasking the social fictions is seen as a way of liberating ourselves from the oppression of socially constructed realities that have imprisoned us without our realizing it … It is an open invitation to an assault on tradition and on long-held ways of seeing and doing things. [In other words, on Western civilization and Judeo-Christian beliefs]. First, there must be liberation from God and therefore from meaning and ethics, from solid institutions such as marriage and the family, and from all inhibiting categories such as “the binary opposites” of “male” and “female” … There must be liberation from nature and even from what was considered our own nature. (Impossible People, p. 130)
Guinness puts his finger on an important insight when he says that the new religion is animated by a desire to be “liberated from God.” The ideological roots of the new religion, whether postmodern, Marxist or Nietzschean, are ultimately atheistic. The attack on Western civilization is really an indirect way of attacking Judeo-Christian beliefs, which ultimately is a kind of rage and rebellion against God and His created order. In this sense, it isn’t new at all. It goes all the way back to Genesis 3 and the fallen heart’s desire to overthrow God and assume ultimate authority for ourselves.
- Scott Allen