As Jesus-followers, one of our fundamental duties—and privileges—is to learn to think about and see various ideas, movements and ideologies from a biblically-based Christian worldview. Nowhere is this more important than in Christian reflection about the current diversity-social justice-white privilege movement (DSW).
There is no question that there are racial and injustice problems today and the church can do a lot better—and offer a distinctive solution to—those problems. But what we cannot do, in the name of a facile notion of "compassion" and "tolerance" is to baptize whole cloth the current secular version of and solution to these problems found in the DSW movement as it is incarnated at our universities as well as by secular progressives.
There is much to say about DSW and a biblically formulated alternative to these notions (and where genuine racial injustice should be placed on a ranking of ethical priorities in a Christian social ethic), but that must be left for another time.
This article has more modest goals. I propose to do two things in what follows: (1) Explain the Neo-Marxist—and, therefore, non-biblical—roots to DSW. A Neo-Marxist and a biblically based Christian worldview are contradictories, so they cannot both be true as worldviews.
(2) Say a few words about "compassion" and "tolerance" as they are used today in the culture and, increasingly, in the church.
The Neo-Marxist Roots of DSW
It is widely acknowledged in the literature about DSW, whether pro or con, that it has Neo-Marxist roots. To satisfy oneself of this, all one needs to do is google "Neo-Marxism and X" where X one-at-a-time, stands for racial diversity, social justice, and white privilege.
A brief clarification of "Neo-Marxism" should make this evident. Marx (and classic Marxism) saw the development of world history being driven, not by ideas (you may recall he turned Hegel on his head), but by material factors, viz., the circumstances and means/methods of economic production. These factors create two classes in constant warfare—the bourgeoisie (who own the means of economic production) and the proletariat (roughly, the working class).
Marx did not treat individuals and their behavioral evaluation as individuals, but as members of classes. This has led to class (e.g. race, sexual orientation) identity politics. Thus, the goodness/badness of an individual and his/he actions are solely due to his/her class, a profoundly unbiblical idea, that stands at the root of the DSW concept and employment of white privilege and white privilege exercises.
Thus, the claim is made today that only whites—or, perhaps, white straight males—can be racists. Those in the dominant class are by definition oppressors and victimizers; those outside the dominant class are innocent victims. This is Neo-Marxist at its core.
Further, it is important to note that on this Marxist view, all ideas—ethical, philosophical, religious, artistic, etc.—are mere epiphenomena produced by the real driving force of cultural conflict and movement (the circumstances and methods of production)—all ideas except, of course, Marxist ones!!
One result of this is the dismissal of the ethical and religious ideas of the bourgeoisie as mere attempts to retain cultural hegemony by keeping the proletariat in its place (as Nietzsche put it, Christianity is Platonism for the masses). This dismissal finds its parallel in the DSW notion that any dominant class resistance to DSW is merely an intentional or unconscious attempt (since members of the dominant class are blind to race) to retain dominance, a view that is reductionist at its core.
Beginning with the thought of Antonio Gramsci (whose major writings range from the 1910s to 1925), Marxists saw that the West could not be destroyed by classic Marxist theory and its concomitant analysis of class struggle in terms of economic factors because, especially in America, there was a huge middle class that did not fit neatly Marx's twofold division of capitalist countries. So, Gramsci developed what has come to be known as Neo-Marxism.
It is "Marxist" because it reduces the individual to a mere member of a class, it dismisses ideas as mere attempts to gain or retain cultural dominance (today this is called intersectionality), and it sees class struggle for power as the central moving force that drives history and the evolution of cultures (sin, connection to God, and ideas have little or no place in this scheme). It is "Neo" because Gramsci cashed out the fundamental nature of class warfare, not in terms of economics, but in terms of dominance and power—the dominant class and those various groups who are victimized by the dominant class.
I make this Neo-Marxist connection, brief as my attempt has been, to inform Christians of the real roots of DSW. In this regard, it is important to say that my point in identifying the contemporary DSW movement as being rooted in Neo-Marxism is not an example of the genetic fallacy. Rather, it is an attempt to foster worldview analysis of DSW in a way that brings into relief exactly what the key terms mean and how they are conceptually inter-related.
Among other things, such an analysis shows that you can't just take secular DSW thought, give it a Christian veneer, and promote it at a Christian institution, especially if you think you can use DSW thought on behalf of racial groups and draw a "firewall" between them and LGBTQxxxxxxx? groups.
Such a firewall would be grossly ad hoc since at the beginning, one's ideological context for promoting DSW regarding race does not draw a distinction between one victimized, dominated group and another. What one should do to address genuine racial and other injustice problems today is to start with a biblical worldview at the beginning. If this is done, no need to draw such an ad hoc firewall is needed.
Brief Reflections on "Compassion" and Tolerance
Still, some Christians may be persuaded that even if DSW employs Neo-Marxist, unbiblical categories, the movement is still justified under the demands of Christian compassion and tolerance.
In view, this response, and the current conceptions of compassion and tolerance are confused and dangerous.
First, two reflections on compassion. (1) Today, God's so-called soft attributes (e.g. love, mercy, kindness) dominate our American Evangelical conception of God. The so-called hard attributes (e.g. truth, holiness, wrath, anger) have taken a back seat to say the least. Thus, even if the contemporary notion of compassion were correct, our actions/attitudes need to be informed by all of God's nature and not merely by His soft attributes so our actions/attitudes do not degenerate into an empty sentimentalism.
(2) But the current notion of compassion contains a deep flaw. It is generally assumed that if you have compassion for someone, then you will not hurt their feelings or cause them to be upset. Rather, you will affirm them and build their self-esteem as best you can.
Unfortunately, this leaves out an important component of genuine love: telling someone something they don't want to hear and that may hurt them in the short run because it is the truth and is in their best interests in the long run.
I don't know how many times my close friends have admonished and exhorted me regarding a bad attitude I have or action I have performed. And they did so precisely because they love me.
Second, some thoughts about tolerance. In order to reflect adequately on tolerance, we need to get clear on what the principle of tolerance is. Actually, it has been defined in different ways, but two senses can be distinguished. According to the classical sense of the principle of tolerance, a person holds that his own moral (religious, political, etc.) views are true and those of his opponent are false. But he still respects his opponent as a person and his right to make a case for his views.
Thus, someone has a duty to tolerate a different moral view, not in the sense of thinking it is morally correct, but quite the opposite, in the sense that a person will continue to value and respect one's opponent, to treat him with dignity, to recognize his right to argue for and propagate his ideas and so forth.
Strictly speaking, on the classic view, one tolerates persons, not their ideas. In this sense, even though someone disapproves of another's moral beliefs and practices, he or she will not inappropriately interfere with them. However, it is consistent with this view that a person judges his opponent's views to be wrong and dedicates himself to doing everything morally appropriate to counteract those views, such as using argument and persuasion.
The modern version of tolerance, popular in the general culture, goes beyond the classical version in claiming that one should not even judge that other people's viewpoints are wrong. On this view, it is intolerant simply to claim that another's beliefs, attitudes or actions are morally or religiously incorrect and even harmful.
Christians should embrace the classical sense of tolerance, not the modern version because the latter has two defects that make it completely unacceptable.
First, it is rationally impossible to apply since advocates of the modern version tolerate (do not claim to be wrong) all those who agree with their modern version, but do not tolerate those who reject the modern version like those who hold to politically incorrect views. But, then, these advocates tolerate (do not claim to be wrong) those who agree with them and do not tolerate (claim to be wrong) those who do not agree with them. And this is inconsistent.
Second, the modern version is immoral because, if followed, it silences the protest of evil. Why? In order to protest evil, you first have to make (on the modern conception) the intolerant judgment that what you are protesting is evil. If you can't do that, then you have no grounds for protesting anything. Unfortunately, it is the modern version that lulls some to sleep in thinking that tolerance requires us to accept DSW ideas even if they conflict with biblical Christianity.
There is much that still needs to be said, but, alas, I leave matters here. My hope is that you have more tools now to think biblically and carefully about the contemporary DSW movement.
JP Moreland, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He has authored, edited, or contributed papers to ninety-five books, including Does God Exist? (Prometheus), Universals (McGill-Queen's), Consciousness and the Existence of God (Routledge), The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, The Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism, and Debating Christian Theism (Oxford.) He has also published close to 90 articles in journals such as Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, American Philosophical Quarterly, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, MetaPhilosophy, Philosophia Christi, Religious Studies, and Faith and Philosophy. Moreland was selected in 2016 by The Best Schools as one of the 50 most influential living philosophers.
Find out more about his work here