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  • Fr. Paul A. F. Castellano

The Struggle is Real.

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

I generally loathe writing about "political" issues, but the current social situation in which we find ourselves is one of those political matters that transects into religion and theology, so, in order to discuss the elements of our social struggle today and how we, as Christians, can address and understand it, I must touch upon politics.

Additionally, due to the content of our discussion, I will also have to introduce a bit of philosophy - PLEASE DON'T RUN screaming in fear. I will incure the risk of taking a complicated topic and simplify it in order for you to follow along. Again, PLEASE understand, I'm "simplifying" something very complex without being simplistic.

Lastly, due to the insection of these topics - politics, culture, and philosophy - this will be a multi-part series. I generally don't like doing this for many reasons, but given the amount of material, we're going to cover it is essential to break this up into more manageable sections.

Ok, so what in the world are we going to be discussing. Have you had the misfortune of engaging in "woke-ism"[1] or its foundational big brother (or sister, wouldn't want to be sexist), "CRT, or Critical Race Theory?" If you're currently awake and at all functioning in the public sphere, YES you have! Have you ever asked yourself, "what in the world is 'woke' or 'CRT'?" "Why do I need to know about this?" Well, if you haven't you should because it's affecting every aspect of your life; if you have, then sit tight because that's what we're going to discuss in the next few blogs.

This isn't intended, nor is it going to be, an exhaustive, detailed critique of "woke-ism" or "CRT." There are many more thorough treatments extant that can help those who want a robust interaction. My approach here is going to be much more narrow in focus.

I want to first discuss briefly what "woke" and "CRT" are, then, I'm going to explain the philosophical roots of each and why it is important for us to be aware of them, and finally, I'm going to discuss the impact and interaction of each with religion in general and Christianity in particular.

Since woke is essentially the non-academic expression of CRT, let's briefly define it. As the "practical" expression of CRT, woke has its roots in the same concerns of CRT. Woke-ism, since it is essentially an ideological position, reacts to the core principles against which CRT reacts - Post-enlightenment Modernism. Simply put, PEM presented a view of reality that advocated individual rights, equality before the law, the existence of objective truth, the rational discovery of objective truth through open dialogue,[2] and the exchange and challenging of ideas in the so-called Market Place of Ideas. One's pronouncements on any intellectual matter would be subject to and examination within, the open dialog of other competing ideas. The validity of ideas then would have to stand the test of open, objective scrutiny and analysis.

However, with the influence of CRT, a challenge of these primary principles was raised in what has become known as “Postmodernism.”[3] The Postmodernism, making its presence felt in the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s, rejected the notions of individual rights, objective truth, etc., defining reality in terms of a power struggle. Whatever one engages, questions of knowledge, values, beliefs, societal norms, etc., were to no longer be seen in terms of objective conceptual differences to be discussed, debated, and determined by the consensus of rational, logical inquiry in the Market Place of Ideas, but now through the concept of power. Either one has it or one doesn’t.

For the Postmodernist then, the question wasn’t, “is this objectively true and therefore to be accepted and believed,” but, “who is uttering a position, are they in power and attempting to retain said power by maintaining the societal dynamic; or are they those being dominated by the power-broker or ‘oppressor’ and trying to gain freedom from such oppression?”

From here, the stage was set to move out of the arena of conceptual interaction of competing “ideas” to the phenomenological, practical application of identifying the disenfranchised and oppressed and altering the discussion. From the question “what is morally right and how do we define it,” we get, “it is morally right for all the oppressed to seek equal standing with and overthrow the oppressors attempting to maintain their power base.” It is not a leap across the Grand Canyon to see how we’ve moved from conceptual dialog to issues such as race, gender, sexual identity.[4]

Carmelo San Paolo points out that it was during the 1980’s and ‘90’ that scholars began writing extensively about and creating the ideas surrounding Critical Race Theory, Post-Colonial Theory, and Queer Theory, drawing a direct link with and connection to the broader category of Social Justice[5] (which becomes a problem in-itself to define) concepts.

It was here that the full-frontal attack on the “dominance dynamic” came to the fore. In these works, were found the foundational principles to “dismantle” (a popular term in the woke vernacular) all perceived dominant groups by “subtle” alteration and changing of the commonly accepted and standard meaning of language, culture, science, philosophy, economics, politics, going so far as to extend to all forms of interpersonal relationships.[6]

According to Paolo, these norms and ideas were described as, “dominant discourses.”

So, to be “woke” one basically, to quote Paolo again, “is to have one’s eyes opened to the hidden power dynamics that are assumed to exist at all levels of society. These dynamics center around issues of marginalized identity such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”[7]

It is important, when engaging this concept – “woke-ism” – that the objective reality of such ideas cannot be proved. That would involve the woke advocate of an obvious and blatant internal contradiction. After all, one cannot reject objective truth to which all must ascribe and at the same time claim they can objectively prove their position is true and correct. No, the cognizance of the issues concerning the woke advocate, has no connection to what is objectively real, existing in space/time reality. Much like some of the propositions of religion, the existence of hidden power dynamics cannot be empirically verified and are impossible to do so.[8]

To cite Paolo one final time, he sums up the tendencies of “woke-ism” in the following manner:[9]

1. The tendency toward dogmatic religious thinking – viewing the marginalized identity as a sacred[10] subject and viewing the moral considerations around identity in a black and white fashion.

2. Illiberalism: cynicism and/or skepticism toward Enlightenment values such as equality (before the law), individual rights, scientific rationalism, open debate, etc.

3. Abandonment of the character over color ethic (or more simply the “color-blind ethic”) as articulated by the late Martin Luther King, Jr.

4. Strong emphasis on equality of outcome over other values – often referred to as “equity.”[11]

5. Redefinition of traditional concepts of racism and gender.[12]

6. Zero-sum thinking: viewing human relationships as a zero-sum power struggle between identity groups, with an emphasis on the concept of power and privilege.[13]

Before closing part one of our series, I want to briefly address Paolo’s point, #5 above. It is here where I personally believe, Christians in particular, have done a disservice to the culture of the U.S. When we should’ve stood firm as salt and light and pushed back against the redefining of terms, we were complacent and, in most cases, negligent. We abandoned the Market Place of Ideas to the extremists and thereby lost the arena in which to present a counter position. When we should’ve been strongly articulating a rational, logical argument against such neo-logistic efforts, we became more concerned with being liked.

One example as I close. The term “abortion.” There was a time when, in discussing “abortion” we all understood that that term meant, ‘the taking of an unborn life.’ Regardless of the rationale or justification – i.e., life of the mother – everyone understood and agreed upon what was taking place. In the Market Place of Ideas, we had a commonality of definitions – for the most part. Mention abortion today and what does it mean, “the termination of a pregnancy resulting in the elimination of a group of cells in the woman.”

We, as a society, went from asking a pregnant woman, “So, are you having a boy or a girl?” to asking, “What is it?” We see a slight move away from this understanding with the advancement of medical science and the equipment developed, but, not nearly sufficient to account for the millions of lives unnecessarily taken in the last almost 50 years.

I would encourage all to read the book by Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay, “Critical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity – and Why This Harms Everybody.”

Our next blog will be Part 2: What is Critical Race Theory.

[1] “Woke-ism” is a term I strictly use. I read it online somewhere and thought it useful. I do not attribute it to anyone cited in this blog unless quoted directly. [2] See Carmelo San Paolo, “What is Woke” for a succinct discussion of “woke-ism.” [3] Ibid. [4] Again, allow me to reiterate, I’m trying to keep this simple without being simplistic. [5] Op.Cit. Paolo. [6] Ibid. [7] Ibid. [8] Ibid. [9] Ibid. [10] Keep this in mind because we will be referring back to this concept in our final piece. [11] This distinction is critical because it changes the focus and emphasis from, “treating all people the same regardless of race, religion, social statues, etc., to, MAKING all people the same.” [12] I would modify this by asserting it was the co-opting of language and redefinition of terms. [13] In case you’re not familiar with the concept, “zero-sum” essentially means, all or nothing. What one side would gain, the other side would lose in equal proportion.

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