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Critical Race Theory and The Return of The Old Gods

Part I: CRT and The Loss of Reason

In a previous post I laid out three features of Critical Race Theory that should engender Christian and non-Christian resistance to its application in various and sundry parts of American society. Those features were: 1) Critical Race Theory is not a truth-oriented project, 2) Critical Race Theory is purely and only political, and 3) Critical Race Theory is inherently moralistic, whereby morality itself is an entirely political undertaking. In these next two posts, I will argue that, given a certain strain of CRT thought, represented here by critical legal scholar, Kenneth Nunn, Critical Race Theory makes possible, perhaps even probable, a societal return to pagan systems of governance and jurisprudence.

To do this, first I will address the issue of how CRT attempts to divest American culture, specifically the American legal system, of various attributes of European culture that matter to human flourishing. Then, I will show how CRT opens the doors for a return to pre-Colonial and pre-Christian forms of law and governance that themselves are grounded in pagan religious systems and customs.

Erasing Reason: Law as a Eurocentric Enterprise

In his December 1997 article for the Minnesota Journal of Law and Inequality, entitled “Law as a Eurocentric Enterprise,” legal scholar Kenneth B. Nunn argues that “Law, as understood in European-derived societies, is not universal. It is the creation of a particular set of historical and political realities and of a particular mindset or worldview.”1 in MJLI, Vol 15: Issue 2, Article 2, 324. In other words, law is merely a product of an ever- developing political culture over time. What this implies is that law is not a product of a culture or cultures observing and recognizing something universal about the world and human nature and creating rules or guidelines given that observation and recognition (or possibly revelation). On Nunn’s view, and most Critical Race theory views, law itself is generated by entirely immanent cultural, historical and political processes. Any concrete laws therefore are purely political, full stop. And, as social contexts, i.e. “mindsets,” change, then so does the Law and so should laws. This is the same as saying there is nothing pre-social or pre-political that grounds Law or laws. There are just mindsets that create laws tailored to a culture’s own preferences or tastes. The “realities” created are social realities or facts but they are not “Reality” in the strong, ontological sense of something extra-mental, which is discoverable as it is part of the fabric of the world in which we reside. Technically, there is no actual way in which things are supposed to be other than the way we want them.2 This does not mean that the way we want things to be is always aberrant or contradictory or in opposition to the way things are supposed to be, especially if, for example something like Christianity is true.

The very idea that there can be a universally applicable Law or laws is itself no more than a product of white, European culture, and, therefore, entirely contingent upon the political dominance of that culture or its existence in a nation or society. Change the dominant culture, or eliminate it completely, and you change or eliminate the entire foundation of Law. This makes possible the construction of something totally new, or, at least, something totally different3 As I will point out later, one could regress to a prior legal model as opposed to cutting something new out of whole cloth. so long as it is constructed by a different cultural group. In the seminal work on Critical Race Theory, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic put it this way:

The critical race theory (CRT) movement is a collection of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power. The movement considers many of the same issues that conventional civil rights and ethnic studies discourses take up, but places them in a broader perspective that includes economics, history, context, group- and self-interest, and even feelings and the unconscious. Unlike traditional civil rights, which stresses incrementalism and step-by-step progress, critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.4Delgado, Richard, Jean Stefancic, and ANGELA HARRIS. “Introduction.” In Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Second Edition, 1-18. New York; London: NYU Press, 2012. Accessed April 25, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg9h2.6.

In order to call into question this much “broader perspective” that civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. accepted, scholars like Nunn go on to highlight what I will call seven cognitive features of white, European culture that permeate our sense of the Law and our notion of Government. Of course, these features or attributes are considered not only derived from a purely Eurocentric culture, but it is further asserted that that same European culture viewed itself as superior to all other cultures it encountered.5 This claim is not without merit, as every sane person recognizes the rise of modern racist ideologies in Europe around the late 15th and early 16th century that facilitated the African slave trade and the unjust treatment of Native Americans. However, that there were dissenting voices in every generation of Europeans, and that that history is more complex than is often presented should not be overlooked. Thus, these cognitive attributes are not just products of a European culture, but a European “Supremacist” culture, or simply put a “White Supremacist” culture.6 Nunn asserts, “Western European culture is highly materialistic, competitive, individualistic, narcissistic and places great emphasis on the consumption of natural resources and material goods. In addition, European culture tends to take aggressive, domineering stances toward world inhabitants. Consequently, the driving force behind racism, colonialism and group-based oppression is European and European- derived culture.” (325-326)

The seven attributes of European culture that are problematic to “our” sense of Law, or governance more generally, are:

  1. Dichotomous reasoning, or “either/or thinking”
  2. Employment of Hierarchies
  3. Analytic Thought
  4. Objectification
  5. Abstraction
  6. Extreme Rationalism
  7. Descaralization

    While space will not allow an in-depth description of each of these attributes, there are some things to point out generally about this list: first, it is simplistic and reductionistic in stating that these are features of only European culture or of all European culture. Nunn realizes this fairly quickly and offers a disclaimer to the list, saying that

They [the attributes] do not comprise the totality of European culture, nor are they absent in other cultures. When manifested in a culture that is primarily materialistic, the attributes operate collectively to form a matrix of behavior and belief that is relatively unique. This is not to say that every individual in European culture thinks and acts according to this paradigm, nor is it implying that members of other cultural traditions do not. What is presented here is, by necessity, a generalization.

However, if these generalizations do not compromise the totality of European culture, nor are they absent from other cultures, then we should ask right away whether or not this is a fair generalization? To what degree or extent these attributes are or are not a part of white, European culture will matter. Where we have seen white, European culture offer alternatives to these attributes from within its own cultural resources will also matter. To what extent these attributes are also part of other, non-White, non-European cultures matters as well. Finally, who has the right or ability to judge these attributes or their combined “matrix” as either positive or negative when it comes to building a framework for law, let alone science, technology or medicine, is also crucial to deciding whether the conclusions drawn will be warranted. In sum, perhaps trying to attribute incredibly broad and vague categories to an entire continent and its manifold sub-cultures is not a profitable undertaking to begin with; it may even be a fool’s errand from the start.

But, Nunn is committed. He goes on to assert that attributes like the capacity for abstraction become nothing more than a tool of control, “Since the abstract is separated from the concrete, its validity cannot be questioned. Thus, abstraction becomes a tool of control” (Nunn, 336). Here we see how CRT is a purely political idea, for nothing, literally nothing, lies outside of the political will of the human person or group. This is why today we see claims of math itself, the most abstract of the sciences, being treated as a product of “White Supremacy” and a mechanism for keeping minorities or “people of color” in social checkmate. Apparently the early medieval Arabic cultures that created algebra (al-jabr) or the Ptolemaic astronomers of imperial Egypt would have to be considered “white” on Nunn’s view. Either that or they weren’t doing real math, which is quite hard to believe.

The assertion that the mathematicians and metaphysicians of European history were theorizing about reality in order to control and dominant over other cultures is, on the face of it, absurd.7 This is not to say, of course, that mathematics wasn’t employed to build machines of war, for example, or advance technologies that were eventually used to subjugate other cultures, or to wage internecine warfare within Europe. But that the theorizing is in itself evil is nonsense. Luther may have scolded the Scholastics for their theological abstraction and its failure to address concrete soteriological concerns, but this charge by Critical Race Theorists is an anachronistic reading of history at best, if not an outright Marxist one. Simply asserting that all human projects born out of European cultures are fundamentally about social and political power is to deny the basic, and universal, human attribute of curiosity–i.e. the simple longing for truth. Finally, it is just not true that the validity of abstract concepts cannot be questioned. Logical coherency and explanatory scope and power have always acted as tests for the validity of abstract ideas and systems, not to mention biblical tests for validity. So on this count Nunn is flat wrong.

Similar to “abstraction” are the attributes of dichotomous thinking, objectification and analytic thought that white Europeans have also used to subjugate non-white cultures. Of course, what allows for things like dichotomous thinking and analytic thought, i.e. the breaking down of systems into their parts, is the further attribute of “employment of hierarchies,” where the first hierarchy employed is in the mind itself. According to Nunn, one of the core flaws of European culture is the idea that reason should rule over the passions,

Thus reason is considered to be superior to its opposite, emotion, “that is, when ‘reason’ rules ‘passion.’ All reality is described in hierarchical terms; consequently, the Eurocentric mind perceives everything as better or worse than something else. In this way, grounds are established for relationships based on power.

Nunn, 335

First, this a parody of the classical view of the human person, since the passions are not considered “the opposite” of reason. Second, however, that Nunn negatively evaluates the ancient idea that reason should control the passions because it leads to seeing some things as “better” than others makes it clear that no one from Plato to Augustine to Aquinas would have a place in a CRT-constructed society. The Marquis de Sade or Jean Genet or Henry Miller, on the other hand, may find favored status among CRT advocates like Nunn. Perhaps thinkers like these are the “white” European exceptions to the hastily generalized rule. But Anselm or C.S. Lewis? Certainly not! Even Isaiah, Israel’s prophet, might have gotten it wrong, when he placed these unfortunate words into the very mouth of God: “Come, let us reason/debate together.” A prophetic word that would seem to imply that God thinks dichotomously, or at least the ancient Israelite thought He did. Or perhaps the author of John was less than fully inspired when he chose to press the term Logos into service for the sake of testifying to the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. Would it not have been better to write, “In the beginning was the pathos?” Perhaps Critical Race scholars can amend that egregious apostolic error for us.

Unfortunately, Nunn does not stop in his negative assessment of these Eurocentric attributes. He goes on to suggest that because white Europeans have employed hierarchy, seen some things as “better” and others “worse,” and thought reason should rule the emotions that this prioritizing is the very means by which grounds are established for seeing relations as purely power-based. But this is an incredible leap of logic, itself a product of white culture. For to go from saying that one sees things as better or worse to then saying this is how power dynamics arise, whereby any and all power dynamics are seen in purely moral terms and asserted to be inherently corrupt, is a non sequitur. It is far from clear that, say, the simple relationship of the position of CEO to the position of employee is itself a moral relationship, as if the moral dimension lies in the differentiation in authority and responsibility simpliciter, as opposed to being located in the wills of the individuals who hold those positions. Clearly an employee can manipulate his or her boss, just as children seem to do to parents all the time, regardless of the relational positions or the scope of their responsibilities and authority. Truly, it seems that there cannot be any relationship of authority on a CRT view that is not inherently corrupt just in virtue of the abstract relational dynamic itself. We should not be surprised then when we see today the Government allowing children to decide things for themselves without parental consent that just ten years ago would have been unimaginable!

Ultimately, what Nunn seems to be saying is that understanding the world as a “great chain of being” with something like a divine Person or Principle at the top is the real problem in human culture, and that idea happens to be a “white” one. This white idea leads to seeing things as “superior” and “inferior,” which then automatically devolves into concrete acts of oppression. On this kind of CRT view, both the atheistic materialist who holds to the epistemic primacy of Reason and value of the scientific method, as well as the religious Christian, Muslim, or Jew who holds to the ontological primacy of God and value of sacred scriptures, simply cannot find quarter in a CRT world. For in their very positing of Something or Someone or some method that is “superior,” they fall under the condemnation of critical race theory. Moreover, any person of color who accepts these European-derived attributes on other grounds, e.g. feeling compelled that they are true, must be anathematized from their non-white social group. This is why men of singular brilliance like Ben Carson or Thomas Sowell, or women of tremendous achievement like Condoleezza Rice are often dismissed as sellouts.

It should be obvious that the problem with Nunn’s assessment is that he makes normative claims over attributes that themselves are entirely neutral and even natural to the human person. It is not “abstraction” or “objectification” or “analytic thought” that are the problem, it is the people who employ them. It is the will of the people who employ them, to be more specific. All of these attributes are inherently valuable to all human creatures regardless of culture, if they are used in a moral way. In particular, these attributes have been employed to not only create a legal system that works by-and-large far better than most other historical models, but that have conduced to human flourishing as they have been applied in the domains of scientific inquiry, communication, engineering, medicine, and ethics. Unfortunately Nunn sees this differently,

In this way, Eurocentricity reaches out to delineate and direct everything the Eurocentric society produces, within the realm of art, science, economics and social life.

There are other reasons than just these cognitive attributes as to why Nunn rejects Eurocentric thinking, and they are entirely moral reasons. I will deal with those, however, in the next post.

In spite of Nunn’s condemnation of these Eurocentric ways of thinking, there is one cognitive attribute that Nunn mentions that really is problematic to European culture, specifically to Enlightenment European culture, and which has negatively affected the modern world. This attribute is also a problem that every Christian must address and that has lead to an extended public debate between faith and science, philosophy and religion. This is the attribute of desacralization.

The Problem of Desacralization & Resacralization in The West

In his book A Secular Age, Charles Taylor, borrowing a term from Max Weber, lays out a fundamental reason why there has been a decline of religious belief in the Western world, namely, the problem of disenchantment. In a disenchanted world the “given” background of all social life is reduced to the life of the mind.8 see Taylor, A Secular Age, 29-42. The idea that nature or the cosmos is imbued with forces, spiritual agents (demonic or angelic) or even created by a personal God is absent from the preconditions of a disenchanted culture. The reduction of all reality down to matter and the human mind that projects meaning onto that matter is similar to what Nunn is getting at in his use of the term “desacralization.” It is here that there is common ground between the CRT advocate and the classical theist, but not between the CRT proponent and the modern atheist. It is worth quoting Nunn at length on this point:

Nature objectified and rationalized leads to the illusion of a despiritualized universe. In the Eurocentric world-view there is no room for the operation of sacred forces. Nature is reduced to a mere thing, an object that may be manipulated to suit mankind. This is a perspective that is almost uniquely European. Even where God is allowed in Western philosophies, s/he is banished to a separate spiritual realm where s/he can have no effect on quotidian human affairs.

Nunn, “Law as Eurocentric Enterprise” 337.

Of course, Nunn is right, and, of course, this is a fair assessment of the deism and generic theism that emerged in lieu of Hume, Kant, Voltaire and the Enlightenment critique of classical metaphysics, religious epistemology, Church authority and the Bible. However, although we may excuse Nunn’s ignorance, since he is not a philosopher, this assessment leaves out a tremendous feature of European thought that goes back to Justin Martyr evolves through Augustine and Boethius, then Anselm, Aquinas, is carried on by the likes of Molina and Leibniz, and more recently Lewis, Schaeffer, Plantinga, Swinburne and Craig. For Natural Theology has not been restricted to defending the “god of the philosophers, but all of these thinkers, and many more, have defended everything from miracles to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, they have argued not just for a divine watchmaker, but for a God acting in “quotidian” human affairs. Just consider the words of Leibniz, who argued that

God continually produces all that is real in creatures. But I hold that in doing it he also continually produces or conserves in us that energy or activity which according to me constitutes the nature of substance and the source of its modifications.

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Philosophischen Schriften

What part of “God continually producing all that is real in creatures” sounds like a distant god? Space will allow only a brief mention of Richard Swinburne’s defense of the Resurrection or Joseph Butler’s defense of miracles– men who pressed analytic thought into service for the very sake of showing how sacred the world actually is! Further, if anything, it has been the Christian “fundamentalists,” so often maligned by elitist academicians, and their Wesleyan and Pentecostal brethren in America that have been the staunchest defenders of a God who acts in the daily lives of men and women– a God who gives visions, appears in dreams, inspires prophetic words, and even performs miracles. And this is not even to mention the long, deep history of Roman Catholic or Protestant mystical theology that goes back the 5th and 6th centuries of Latin European Christendom; a history that speaks volumes about a God who is intimately involved with His creatures.

Nevertheless, Nunn and other CRT scholars do have a point here, as a very atheistic, scientistic materialism does seem to have won out in the West. It is this product of European Enlightenment materialism that does often seek to manipulate nature for its own purposes. Still, Protestants and Roman Catholics have fought against this for centuries, at least since the days of Butler in the mid-18th and later Pius X in the early 20th. Still, with CRT’s condemnation and dismissal of the other six cognitive attributes, attributes that all pertain in one way or another to the rational substructure of not just a given legal system but of any system, to include a system of Christian theology, CRT effectively undermines any project of natural law or natural theology that might belie such materialism or legal positivism. Natural Theology, on a CRT view, must also be viewed as a project of “Whiteness,” and as an exemplification of “Whiteness” must be judged and found wanting. As such, so too should the project of Natural Theology be rejected– it is truly the “white man’s” religion. On CRT the god of the philosophers is dead, even if a some supernatural god or gods still live.

In the next post I will argue how by maintaining room for a re-sacralization of the world, yet at the expense of reason, Nunn and other CRT scholars make the way clear for Western society to walk the long road back to the old gods of other ancient cultures; and, in doing so, for dismissing not just our modern legal system but also the Judeo-Christian theological sources that informed its development.

  • 1
    in MJLI, Vol 15: Issue 2, Article 2, 324.
  • 2
    This does not mean that the way we want things to be is always aberrant or contradictory or in opposition to the way things are supposed to be, especially if, for example something like Christianity is true.
  • 3
    As I will point out later, one could regress to a prior legal model as opposed to cutting something new out of whole cloth.
  • 4
    Delgado, Richard, Jean Stefancic, and ANGELA HARRIS. “Introduction.” In Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Second Edition, 1-18. New York; London: NYU Press, 2012. Accessed April 25, 2021. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qg9h2.6.
  • 5
    This claim is not without merit, as every sane person recognizes the rise of modern racist ideologies in Europe around the late 15th and early 16th century that facilitated the African slave trade and the unjust treatment of Native Americans. However, that there were dissenting voices in every generation of Europeans, and that that history is more complex than is often presented should not be overlooked.
  • 6
    Nunn asserts, “Western European culture is highly materialistic, competitive, individualistic, narcissistic and places great emphasis on the consumption of natural resources and material goods. In addition, European culture tends to take aggressive, domineering stances toward world inhabitants. Consequently, the driving force behind racism, colonialism and group-based oppression is European and European- derived culture.” (325-326)
  • 7
    This is not to say, of course, that mathematics wasn’t employed to build machines of war, for example, or advance technologies that were eventually used to subjugate other cultures, or to wage internecine warfare within Europe. But that the theorizing is in itself evil is nonsense.
  • 8
    see Taylor, A Secular Age, 29-42

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