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Critical Race Theory and the Return of the Old Gods: Part II

Cameron Hilditch’s recent article in National Review highlights Christoper Rufo‘s research into the teaching of “decolonization” in our nation’s classrooms. In particular, Rufo has documented a direct attack against Christianity taking place in California grade schools, where there is an intentional effort to reeducate children away from both the classical canon of Western literature and thought, as well as the Christian theological tradition that informs much of that thought. This is nothing new, of course, but it has taken a new and aggressive turn. As an alternative to the Judeo-Christian worldview, the worldview that provides the foundation for the entire edifice of Government and Law in our country, ancient forms of religious belief and practice are being offered. In this specific case in California, administrators are imposing on children the polytheistic and animistic beliefs of the pre-Colonial and pre-missionary Aztec empire; an empire not necessarily known for its cultural tolerance, its halcyon spirit, or its gods of “love and forgiveness” (see 1 John 4:8 & John 3:16). 1 One should probably ask how this is not a violation of church/religion and state? But, perhaps this principle itself is part of what is under attack.

This should not surprise us, however. In my previous post I began by looking at the work of one critical race scholar, Kenneth B. Nunn, whose 1997 article “Law as a Eurocentric Enterprise” opens the door for exactly that which we are seeing in our K-12 public schools: a return to the old gods and the accompanying religious practices. For Christians, this again should not be surprising as we take for granted that man is a religious creature first and foremost: homo religiosus, as sundry and diverse thinkers as Hegel, Kierkegaard, James, Chesterton, Jaspers, Fromm, Maslow, and Gilkey have described us.2 see DuBose T. (2014) Homo Religiosus. In: Leeming D.A. (eds) Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6086-2_308 However, as I showed in my last post, by undermining the rational substructure that supports not only our current legal system, but also the theological systems of traditional Christianity (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant), Nunn and other critical race scholars, whether directly or indirectly, pave the way for a different kind of society to emerge: a society that is much more ancient than new.

Reason and Religion: CRT’s Dual Source of Oppression

Critical Race theorists like Nunn reject much of what is usually called “Modernity” in philosophical and social-historical circles. Modernity is hallmarked by some key features: first, a theory of history as progressing; second, a sense of man’s innate capacity of reason as the tool by which to actualize such progress; and third, the idea of man’s own innate moral goodness, or at least his capacity to make himself and society more moral. Another unfortunate aspect of Modernism that some critical race theorists rightly criticize is the modernist attempt to “desacralize” nature, which allows for nature itself to become little more than an object for man’s own manipulative uses.

Of course, this is, in part, a caricature of modernism, but the critique has some validity, at least from a traditional Christian worldview. However, where Nunn goes much further than most Christians are willing, is in his connecting certain cognitive features, attributes which he thinks are constrained primarily to European culture, with the will to power. For Nunn, cognitive attributes like: dichotomous reasoning, objectification, abstraction, employment of hierarchies, etc.3 See Nunn, “Law as a Eurocentric Enterprise” in the Minnesota Journal of Law and Inequality, December 1997 (334-337) are one of the two sources of the evil of racism and oppression. Because Europeans exemplify these mental attributes in an overlapping “matrix,”4 Nunn, 338. i.e. in ways that other non-white, non-European cultures do not, to be European or of European pedigree is to be born into this matrix of attributes, and, consequently, to be born into racism.

However, it is not just these cognitive attributes that are the problem. European cultures are also innately immoral, the second source of racism. Nunn asserts the following about the moral nature of European cultures:

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.

Nunn, 325-326.

According to Nunn it is not universally the case that human beings are materialistic, competitive, aggressive, domineering, etc. It is Europeans who are such and that in contrast to non-European cultures. Apparently the Aztecs would be exempt from these charges of aggression and oppression, as well as Japan under the 17th-century shogunate of Tokagawu Leyasu, the Zulu Kingdom under Shaka, or Turkey under the Ottomans. Moreover, these moral deficiencies are not merely contingent, as if Europe could have gone in a different moral direction but just happened to latch on to the ideas of immoral men:

From an African-centered cultural perspective, racism, sexism, classism and other problems endemic in Western societies are not the product of misguided or venal individuals. Nor are they solely the result of material conditions or predictable social processes. These problems result from the fundamental nature of European society and culture. That is, racism, sexism, etc., flow from the world-view and conceptual system that is at the core of European culture.

Nunn, 330-331

In sum, it is not that there were just Europeans (perhaps Kant or Hume or Darwin), who perhaps had some bad ideas that took root, leading European culture in a depraved direction. Nor is it just historical or social conditions or processes, i.e. the refinement of certain technologies in the hands of the irresponsible and the wicked, but it is the “fundamental nature” of European society and culture that is the source of evil. From where this nature comes, Nunn never directly addresses. It is enough to know that European nature, unlike the nature of non-European societies, is the source of all these immoralities and evils.

But, one might infer that there is a source of this fundamental European moral character, or at least a dual source of it. Regarding those moral characteristics on which we would agree with Nunn that are actually flawed, e.g.: aggression5 Even here, though, this would require nuance, since there can be morally acceptable aggression., narcissism, and materialism, we would contend, at least as Christians would contend, that all of these really are universal traits. It is sin that is the cause of these moral flaws, and sin is universal to all cultures in virtue of all cultures being a product of one man and one woman. This just is the doctrine of original sin, and, to some Christians’ dismay, the doctrine of original guilt. It is the reason all men and women, not just Europeans, need a savior not made in our image, but who took on our image in order that we could be restored (see Romans 5:12-21) to goodness, to beauty, and to life.

Second, however, on those characteristics that seem morally neutral, e.g. individualism and, although not directly stated, the implied patriarchy; the source for these moral attitudes that Nunn would call into question can only be the Bible and the Christian tradition. However, one of these is clearly shared with all other cultures (patriarchal headship), while the other bespeaks actual moral progress (the emphasis on the individual).6 I am not suggesting that the Bible, especially, but not exclusively, the Old Testament, does not treat individuals as organically connected to their ethnic groups. Nor am I suggesting that the Bible or the Christian tradition hasn’t wrestled with the very problem of individual versus corporate responsibility. However, what I am suggesting is that the biblical doctrine of the Imago Dei and its development over the centuries of the Church’s history, has acted as a foundational doctrine in the building of morally just systems of governance and jurisprudence in the West, even if those systems failed historically to live up to the principles upon which they were constructed. In this sense then, we should see Nunn’s attack and the attack of other critical race theorists like him as a two-pronged attack against both reason as a means to developing a healthy and just society as well as the Christian religion as a source of a moral and just culture.

Critical Race Theory and the Return of the Old gods

If the goal of critical race scholars like Nunn, or perhaps others like Angela Harris, is to deconstruct the edifice of American law and governance by calling into question various cognitive capacities that are typical of European culture, as well as the moral nature of European culture itself, then what is the new foundation upon which a society could be built if they succeed? What might act as the pre-political and pre-legal basis for a new legal system and a new form of governance? There are two contrasting options it would seem: the first would be to cut something new from whole cloth. The second, would be simple return to a pre-Colonial and perhaps pre-Christian metaphysical and moral basis, i.e. to ancient religious upon which we build new legal customs. I suppose a third option would be something like a synthesis of the current with the old.

It is questionable whether human beings ever create anything entirely new. It is also unlikely that there will be a literal, or at least statistically significant, return to the direct and explicit worship of Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec God of war. However, as Rufo illustrates, some kind of synthesis is occurring. The synthesis, however, seems not to be between the Judeo-Christian, Enlightenment culture of Europe with the ancient gods, something that at face value appears impossible, but between Marxism and the ancient gods:7 Also, an incoherent idea, but nevertheless, the quotes speaks for itself.

This religious concept is fleshed out in the model curriculum’s official “ethnic studies community chant.” The curriculum recommends that teachers lead their students in a series of indigenous songs, chants, and affirmations, including the “In Lak Ech Affirmation,” which appeals directly to the Aztec gods. Students first clap and chant to the god Tezkatlipoka—whom the Aztecs traditionally worshipped with human sacrifice and cannibalism—asking him for the power to be “warriors” for “social justice.” Next, the students chant to the gods Quetzalcoatl, Huitzilopochtli, and Xipe Totek, seeking “healing epistemologies” and “a revolutionary spirit.” Huitzilopochtli, in particular, is the Aztec deity of war and inspired hundreds of thousands of human sacrifices during Aztec rule. Finally, the chant comes to a climax with a request for “liberation, transformation, [and] decolonization,” after which students shout “Panche beh! Panche beh!” in pursuit of ultimate “critical consciousness.”

The chants have a clear implication: the displacement of the Christian god, which is said to be an extension of white supremacist oppression, and the restoration of the indigenous gods to their rightful place in the social justice cosmology. It is, in a philosophical sense, a revenge of the gods.

Christopher Rufo, “Revenge of the Gods”

A strange mix of Marxism and Aztec religion does not seem conducive to a healthy and flourishing society. Just historically speaking it is hard to imagine two more brutal societies, both literally drenched in the blood of millions upon millions of human corpses. Theoretically, however, what this mix seems to further assume is a total rejection of reason or even philosophy to adjudicate over any substantive conflicts between competing religious traditions and their customary laws. Even the hopeful rationality of a Karl Jaspers that sees philosophy as the means by which we can gain insight into the “essential situation of human beings” so as to “overcome the will to destruction through a will to communication”8 see Jürgen Habermas, “The Conflict of Beliefs” in The Liberating Power of Symbols, 31. seems impossible if dichotomous thinking or abstraction are seen merely as “tools for control”9 Nunn, 336. in the hands of an inherently evil culture. Ultimately, while one might rightly question what Jerusalem hath to do with Athens, one should actively resist even the possibility of Moscow having anything to do with Tenochtitlan!

America and European cultures, like all cultures, are deeply flawed due to the universal attribute of sin. However, taking even the ugliness of slavery and the subjugation of native Americans into account, the values and principles of American and European culture have not done a disservice to the world. Most importantly, the greatest service ever done to the world was the bringing of the Gospel by Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries to those children of God who still walked in spiritual darkness. That that cosmic mission occurred through Europeans was indeed a truly contingent event, and, had it not been for the Mongols and the Islamic Caliphates of the 12th and 13th century, very well could have occurred in the East and not the West.10 For more on this, see Phillip Jenkins book The Lost History of Christianity.

Scholars like Nunn and popularizers like Kendi and DiAngelo, should be careful not to make one massive genetic fallacy in their dismissal of all things European or all things Christian (their real target, anyway) because of the history of Europe or the Church. That said, if one truly desires a “return to the old gods” then I wonder which one of these high priests of CRT will be the first to take up the sacrificial knife in one hand and the sacrificial child in the other?

  • 1
    One should probably ask how this is not a violation of church/religion and state? But, perhaps this principle itself is part of what is under attack.
  • 2
    see DuBose T. (2014) Homo Religiosus. In: Leeming D.A. (eds) Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion. Springer, Boston, MA. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6086-2_308
  • 3
    See Nunn, “Law as a Eurocentric Enterprise” in the Minnesota Journal of Law and Inequality, December 1997 (334-337)
  • 4
    Nunn, 338.
  • 5
    Even here, though, this would require nuance, since there can be morally acceptable aggression.
  • 6
    I am not suggesting that the Bible, especially, but not exclusively, the Old Testament, does not treat individuals as organically connected to their ethnic groups. Nor am I suggesting that the Bible or the Christian tradition hasn’t wrestled with the very problem of individual versus corporate responsibility. However, what I am suggesting is that the biblical doctrine of the Imago Dei and its development over the centuries of the Church’s history, has acted as a foundational doctrine in the building of morally just systems of governance and jurisprudence in the West, even if those systems failed historically to live up to the principles upon which they were constructed.
  • 7
    Also, an incoherent idea, but nevertheless, the quotes speaks for itself.
  • 8
    see Jürgen Habermas, “The Conflict of Beliefs” in The Liberating Power of Symbols, 31.
  • 9
    Nunn, 336.
  • 10
    For more on this, see Phillip Jenkins book The Lost History of Christianity.

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