As The Family Goes, So Goes God

The institution of marriage is not an undue interference by society or authority, nor the extrinsic imposition of a form. Rather it is an interior requirement of the covenant of conjugal love which is publicly affirmed as unique and exclusive, in order to live in complete fidelity to the plan of God, the Creator.

John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (1981)

We make our spaces family-friendly and enable parents to fully participate with their children. We dismantle the patriarchal practice that requires mothers to work “double shifts” so that they can mother in private even as they participate in public justice work.

We disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families and “villages” that collectively care for one another, especially our children, to the degree that mothers, parents, and children are comfortable.

Black Lives Matter Mission Statement (formerly)1 After many complaints and a drop in approval rating, this portion of the BLM Website has since been removed.

“The nuclear family,” the term itself is nuclear in our culture today. Nevertheless, the connection between the family and the vitality of a culture has been noted since antiquity. For example, in her book on Seneca’s understanding of the family, classicist Elizabeth Gloyn highlights the ancient stoic view of familial integrity and societal welfare:

For now it is enough to say that oikeiosis [affiliation, affinity] is arguably the primary building block of human relations. The first stage, which [Seneca’s] Letter 121 describes, is the process by which babies begin to realise that their bodies belong to them, and thus that looking after their arms and legs is in their own best interest. More advanced stages involve the realisation that the interests of other humans are also our interests; a parent’s relationship to a child is often used as the classical example of assimilating someone else’s interest into our own. So oikeiosis begins in the basic bond between parent and child, and is a key stage in the moral development that ultimately lets humans achieve virtue.2 Elizabeth Gloyn, The Ethics of the Family in Seneca (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 6.

Elizabeth Gloyn, The Ethics of the Family in Seneca, 6.

It is worth noting the definite article “the” in Gloyn’s statement about what “the classical example” of “assimilating someone else’s interest into our own” is. For the ancients, the beginning of social morality and public virtue was the parent-child relationship. It was not just one option toward moral development, it was the paradigm example for it. Without this “basic bond” there would inevitably be a deficiency in moral development and a breakdown in virtue; or, more accurately, moral development would be nipped in the bud. This failure to launch would likely demand tremendous expenditures in other areas, and from other domains, to bring virtue to fruition. However, one could probably assert with confidence that in most ancient cultures moral deficiency did not end in long, state-sponsored and tax-payer funded rehabilitation programs for the unvirtuous. Rather, it usually (almost always) ended in incarceration or execution.

By extension, an entire culture comprised of multiple families living and working within in a common geographical and linguistic space will, to a large degree, rely on the ingrained virtue of its individual members for its own continuity and prosperity. This is a truth as old as the Greek polis itself, but one revealed even earlier on the very first page of the Hebrew Bible.

In modern times, Pope John Paul II echoed Seneca on the crucial relationship between the welfare of the organic family unit and the commonwealth of the nation, saying:

Yet it still seems that nation and native land, like the family, are permanent realities.  In this regard, Catholic social doctrine speaks of “natural” societies, indicating that both the family and the nation have a particular bond with human nature, which has a social dimension.  Every society’s formation takes place in and through the family: of this there can be no doubt.  Yet something similar could also be said about the nation.

John Paul II, Memory and Identity, 67.

The formation of society takes place “in and through the family,” and of this there “can be no doubt.” The relationship between family and nation has been attested to throughout history, both in philosophical and political theory, as well as in concrete social and legal action. As John Paul II went on to say in more succinct fashion, “As the family goes, so goes the nation.”3 The full quote, from a 1986 sermon given in Perth, reads “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

However, the relationship between the health of the individual family and the health of a nation is not the only deep correlation that has been recognized by great thinkers. The relationship between the make-up of the family and the very belief in God has also come under scrutiny, at least since the Enlightenment, but especially since Freud’s psychoanalytic theories of man and civilization. The formation of familial structures and inter-familial needs relative to religious beliefs have been seen as intimately connected, if not altogether the same thing. The father of social psychology, Erich Fromm, argued it this way:

As we already know, the terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood aroused the need for protection–protection through love–which was provided by the father, and the recognition that this helplessness would last throughout life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father, but this time a more powerful one. Thus the benevolent rule of divine Providence allays our fear of the dangers of life; the establishment of a moral world-order ensures the fulfillment of the demands of justice, which have often so remained unfulfilled in human civilization; and the prolongation of earthly existence in a future life provides the local and temporal framework in which these wish-fulfillments shall take place.

Erich Fromm, The Dogma of Christ, 28-29.

For Fromm, and other Marxist Freudians like him, the need for a divine “Father figure” starts with the fundamental social relationship of parent and child. Religion is the imaginative projection that provides a parallel solution to the basic familial need of protection, guidance, and security in an uncertain world of natural forces. However, because these needs are abstract, like justice and love (not like food or water), they are libidinal in nature. They exist in the category of non-physical needs and can therefore be met by religious institutions and their practices:

Religion serves to make it easier for the masses to resign themselves to the many frustrations that reality presents. The satisfactions religion offers are of a libidinous nature; they are satisfactions that occur essentially in fantasy because…libidinous impulses…permit satisfaction in fantasy.

Fromm, The Dogma of Christ, 26-27.

If these reflections by men like Seneca, Wojtyla4 John Paul II’s family name, and Fromm are accurate, then it makes sense that the nature and well-being of the “family” is something that is not only controversial in our culture today, but that should find itself at the center of political and social movements like that of Black Lives Matter. It would make sense for a group like BLM to address the family, if the family is really as important as these thinkers of the past have suggested. After all, if it is the case that “as the family goes, so goes the nation” or even “as the family goes, so goes religious belief in God,” then to control the definition and language of “family” becomes a very desirable goal indeed.

Deconstructing the Family, Reconstructing God

As alluded to above, Freud believed that it was in primitive man’s confrontation with untamed nature that God was invented in the mind of man. Feeling helpless before the power of nature, as in his infantile state, early man fantasized an all-powerful father figure who could protect him from the harshness of reality (the reality principle). Further, as moral intuition and reasoning developed in early society, the need for ultimate justice at the sight of apparent wrongdoing and incomprehensible suffering, as well as the desire for prolonged satisfaction (the pleasure principle), led to the further imagination of an extended realm of conscious existence where punishment and reward would be meted out in full. Nevertheless, much of this imaginative work was generated on account of man’s harrowing battle with “nature red in tooth and claw.”

However, with the rise of modern society, the advance of technology, medicine and industry, the increasing explanatory power of the natural sciences, and man’s increasing mastery over nature, it was thought that the religious illusions devised by earlier civilizations would ultimate fade away. And, to some degree, one could argue they have, since in the most technologically advanced cultures, one sees an empirical increase in what Charles Taylor might call “exclusive humanists,”5 I am adapting Taylor’s notion of “exclusive humanism” which entails people who never come to actually hold to any religious doctrine or faith for the entirety of their earthly existence. i.e., a greater number of people who live the entirety of their lives without regard for the transcendent or any serious religious commitment. The so-called “rise of the nones.”

Nevertheless, even if we assume a posture of victory over nature (albeit COVID-19 has in some ways exposed this presumptive claim), and even if the natural sciences have undermined some religiosity, there is the other fundamental human relation over which man has not yet gained full supremacy,6If one can truly say that man has gained supremacy over nature, which may not actually be the case, even if we have a sense of it. and that is the relationship between the natural family and culture.

While the natural sciences may have given us a way to understand nature without appealing to divine agency, as Laplace suggested in rejecting the “God hypothesis,”7 I do not actually believe this to be the case, but it is not my point in this article to raise the serious challenges to scientism of this sort. it is questionable as to whether the social sciences have been able to give us a way to understand society without making the same appeal. For some reason we can now look at the Grand Canyon and see only natural elements and millions of years, but we cannot look at our neighbor and see only molecules in motion and bio-chemical exchanges. It was argued by some critical theorists in the mid 20th-century8 I am thinking in particular of Herbert Marcuse’s argument in his magnum opus Eros and Civilization, where he sees the locus of societal transformation in the redefinition of both structures of labor (the Marxist feature) and in the redefinition of human sexual identity and marital structures (the Freudian feature). that there remains a vestige of traditional religious belief that lingers in spite of our otherwise progressive, Western culture. That vestige is the nuclear family. We may have successfully suspended belief in providential design in the natural world, but when it comes to social relations the divine still haunts us.

Therefore, if social theorists like Fromm and his manifold disciples are right, then to gain control over the family structure itself would be the primary means to altering religious belief or even belief in God more generally. It is, therefore, significant that Black Lives Matter, a group whose founders openly declare their Marxian heritage, may have a vision of the family that is different than the one presented to us in Genesis 1:27 and 2:18-25. After all, for the true Marxist (and Freudian), those passages themselves are nothing more than the product of culturally situated people. The culture, and its people, are not the product of the passages.9 This, of course, would be the orthodox Christian view, for the passages would be revelatory communications to us, not mere projections by human minds. It is therefore very likely that the far more central issue for groups like Black Lives Matter is not really race, but actually the family structure, regardless of race. We have drifted far afield from MLK’s vision for racial equality with Garza, Cullors and Ometi‘s vision of social justice.

Conclusion: The Real Trojan Horse is Not Race, It’s Sex

If race10 Of course race for most Critical Race Theorists is not a biological category, but a social construct. really is the central focus of movements spawned by theories like Critical Race Theory, then why is it the case that almost every concrete manifestation of that theory is accompanied by an alternative vision of the human family structure and of human sexual nature? Where is the logical connection there? Of course, it does seem to be a logical entailment that if one messes with traditional understandings of gender and sexuality, one will also be messing with traditional understandings of the nature and design of the family. But groups like BLM for some reason need both race and sexuality involved in their program. It is never just about race.

The truth is that far more fundamental to us as persons than our racial identity is our sexual identity. And, far more fundamental to us as persons than our racial community is our biological family. If the Marxist-Freudian approach to the human person is correct (which it is not), then it is more important to change these structures in order to change society than to change anything about race or racial structures. Race is not the real Trojan horse standing outside the walls of American culture or the Church today. The real Trojan horse is, and always has been, a false view of human sexuality and the God-ordained nature of the family. If these change then, at least according to the Marxist-Freudian, so will our belief in God.

But, Marxism and Freudianism are not true.11 I am making a broad statement about the overall views. Obviously there can be truths found in almost any system of thought, especially ones that have been as impactful as these.Thus, they are not the real culprit behind the construction of this Trojan horse. The real culprit is the age-old enemy of Christ, the enemy that Christ saw fall from heaven like a blitz of lightning. The “isms” of history are merely his means to attack what has been given to man by God, and to twist and turn God’s designs for his purposes and our destruction. In the beginning God did not bother to tell us that He made us “black and white.” But, He did say He made us “male and female.” To deconstruct the family then, as John Paul II pointed out, is to go against the plan of God. It is to be unfaithful to His will. It is to reject His gift to us. As such, we should be careful about embracing any theory or its accompanying social movement that would inculcate in us the notion that it might be okay to mess with the God-given structure of family. Even a charitable reading of the BLM statement (again, now suspiciously removed from the site), cannot help but notice the glaring absence of any mention of a father as the head of the family or even as a necessary component of it.

Finally, I would suggest, that this just is a way, perhaps the paradigm way, for Satan to introduce new gods into a culture. For it is not the case that groups like BLM are doing away with the idea of family completely, or the idea of god completely. They are just seeking to alter the definition and the constitution of family. Of course, the Devil can never destroy anything completely. Only God has the power over existence and non-existence. But, the Devil can counterfeit, and counterfeit family structures may very well produce counterfeit gods for us to worship.

As the family goes, so goes the nation indeed, and possibly even the Church.

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women…And his wives turned away his heart. For When Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God…

1 Kings 11:1-5

Because of the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce, but it was not so from the beginning.

Matthew 19:8

Our New Redemption: Critical Theory as Theology Without “Theos”

There is one, almost singular, theological and philosophical problem that has haunted Western civilization since the rise of modern skepticism in the mid-17th century, i.e. since Descarte. It is a theoretical problem that has launched a thousand ships of philosophical speculation, all floundering on the open seas of human inquiry, and subject to the acidity of the rational mind reasoning about itself.1 Kristen Irwin expounds on the view of the early, modern philosopher Pierre Bayle, who questioned the reliability of reason, “The sense in which Bayle is a skeptic is not entirely straightforward, but what is clear is that Bayle exhibits a profound suspicion of reason’s ability to deliver certain knowledge. In Bayle’s view, reason seems to be useful in enabling us to draw conclusions about the world, but it runs into so many contradictions and yields so many paradoxes that it ultimately undermines itself, and thus cannot be trusted. Thus, Bayle’s skepticism is, minimally, skepticism about the reliability of reason.” in https://iep.utm.edu/bayle/#:~:text=The%20sense%20in%20which%20Bayle%20is%20a%20skeptic,ultimately%20undermines%20itself%2C%20and%20thus%20cannot%20be%20trusted. But, it is a theoretical problem that plays out in the everyday life of every man, woman and child; a theoretical problem that cannot be easily ignored (as Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorems perhaps can be). That problem is how to think, speak, and act morally apart from any metaphysical grounds for moral values or moral duties. This problem, at first considered soluble if baptized in the waters of pure reason, a reason unadulterated by claims of divine revelation and church authority, quickly became an unassailable fortress against which no weapon formed by human heads seemed able to prevail. The Enlightenment, many now claim, failed to illuminate the issue of human morality, making it only more obscure to us than it was under the transcendent light of its predecessor, the Queen of the Sciences: Theology.

The existential void the Enlightenment left behind in western culture, in virtue of seeking after a universally applicable moral system grounded in reason alone, provided the seedbed for the emergence of a new kind of philosophy: Critical Theory. Early Critical Theory2 I am thinking here of Marx and The Frankfurt School in particular, along with all of its subsequent, social scientific subsets, e.g. Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, etc., sought, and still seeks, to construct morality apart from anything ontological other than the human subject herself, and apart from any phenomena other than that of human experience. Critical theory as such is a purely empirical theory, but one where the human reasoner is himself part of the empirical data subject to social and historical analysis.

Where the enlightened modernists failed to successfully replace religious morality with Reason (capital “R”), the post-modern critical theorist now took up the mantel of moral progress. This new, critical philosophy consisted of Marx and his successors on the one hand, e.g. the cultural Marxists: Gramsci, Adorno, Marcuse, et al., and Nietzsche on the other (few have been willing to embrace Nietzsche as an ethicist worth emulating, but perhaps someone like Ayn Rand might fit the bill). Abandoning the first principles of metaphysics, and the classical theories of knowledge, the question of ethics was now placed squarely in the realm of the human will by both parties; either with the emphasis on its communal (Marx), or its individual (Nietzsche) forms.

However, while the moral axiom: “How now shall we live?” remains the question that motivates us all, at least as a culture, if not as individuals, the answer remains an elusive target. Further, it is a question that motivates us even apart from, and independent of, any religious commitments. For we cannot help but live in a society of peers, and we cannot help but have moral intuitions about our relations to each other, and to the environment in which we live, and move, and have our being. And, even if one were banished and isolated to the proverbial deserted island, moral questions about how to treat oneself would still be with us even there.

“How now shall we live?” seems, therefore, to be a question that cannot be answered with any kind of unifying consensus if there is no agreement about our religious commitments, and even if there is agreement in our total rejection of any religious commitments whatsoever. With our without acknowledgment of God, we seem lost to a never-ending series of speculation about what is “the good” and what is “the good life.” To have unity on moral values and duties we would seem to require a real, extant, and clear moral principle, or Person, to either guide us into the Good, or tell us about it, or even model it for us.

Otherwise, what do we really have to say about morality?

Critical Theory as The New Theology

In his chapter, “To Seek to Salvage an Unconditional Meaning Without God is a Futile Undertaking: Reflections on a Remark of Max Horkheimer” the prodigious, second-wave philosopher of Critical Theory Jürgen Habermas says this about a comment made by his predecessor and founder of the Frankfurt School of Social Research, Max Horkheimer:

“Horkheimer’s interest in the doctrines of Judaism and Christianity was spurred less by a concern with God as such than with the redemptive power of God’s will. The injustice that comes to pass in a suffering creature should not be permitted to have the last word. At times it seems as if Horkheimer wanted to put the religious promise of redemption directly at the service of morality.”3 in Religion and Rationality: Essays on Reason, God, and Modernity, 95

This passage, upon first reading, may seem obscure. However, once understood it can be shown that the idea contained herein, this notion of trying to realize the “redemptive power of God’s will” apart from any interest in God “as such,” is what lies at the heart of much, if not all, of the social justice movements that engulf and inflame our society today. It is the sentiment at the center of organizations like Black Lives Matter, and the fulcrum of initiatives that seek justice and the healing of division, yet attempt to do so without resort to a Divine Nature that grounds the apparently divine will found in traditional, religious texts. This, as we shall see, leads to a dangerous conflation: the confusion of the will of God with that of man; or the elevation of man to God rather than the descent of God to man.

First, however, what is Habermas saying about Horkheimer’s interest in “the doctrines of Judaism and Christianity?” Clearly, the critical philosopher, meaning Horkheimer, is presupposing “the death of God” as pronounced by Nietzsche, and assumed by Marx, as the inevitable consequence of the Enlightenment project of rationalization about religious belief. Thus, for all critical theorists, like Horkheimer or Habermas after him, that God is dead, meaning He never existed, is the starting point for any social theorizing, and any attempt to answer our question “How now shall we live?” Atheism is true, and we must simply get on with it.

Second, however, is the realization that we cannot seem to simply “get on with it!” The idea that the injustice that accompanies the suffering of sentient creatures, i.e. ourselves, animals, can be treated in a sterile, scientistic manner as mere “natural fact,” is simply unpalatable to the socially conscious, existentially sensitive human agent. How can we look at the long history of human and animal suffering, in all it horror, and say “well, that is just what molecules in motion do, and there is nothing more to say.” Certainly, there must be not only more to say, but also more to do! There must be a morality that gives us some meaningful context for that suffering, and that spurs us to some kind of ethical action. Stoic resignation is not an option for the critical theorist who seeks liberation from the oppression of such a woeful existence. In this sense, moral action becomes imperative for the critical theorist. For all critical theories, liberation from existential oppression is the focal point of all human thought and action.4 James Bohman writes in the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosohpy entry on Critical Theory, “In both the broad and the narrow senses, however, a critical theory provides the descriptive and normative bases for social inquiry aimed at decreasing domination and increasing freedom in all their forms.

However, as we have alluded to above, morality according to the post-modern critical theorists cannot really be considered an object of the intellect, i.e. as something capable of being grasped or discovered by the natural light of reason. After all, if God is dead, then there is no ultimate truth about morality to grasp, nor universal standard to be discovered. No abstract reasoning about abstract “truths,” no further scientific investigations of natural processes, and no theological commentary about supposed special revelations from above, e.g. the Bible, will give us any real moral content. For, where there is no moral law Giver, there really is no moral law.

In light of this “reality,” the novel proposal to the problem of dealing with moral sensibilities about perceived injustices, arises out of being pressed in between a modern rock, which says there are only natural facts about the world, no moral ones, and a post-modern hard place, which cries out that we need morality to live and to thrive as sentient and feeling creatures. The proposal of Horkheimer then, and several others, was to assume the moral content of Christianity, and his native Judaism, as descriptively true, yet without assuming its God as real. Horkheimer does not consider the moral content to be true in the sense of referring to an ultimate, non-physical reality (which would make it an object of the intellect to be grasped), rather he asserts it, morality, as being useful to us for the sake of functioning well (imposing function being an object of the will).

Third, then, is assuming the particular Judeo-Christian content of morality, in spite of rejecting the metaphysics of biblical and theological claims. What then for Horkheimer (the ethnic Jew) is central to biblical morality?— it is the “religious promise of redemption.” Redemption, even a redemption without a Redeemer, is still the only hope for modern man to get on with modern life. Habermas details this aspect of Horkheimer’s thinking,

“Once the rationality of the remorse experienced by a religiously tutored conscience is rejected by a secularizing world, its place is taken by the moral sentiment of compassion. When Horkheimer expressly defines the good tautologically as the attempt to abolish evil, he has in view a solidarity with the suffering of vulnerable and forsaken creatures provoked by outrage against concrete injustices.” (Habermas, 96)

In other words: even when we realize that religion is metaphysically false (and feel remorse because of it), we nevertheless recognize that our moral intuitions have been “tutored” by thousands of years of religious practice. And, even more, we still sense that those religious sentiments (even if they be only that, sentiments) are somehow correct, and worth defending. So, we feel compassionate in spite of the stark reality of a brute, naturalistic universe, a universe that is indifferent to us, and therefore are still moved to fight “evil” when we “see” it in the form of concrete injustices (knowing full well that there is no such thing as justice against which we can actually measure our feelings about the perceived injustice). Our outrage is stoked when we perceive these apparent imbalances in society, and our compassion demands we respond accordingly. Habermas goes on to tell us more about Horkheimer’s plundering of this particularly Christian moral content:

“The reconciling power of compassion does not stand in opposition to the galvanizing power of rebellion against a world devoid of atonement and reparation for injustice. Solidarity and justice are two sides of the same coin; hence, the ethics of compassion does not dispute the legitimacy of the morality of justice but merely frees it form the rigidity of the ethics of conscience.” (Habermas, 96)

But, now we come to the heart of the moral matter, if indeed God is not that heart. Having jettisoned religious belief as true but still finding that we have a conscience that has been trained in and molded by religious content, in particular that of Judeo-Christianity and the Bible, we are now told by the critical theorist that in a world where there is no “real” atonement and reparation for injustice, because there is no real God to do the atoning and repairing, our own “reconciling power of compassion” must be the vehicle by which “concrete injustices” are rectified. After all, if we are not going to be the ones to do the redeeming, then the redemption will not, cannot, come. Moreover, this immanent, and human-centered power of compassion, is not opposed to the “galvanizing power of rebellion,” but rather embraces it.5 one might think here of Saul Alinsky’s dedication in his classic work Rules for Radicals, where the author commends Lucifer for his rebellion, a rebellion that won him his own kingdom. In other words, if there is no God to atone for us, yet atonement is still necessary for us to live morally and to have an “unconditional” meaning that contextualizes our suffering, then in a world where there are concrete instances of things we perceive as unjust, and that “must” be made right for us to experience atonement, rebellion becomes a morally acceptable vehicle of redemption.

Compassion and rebellion are the new moral dynamo generating the new, moral society. This begins to look very familiar to what we see currently on our television screens and YouTube videos, where cries for justice and compassion are inevitably accompanied by acts of rebellion and revolutionary fervor. This is the politicizing of religiosity, the messianism of our times.6 Few journalist have done a better job of identifying and explaining the new religion of Social Justice than Andrew Sullivan, see here https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/p/the-roots-of-wokeness


But here is where those who identify themselves with “Christ” face the stark choice: We must decide whether the critical theorist is right in saying that religious belief itself is a mere product of man’s own making, and that its truth claims (like all others) are historically situated and thus unfixed from anything transhistorical, transfinite, or culturally transcendent. For if this is the case, then the redemption we need may tell us something about ourselves, our current “society,” but tells us nothing about anything beyond ourselves, or this latest version of ourselves. If Horkheimer is right, then Critical [social] theory is the new theology, in that it calls us to a form of moral life, even one replete with corporate atonement and communal redemption; however, it is a theology without a theos, or, at least, without a divine theos. It is religion “from below,” an earth without a heaven:

[Social theory] has superseded theology but has no new heaven to which it can point, not even a mundane one. Of course, social theory cannot completely efface [heaven’s] traces and hence is repeatedly questioned about how it is to be attained–as though it were not precisely the discovery of social [critical] theory that the heaven to which one can point the way is no heaven.” (Habermas, 98)

For in a world that is itself the sum of all reality, the new religion of social theory, with its hope for an immanent, social justice, the new heaven just is that culture which will result (perhaps for us, most likely for our children or grandchildren) if we were only to act now! What that new culture will be like, of course, is not something we can really say much about. You have to arrive in the “undiscovered country” before you can know what it will be like.

Alternatively to this New Theology, we can choose to believe that there is a something beyond ourselves, even a Someone, whose eternal life and transcendent nature is reflected in that which He has created. Further we can come to believe that our need for redemption tells us as much about the eternal Creator as it does of His temporal creatures. Instead of listening to the words of the critical theorist, we listen instead to the words of the critical realist, who says:

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20)

Either those things that are called moral evils are, as the critical theorist says, the product of human construction, and, consequently, the redemption that they demand also the product of human construction; or, they are, as the Apostle Paul says, the product of human rebellion against ultimate reality, and, consequently, redeemable only through the reconstructive action of the author of that reality. In ontological terms, redemption is either a bottom-up struggle performed by purely accidental creatures, and which has included in it the creation of culturally relative theological concepts and religious practices that aid us in our survival; or it is a top-down event, one enacted by a necessary Creator who has given us reason that allows us to form ideas, concepts, and language to describe that which is ultimately and actually real.

Whichever we decide will make a world of difference in what happens “down here” and in our daily lives. For on the former view the only authority against which we rise up is that of men and women just like ourselves, yet who merely constructed morality in a different fashion than we do today, a dynamic which implies an endless process of doing the same deconstruction and reconstruction with every generation of human society. On the latter view, however, the authority we are rebelling against is not like us, because He is not us, and we are not Him. Moreover, in virtue of not being like us, He (or It) may have an actual answer to our moral problem, so long as we can have access to Him (or It). And, if we have access to Him, we may be able to change who we are, and if we can be changed, then so can our moral behavior. And, if our moral behavior can change, so to the society in which we live.

Conflating the Divine Will With Human Will: Black Lives Matter And the Doctrine of “Heal Thyself”

In paragraph four of their statement about “What We Believe,” the most powerful and dominant social justice movement of our time: Black Lives Matter, claims the following: “Every day, we recommit to healing ourselves and each other, and to co-creating alongside comrades, allies, and family a culture where each person feels seen, heard, and supported.”7 (https://blacklivesmatter.com/what-we-believe/) This doctrine of “self-healing” or “heal thyself” is fundamentally related to the above exposition of the early critical theorist, Max Horkheimer’s, notion of a theology without God. Upon further reading of the Black Lives Matter doctrinal statement, one will quickly discern that the moral and religious impulse is still there: human dignity is presupposed, redemption is what matters, and liberation is the key. The only problem is that we are the only agents of atonement (and, oh is there a process for how to atone!), as well as the only standard by which we name what is good “good”, and distinguish it from what is “evil.” Again, the determining factor of moral judgments no longer being the intellect seeking knowledge, but the will exercising power. Human power becomes the sole vehicle for societal change, because the human will is the sole determiner of moral “truth.”

In his short work Marxism and Christianity, former Marxist now Roman Catholic philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre says this about the role of religion in the life of the individual agent:

“But religion is only able to have this latter transforming function because and insofar as it enables individuals to identify and to understand themselves independently of their position in the existing social structure. It is in the contrast between what society tells a man he is and what religion tells him he is that he is able to find grounds both for criticizing the status quo and for believing that it is possible for him to act with others in changing it.”

MacIntyre. Marxism and Christianity. Apple Books, 13.

MacIntyre wrote this in 1968, many years before his conversion to Catholicism. This is why the astute observer will take note of MacIntyre’s fundamental metaphysical flaw when he says “it is in the contrast between what society tells a man he is and what religion tells him he is.” At that time, MacIntyre, like so many social justice theorists and social justice activists of today, confused the dictates of religion with the reality of God. Still a metaphysical naturalist, religion for MacIntrye was, as it remained for Horkheimer, merely a set of descriptive, yet non-referring claims—a set of sociological constructs, not universal moral truths revealed by a divine will. At some point for MacIntyre that understanding of religion ended, and his attention, unlike Horkheimer, turned to God “as such.”

To turn to God “as such” is to recognize the reality of the Divine Nature, and come to understand the words of the Bible and the content of the Christian faith no longer as just highly compelling products of human sentiment, but as divinely revealed fixtures of an intricately designed cosmos. A cosmos replete with essences and natural kinds, with ontological realities that can be examined by reason, be experienced with the affections, and by which we can gauge our moral attitudes, harness the best of our moral intuitions, and help guide our moral actions.

To not see this objective, mind-independent, fabric of the universe; a fabric not woven by human brains, but by a divine Mind, is ultimately to conflate God’s will with our own. For to look at the Bible and think of it as merely a human book, as Horkheimer did, even if a book worthy of plundering for the cause of moral action and the execution of justice, is to conflate the human will with the divine. It is to grant divinity to ourselves, and to elevate our own goodness as we conveniently ignore all the evil that we have done, and will continue to do. It is to try and do Christianity without Christ. It is to “heal ourselves.”

For many Social Justice theorists and activists today, society is all there is, and it does “tell a man what he is,” or perhaps “what it is.” For them to change society is for them to change man. But for the Christian this is not so, nor is it, as the younger MacIntyre erroneously claimed, religion that tells a man what he is. It is God who tells us who we are, and that divine speech act of identity, that communication from above, can be found both in the careful observation of His creation, and in the direct revelation of His Word.

That is the Old Theology. Theology with theos.