CMDA's The Point

Was Jesus a Proponent of Critical Theory?

August 24, 2020
08242020POINTBLOG

by Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics)

With recent discussions about allocation of scarce resources with the COVID-19 pandemic, concern has been raised about ensuring justice across all ethnic and political lines in caring for our patients. If allocation is determined based on anticipated quality life years based on treatment, then an inherent bias is baked in against the elderly. If likelihood of good outcome is a major criterion, then patients with higher levels of pre-existing disease will lose out. An example of this would be that among certain ethnic/racial populations there is at baseline a higher proportion of people with underlying heart, lung, metabolic or environmental disease. The African American population, in general, has a lower life expectancy, based on these factors, so if one weighs the allocation models to provide support for healthier patients, they will disadvantage people of color in distribution of ventilators, ICU beds and hospital admissions. Similar claims are made regarding people from other minority groups based on religion, gender, socio-economic class, educational attainment, etc.

In this setting, particularly when there is a great deal of class and racial unrest in this country, some have proposed that to offset this potential maldistribution, and in light of historical poor treatment and medical outcomes for minority populations, we should now tip the scales in the opposite direction to rectify these current and past wrongs. A key factor in this new approach and formulation is that of defining people based primarily on their ethnicity, gender or lifestyle. In a nutshell, this is an important element of Critical Theory (CT), which intends to correct these problems by defining people based on their component characteristics, and then by giving those with less “privileged” positions greater consideration and moral authority to address these discrepancies.

CT has become so pervasive in American progressive thought that many tacitly accept its tenets without realizing what CT really represents or where it comes from. Its roots are primarily in Marxism, and it states:

  • Human beings are solely material beings (Marxist materialism.) Negating the spiritual, CT denies God’s existence (as do most Marxists), the complex nature of humans as both spiritual and physical beings and the inherent equality and worth of every human life.
  • CT denies the uniqueness of individuals and classifies everyone by the identity groups of which they have characteristics: race, sexual orientation, gender identity, political beliefs, wealth, ethnicity and education, among others. Thus, no one is unique; instead, the groups that characterize us are what defines us.
  • Based on these identity groups, CT places all persons into one of two categories—oppressed or oppressors. Marx categorized all persons as members of the proletariat or the bourgeoisie.
  • CT classifies everyone, based on their group identities and labels the fact that many of us fall into several of these categories as intersectionality.
  • Based on our intersectionality “quotient,” if you will, one has more or less moral authority. An educated, wealthy, straight, white male has no authority to speak to any societal issue—by definition he is always a racist oppressor, regardless of any of his unique personal characteristics. He is wrong, by definition, and the only action he can take to attain moral authority is to admit this and surrender to the wisdom of the oppressed.
  • CT states that, by definition, all whites are racist (see White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo) and all white men are misogynist racists.
  • When an authority (teacher, police officer, work supervisor, president) with high oppressor intersectionality corrects, instructs or redirects someone with high-oppressed identity, this is an act of oppression. Violent or immoral actions by oppressed persons are excusable, in light of the perpetrators’ oppressed status.

Some have gone so far as to state that since Jesus was a liberator, and came to save the oppressed, Christians should subscribe to CT if they love others, as Jesus did, and wish to follow His example.

When I was 17 years old, Mr. Boyce, my high school history teacher, taught us something that once learned seems so obvious that one immediately asks, “Why didn’t I realize this before?” The truth he taught us was, “The worst lie always contains an element of truth. The truly blatant deceit is much easier to spot and dismiss as falsehood.”

We should not and cannot reinvent the wheel. We should do our research before arriving at conclusions. In this regard, I found two sources on CT that I thought were extremely helpful. They both are more articulate and succinct than anything I could put together, and if you stop reading this essay right now and view them instead, I will have succeeded in my attempt to shed some light on an important, if controversial, topic.

John Stonestreet with the Colson Center writes a blog each weekday on pressing social issues, particularly as they interface with Christian practice and doctrine. If you do not already subscribe to Breakpoint, I would highly recommend you sign up for this free blog. Stonestreet also runs the Colson Fellow program and offers frequent free online courses with outstanding speakers. (You can sign up for his blog at https://breakpoint.org/)

Another helpful site is What Would You Say? It takes on one social issue per episode in a pithy five to seven-minute YouTube video. While the writers touch on numerous topics, I found their pieces on (CT), Marxism and socialism very helpful as I consider life in America today and my role as a Christian physician. These two sources supply much of the information for what I say today. It is my summary, based on their works, but any errors in this analysis are mine, not theirs.

Scripture tells us:

  • This is not just a material universe. There is a God, and we will all answer to Him someday.
  • Oppression of others is a bad thing, and we should condemn it.
  • Oppression is not the only moral wrong, however, and we should condemn violence, sexism, racism, lust, arrogance, envy, slander, gossip, sloth, murder and many other behaviors in ourselves and in society in general.
  • We are all sinners, and we all fall short of God’s glorious plans for us. God sent Jesus into the world to save us from our sins and to change us from the inside out into new creatures.
  • We ourselves only escape our immoral tendencies by the redeeming love of Christ and His presence and continuous work through the Holy Spirit in us.
  • We are each unique, God-made creations with many unique characteristics. Our only moral worth is that endowed in each of us by our Creator, and no person has more inherent worth than anyone else does—oppressed, oppressor, native, immigrant, rich or poor.
  • We should love everyone, and we should treat every individual with respect, regardless of any physical, emotional or spiritual qualities he or she has.
  • As Christian healthcare professionals, we should advocate for all our patients, and we should not pick and choose based on any external characteristics.

Some people suggest that since Jesus loved oppressed people, he supported the concepts of CT. There is a little truth in this, but much that is untrue; as we see above, we should love as Jesus loved, but CT has many flaws and does not represent a scriptural worldview or Christ’s message to the world.

As we seek to serve Jesus, and to care for His creation, we should love all the people He has created, and not privilege any subgroup based on CT or any other passing ideology, but based on the fact that He loved us first and gave us two great commands: 1) to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; and 2) to love our neighbor (in the broadest context—across all lines that may separate us from each other) as ourselves. As Christian healthcare professionals, we should strive systemically and personally to ensure just care for all.

Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics)

About Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics)

Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics), MSHA, FAAN, CPE, is a board certified neurologist, with additional training and experience in palliative medicine, executive coaching and medical leadership. He currently serves at Carle Foundation Hospital, in Urbana, Illinois, as an attending neurologist, Medical Director for Talent Development and Learning and (Past Chair—14 years) of the Carle Ethics Committee. He is a clinical associate professor of medicine (neurology) at University of Illinois College of Medicine, Urbana-Champaign and Carle Illinois College of Medicine, and he is a member of the CMDA Ethics Committee.

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