Most conservatives, myself included, view Critical Race Theory (CRT) as a vapid, dangerous ideology rather than a true “theory.” We are not mistaken.
Take, for example, one of CRT’s high holy men, Ibram X. Kendi, who writes, “To be an antiracist is to set lucid definitions of racism/antiracism, racist/antiracist policies, racist/anti-racist ideas, racist/antiracist people.”
Very well. And what is Ibram X’s “lucid” definition? In his words, “Racism is a marriage of racist policies and racist ideas that produces and normalizes racial inequities.”
Far from being lucid, this definition is literally meaningless because the term being defined is used for the definition. In practice, Kendi’s actual definition of racism is “anything I darn well say it is.”
Naturally, anyone who doesn’t agree is automatically racist.
So why is this incoherent scold being ushered in to speak at all our elite institutions for $25K a pop?
Because Kendi isn’t selling a theory, he’s selling “justice.” And people are desperate for it.
In his profound work The Last Things, Romano Guardini wrote,
“Man’s most intimate desire, whether he acknowledges it or not, is that finally light should be thrown on so much obscurity and ambiguity… We long that justice be done for its own sake, as regards ourselves personally, and as regards everyone else, and the world as a whole.”
This observation strikes me as an apt way of understanding the fervor with which so many of our fellow Americans are rushing to embrace Critical Race Theory.
The great lure of CRT is not that it purports to solve all our present injustices. It actually promises much more. It promises to correct every injustice that has been or ever could be. Most conservatives are content (and pleasantly surprised) to get your average here’s-the-five-bucks-I-owe-you justice. But CRT’s faithful on the left are looking for more. They want that final and ultimate justice hitherto reserved for Armageddon and Kingdom Come.
Kendi is widely quoted and rightly derided for saying, “The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”
On the right, we see this as a disastrous recipe for an endless vicious cycle. But look deeper. This resonates with people because they see it as a way to reach back into history and finally put things back — not only the way they should be, but the way they always should have been.
We know that history is littered with injustice. We know slaveholders died peacefully in their beds while their slaves perished under the lash. We know selfish people born to wealth enjoyed things they never earned while others suffered want no matter how hard they worked.
Deep down, we don’t want that to be the case. We want the afflicted to have “every tear wiped from their eye” and their persecutors to be punished. We want every just deed and every sin accounted for. We want the sheep placed on the right and the goats on the left.
As Christians, we believe that someday God will bring this about. As Guardini writes,
“To pierce with His glance the width of the whole world and the course of thousands of years, the life of each man and of each nation and community, to judge and affix to each the meaning it bears eternally, is God’s act of doom.”
For as much as this idea can terrify us, something in us cries out, “Yes, Lord! Let it be done, for you make all things new.”
The main tone of Christianity today tends towards mercy. That’s clearly an important Christian virtue, but it has gotten to the point that we can feel the desire for justice is somehow un-Christian.
It’s not. Jesus Christ was clear that judgment is coming, not just as a divine tut-tut, but on the clouds of heaven with power and wrath. He was also clear that final justice belongs to Him and Him alone. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19).
It may be that the consequence of downplaying judgment in Christianity is that the vengeance which Christianity foretells (and tempers) has now been taken up by less savory standard bearers.
Mr. X. Kendi and the other prophets of CRT promise that they can deliver final justice. They claim their glance can pierce “the width of the whole world and the course of thousands of years” and, if we only pay $25K and do whatever they tell us, then we will enter the kingdom of perfect justice and all will, at last, be well.
CRT thinks it can accomplish this because it has found the long-awaited key: equity. CRT’s bedrock principle is that any observable disparity of outcome is rooted in a racial injustice. Therefore, mandating equal outcomes will correct the original injustice and restore the balance which would have existed in a perfect world.
This is bad math and worse policy. While it rests on any number of false premises, I think the most fundamental is this: that we as humans are capable of fully grasping all the complexities of the individual moral choices of billions of people throughout space and time and filtering them through a single variable (group identity) to produce the solution for all injustice.
On the contrary, it must sadly be admitted that while the desire for final justice rests in every human heart, the capacity to achieve it is beyond human means.
This is a hard saying. It means we must wait for a higher power to grant us justice or despair of it entirely. That power is not Ibram X. Kendi or any of his acolytes. But it makes sense that many people, grown tired of waiting for God, have turned instead to Ibram X.
We think we are so different from the ancients whose wrongs we want to right, but as it was then so it is now. Moses is delayed upon the mountain, and the golden calf is ready here below.
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.