Critical Theory, Social Justice, and the Attempt to Disfigure the “Transfiguration”

A major problem between the social justice movement and Christianity can be found in early Critical Theory.

Max Horkheimer (head of the Frankfort School in the 1930’s and pioneering figure of Critical Theory) found in German idealism an “inherently bourgeois philosophy,” containing elements that posed serious threats to the progress of social justice. For Horkheimer, idealism thrives on what he called “transfiguration” thinking. In a nutshell, the category of transfiguration worked as a catchall for any notion of justice that requires a supernatural sphere for ultimate justice to work itself out.

Critical Theory scholar, Fred Rush, writes: “transfiguration severely compromises the potential for social justice, since transfiguring theories allow that the ultimate relief from suffering is achieved only outside contexts in which human action can be effective. False optimism in a ‘world beyond,’ in which reward and rectification is possible, promotes tolerance of suffering and quietism concerning human redress for injustice and deprivation.”

Here one gets a good sense for the sort of thinking that leads many SJWs to demand both behavioral compliance and thought compliance. If someone harbors a “false optimism in a world beyond” then he is guilty of promoting tolerance for suffering, injustice, and deprivation. According to this mentality it is a straight shot of deduction that Christianity possesses perhaps the greatest treasury of this “false optimism.”

Just take a few obvious examples: Christ taught us to “turn the other cheek,” to give a double portion to the one who would steal from us, to pray for those who wrong us, to let God be the avenger. This is not a religion compatible with this particular canon of social justice.

Of course, intolerance for transfiguration theories was not a 1930’s invention. Before Horkheimer, Karl Marx had a similar complaint, and before him the radicals of the French Revolution. All three are exemplars of the type of anti-religious thought which has trickled down to social justice doctrine of today.

What many SJWs are either unaware of or simply do not like to contemplate is that standing for equality and justice are quintessentially Christian ideas (notions such as, all people are equal before God, and, God shows no partiality, were unheard of in the ancient world prior to Christianity). However, the idea that suffering and injustice can be eliminated from the world is patently ridiculous. To rid the world of injustice is to rid the world of people.

The reality of fallen humanity, the reality of sin in the world, the reality that each person at birth begins their process of moral development from scratch are foundational truths of the great Judeo-Christian tradition. Any ideology wanting to right humanity’s wrongs which does not take seriously the fall of humanity is left with a situation in which even the wins produce ever more complex and profound problems.

What the social justice movement is attempting to fight without realizing it is the existence of evil (they seem to think they are fighting mere socially constructed biases that can be eliminated through reeducation, or violence if needed). An earnest desire to tackle the issue of evil—not merely human failing, but evil—in a world believed to be essentially good requires a theodicy. But the SJW is not interested in theodicy; he wants revolution; he wants justice right now. He recognizes that the world is essentially good and worth fighting for, but without trust in a good God he is left to his own resources to recreate the foggy idea of paradise left over, no doubt, from that primordial Eden imprinted on his soul. Without fail he turns himself into a little god attempting to meet out justice according to his deeply-felt, auto-generated, moral superiority. What else does he have?

(A psychology forced to reconcile irreconcilable injustices is a psychology doomed to the worst of states: depression, nihilism, anxiety, rage, etc. Without trust in a higher order and a higher justice, there are few fitting sublimations—revenge being top of the list.)

It is interesting that the very way forward is contained in the very word Horkheimer uses to try and discredit it—that is, Christ. Christ presents the truest form of justice in that He redeemed humanity to God. There is no greater justice, and in fact, God’s love transcends justice in bringing us to God (none of us actually deserve redemption). The transfiguration is the very demonstration of this, that this world and the next are intimately connected, and that the dream of perfection sought in this life is fulfilled in heaven.

It is also interesting that Horkheimer would choose the word “transfiguration” to begin with. Of all possible words to express his concept, he chooses this one. Was it an intentional attempt to make ugly such a beautiful word, to criminalize such an innocent word, to make foolish such a profound word? I believe it was. Another goal of the Frankfort School was to “desacralize” the world, and this seems to me an obvious attempt to desacralize Christ. But that is for another article.

6 thoughts on “Critical Theory, Social Justice, and the Attempt to Disfigure the “Transfiguration”

  1. Yes, western leftism is a Christ-less hollow reflection of Christianity, as Chinese leftism is a Tao-less hollow reflection of Taoism. Both western and eastern leftism are materialistic socialist copies of the great spiritualities of Christianity and Taoism. Western leftism reflects and perverts the teachings of right and wrong and the respective good and evil of Judeo-Christianity, and eastern leftism reflects and perverts the teachings of harmony and disharmony and the respective good and evil of Toaism.

  2. Whenever a good idea, method, or tool, is presented to a class, group, community, or the world, those in the of evil heart will learn how to wield the idea, method, or tool, for their own selfish evil ends. This happens immediately or gradually over time, depending on the size of the idea and the size of the group. The idea will eventually polarise among the group into its good and evil uses, in those of good and evil hearts. This natural process is no secret; it is self-evident and easily observed by any observant teacher of potent ideas, skills and crafts. And Christ was a teacher who knew his teachings would follow natural process.

    Christendom has taken 2000 years, the forecasted time, since Christ and his disciples taught, and the anti-Christs took up the teaching too and so they came into the world with the disciples but were not of them, and over the first 1000 years Satan was dormant or imprisoned while the Christian teaching settled in across the kingdom, and then the wider polarisation of the teaching started to emerge, and so Satan was released. Individual hearts, institutions and nations started to divide into left and right, gradually further polarising over the next 1000 years, until at last Christendom has polarised into the SJWs verses Christ, the goats and sheep on the left and right hand side of Christ that we have today. It was all to be expected.

  3. Coincidentally, this evening I was driving home from work along the highway behind a car with the numberplate SJW, which amused me slightly. SJW was sitting behind a B-triple (a prime mover with three articulated trailers) and although the heavy vehicle was moving along at a reasonable speed, SJW was exhibiting impatience, hovering at the heavy vehicle’s rear corner and peeking past, hoping for an opportunity to overtake. There were plenty of oncoming heavy vehicles though, so the opportunity to overtake did not come until we came to an overtaking lane, at which SJW immediately indicated and took the opportunity to overtake the long and heavy vehicle. Out of curiosity and a mild sense of fun, I decided to follow SJW and also overtake the heavy vehicle too. I think SJW had no idea she was overtaking a triple trailered prime mover. SJW pulled in front of the heavy vehicle and I did too. Then SJW slowed down to her (naturally I guessed SJW was probably female) original speed about 100 yards ahead of the prime mover. I was not comfortable being only that far ahead of such a heavy fastmoving vehicle. I could not get further ahead by overtaking SJW because of oncoming traffic. SJW clearly had no idea of the inability of such a long and heavy vehicle to stop quickly, and also no idea of the elevation of stress she would have caused the truck driver. I was relieved to see in the rear-view mirror the prime mover dropping back to create more distance between us. I soon came to my turnoff and drove home.

  4. Eric, I agree with much of what you’ve said. Liberation Theology, Social Gospel, and now the Social Justice Gospel hold a low view of Scripture and focus on human works.

    I recently started a series based on Dr. Jim Denison’s chapel sermon addressing what he calls the coming cultural tsunami. I reviewed his sermon and decided that I would engage a little deeper with the four unseen “earthquakes” that triggered the tsunami: 1) Denial of objective truth 2) Denial of biblical morality 3) Christians as oppressors 4) Replacement ideology

    You may find it interesting.

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