If you are at all like me, you may have come to the realization a few years ago that the world appears to be changing in alarming ways. The thing that really drove it home for me was the time in 2015 that a friend argued that any boy who said he was a girl was really a girl.
This friend is very well-intentioned, so I sincerely tried to understand his position.
“Wait, you are saying that any boy who thinks he is a girl really is a girl?” I said.
His answer: “Yes.”
“Well, what about the biological differences between girls and boys?”
“Biology is not as important as the reality that the person feels that he is a girl trapped in a boy’s body.”
“I agree that we should treat these people with love and compassion, but this does not mean that we must deny basic biology.”
“Biology is not as important as the perceptions and lived experiences of these people. If you have real compassion, the only thing you would care about is how they experience life, and you would have charity for their reality.”
To be frank, I was flabbergasted. “Their reality.” Not “reality,” as in things that are real and not real, such as biology. The implication was that there was no objective reality — just feelings and emotions and desires, which are completely subjective and personal. And this friend of mine was arguing that these personal feelings were more important than objective reality.
I said to my friend: “I am not sure you understand the end point of your argument. What you are saying is not just that a boy can say he is a girl. Your argument also means that a boy can say he is a chair or a dog or a horse *as long as he perceives reality that way.*”
My friend would not concede that point — he insisted that we were only talking about gender issues. But I warned him at that time that if society adopted his viewpoint there would be a whole list of repercussions, everything from fights over bathrooms to the end of girls sports. And, today we already witnessing the destruction of girls sports right in front of our eyes.
But that discussion seems harmless and quaint compared to the insanity around us in 2020.
Today we are witnessing the claim that math is racist. We are seeing academics literally arguing that 2+2 does not equal 4. We are seeing daily calls to defund the police, an insane plea that is quite different than arguing that the police should be reformed. And while the calls for defunding continue, the murder rate is skyrocketing after many years of decline.
We are witnessing “mostly peaceful protests” that result in nightly violence in many cities, while politicians claim the obvious unrest (which anybody can watch on Youtube) is a “myth.” Latter-day Saints were shocked to see protesters shoot and injure a man in a car in downtown Provo just a few weeks ago. In Denver, left-wing thugs beat up peaceful pro-police protesters while police stood by and did nothing, on orders from local authories.
I think we can all decry the police actions against George Floyd in Minneapolis that supposedly started the riots. (Yes, I am aware of the new videos and the evidence that George Floyd may have died from a drug overdose. This is still no excuse for the police holding him down and putting a knee on his neck for eight minutes). I think most people would agree that there is a need to discuss police reforms. But it is difficult not to see that this is no longer about reform — it is about revolution.
Many of the violent protesters hate the United States. Their beef is not simply about violent police tactics — it is about overthrowing the existing system and replacing it with…..what exactly?
And now we get to the connection between the transgender issue and the protests. They are all part of the same ideology, an ideology that has become increasingly mainstream. This ideology has several names, such as “cultural Marxism,” “critical theory” and “postmodernism,” or more precisely “Critical Social Justice Theory.”
These ideologies reject Western civilization and the enlightenment — the forces that most people have agreed, until now, caused widespread prosperity and peace in most of the world. Where most of us see a relatively advanced and happy world, the leftist ideologues see nothing but capitalist oppression, sexual oppression and racial oppression. The modern-day proponents of critical theory believe that nearly everything about modern society is evil. They have created a counter-narrative where history is all about which groups dominated and killed which other groups, and of course white people were the primary oppressors and therefore are responsible for all the evil in today’s society. In this counter-narrative, the most important determinant of truth is not logic, reason and objective reality, but instead the stories and narratives of the oppressed groups. This is why the objective reality of “biology” is much less important to these people than the narrative of feelings and emotions.
This leftist narrative says that even the rules of science, mathematics and logic are oppressive because they were invented by and promoted by white people. They believe that our current system, with courts, and legislatures and government offices, is completely opposed to the oppressed in society and always will be unless there is radical change. The proponents of Critical Society Justice Theory have created an entire ideology with its own ethics and morality. One of the end results of this ideology is that its “woke” proponents refuse to even discuss or debate the rest of us because we are, in essence, part of the oppressive system that must be overthrown.
Now we can begin to understand the nightly violence and riots. These people are not interested in discussing reform — discussion is a waste of time. What matters is power and violence.
From a Latter-day Saint perspective, of course, this woke ideology is the exact opposite of the Gospel. I would highly recommend an excellent article in Meridian magazine explaining these differences. I am going to quote at length:
Informed by critical theory and postmodernism—ideas that developed in academia and then spilled out into society at large—this ideology is in opposition to traditional theory, which uses reason and logic to interpret the world, build on past progress, and address problems. Certainly, the movement fueled by this ideology has led to some positive developments. For example, awareness of certain societal problems has increased. Policies are being examined and new ones implemented.
But is critical social justice ideology actually the one true way? The best way? A small but vocal number of scholars contend that the critical social justice movement is the wrong response and the wrong lens. One might assume that most of the objections are coming from conservative Christians. Interestingly, however, while some influential evangelical Christians are voicing concerns, it seems that the most prominent figures speaking out right now are left-leaning atheists or agnostics—scholars and writers such as James Lindsay, John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes, Helen Pluckrose, Douglas Murray, Bret Weinstein, and others.
I believe that critical social justice ideology—which often operates more like a religious theology—is contrary to Latter-day Saint beliefs in profound ways and therefore should be of particular concern to Latter-day Saints. Some reasons include the following:
It views immutable characteristics such as whiteness as shameful—a type of original sin. In her best-selling book White Fragility, Robin DiAngelo exhorts her white readers to follow her example in striving “to be less white.” She stated in a 2015 radio interview, “Racism comes out of our pores as white people. It’s the way that we are.” In addition to whiteness, characteristics such as being male, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, and so on may render one an oppressor, regardless of his or her actions. By contrast, Latter-day Saint theology explicitly disavows the concept of original sin. As the 2nd Article of Faith states, “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression.” Similarly, Ezekiel 18:20 declares, “The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.”
It promotes group identity over any other identity. Individualism is viewed as part of “white supremacy culture.” Someone with a viewpoint that differs from her or his identity group is viewed as a traitor to her race, gender, class, or other group. Such a person is viewed as having “false consciousness,” or having internalized and identified “with attitudes and ideology of the controlling class,” in the words of critical race theory scholars Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic.
While one’s heritage, culture, and other group identities may rightly be deeply valued and a source of pride, Latter-day Saint theology asserts that one’s identity as a beloved child of heavenly parents is far more important than any other identity. From an early age, Latter-day Saints sing the beloved Primary song “I Am a Child of God.” Latter-day Saint scripture proclaims that “the worth of souls [not groups] is great in the sight of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 18:10). Further, one’s place in God’s kingdom transcends group identity: “He denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile” (2 Ne. 26:33).
The book of 4th Nephi in the Book of Mormon describes a harmonious time when the Nephites and Lamanites lived together in peace because they focused on their common cause as brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than focusing on what divided them: “Neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God” (4 Ne. 1:17).
It asserts that one’s primary focus in life should be to strive for equity. Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist, has written about this life purpose: “We can only strive to be ‘antiracist’ on a daily basis, to continually rededicate ourselves to the lifelong task of overcoming our country’s racist heritage.” While Latter-day Saints value equality (see Alma 16:16), they view it and many other important efforts as part of the larger grand purpose of coming unto Christ and being perfected in Him (see Moro. 10:32).
It opposes agency. As stated above, critical social justice ideology is viewed as the only way to interpret and respond to racial problems. Often there are severe consequences for questioning its tenets. Those who critique it are often assumed to be dismissive of racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination. They may be labeled haters and bigots. In our cancel culture environment, friends and loved ones may choose to end relationships with them. They may be deplatformed on social media, fired from their jobs, or lose their social status.
By contrast, Latter-day Saints believe that agency and self-determination are foundational principles and that no one should be forced to think or act in a particular way. As the Prophet Joseph Smith was reported to have said, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.” In fact, according to Latter-day Saint doctrine, a fundamental reason we are on this earth is to have the opportunity to exercise our agency and learn from our choices. “Ye are free; ye are permitted to act for yourselves” (Hel. 14:30).
It rejects the concept of objective truth.As Özlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo write, “An approach based on critical theory calls into question the idea that ‘objectivity’ is desirable or even possible.” Evolutionary biologist Shay-Akil McLeansaid it this way: “To think there are universal truths perpetuates a particular kind of able bodied white cisgender male logic, a world where everything is measured in comparison to them as the ideal type of human that everyone else aberrates from.”
By contrast, Latter-day Saints recognize absolute truth and the value of rationality. “Truth is reason,” proclaimed Eliza R. Snow in her hymn “O My Father.” Elder David A. Bednar declared, “Absolute truth exists in a world that increasingly disdains and dismisses absolutes” (“Come and See,” Ensign, Oct. 2014). Latter-day Saints believe that God is the author of all truth and that Jesus Christ is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
It rejects authority. “Lived experience” is viewed as the most authoritative source of information, particularly when one is from a group considered to be oppressed due to race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, and so on. As philosophy professor José Medina has written, “There is a cognitive asymmetry between the standpoint of the oppressed and the standpoint of the privileged that gives an advantage to the former over the latter. … The perspectives from the lives of the less powerful can offer a more objective view of the social world.”
Certainly, lived experience is important, and we gain insight, compassion, and valuable information as we listen to others’ experiences. Critical social justice ideology, however, asserts that lived experience trumps both objectivity and authority. Therefore, the prophet, apostles, and even scripture may easily be rejected in favor of one’s personal experience, particularly when one is from a group considered to be oppressed.
It emphasizes themes of power and dominance. Sensoy and DiAngelo write: “In any relationship between groups that define one another (men/women, able-bodied/disabled, young/old, White/Black), the dominant group is the group that is valued more highly.
Dominant groups set the norms by which the minoritized group is judged.” Through this lens, life is viewed as a long struggle between groups seeking power and dominance. By contrast, the essence of the gospel is utterly unconcerned with power in a worldly sense. Jesus Christ, the greatest mortal to walk the earth—in fact, the very Creator of the earth—humbly washed the feet of His disciples, exemplifying the principle of servant-leadership. He declared, “He that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:11).
It promotes division rather than unity. Critical social justice ideology categorizes people into one of two groups: oppressors or the oppressed; victims or the victimized. Proponents of intersectional theory take it a step further by classifying people according to various categories of oppression, including race, gender, age, size, and ability. White people are encouraged to examine every interaction with black people for inevitable signs of racism. As expressed by Carole Schroeder and Robin DiAngelo, “The question is not ‘Did racism take place?’ but rather, ‘In which ways did racism manifest in this specific context?’ ”
This focus on differences inevitably prevents us from finding common ground in our relationships with others.Seeking to unite rather than divide, God commands His people to be one: “If ye are not one ye are not mine” (Doctrine and Covenants 38:27). We are to unite in a common cause as the “body of Christ,” in which our differences enable us to strengthen and support one another (see 1 Cor. 12:25-27). We are told that while mortals may focus on the outward appearance, the Lord, whom we are to emulate, “looketh on the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
It opposes the principle of self-reliance. Critical social justice ideology encourages people to blame problems on oppressive systems rather than building resilience and recognizing one’s own capability and worth. Yes, systems may need to be corrected and improved and justice sought. And the Church recognizes the role of community institutions in providing assistance to those who are struggling with various challenges. But in doing so, the Church encourages people to rely first on their own efforts, then on family, then on Church and community institutions, all while relying on God’s grace and guidance.
It allows little space for charity, growth, repentance, or forgiveness. This ideology imposes current moral standards and understandings on historical figures, defining people primarily by their worst traits and actions as related to prejudice and injustice. The ideology takes a similar approach with our contemporaries, not allowing people to change and grow. Believing that intentions are unimportant, it encourages people to adopt the most uncharitable, negative interpretations of others’ actions. Latter-day Saint theology, on the other hand, recognizes the need for repentance, mercy, and forgiveness. “Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven” (Luke 6:37). It recognizes that knowledge and understanding are gained “line upon line, precept on precept” (2 Ne. 28:30).
It minimizes the need for children to be raised by their married biological parents. Queer theorists challenge “heteronormativity” in parenting, which entails support for assisted reproduction that excludes one or both biological parents. The national Black Lives Matter organization seeks to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement” and mentions the important role of mothers several times while not acknowledging fathers—when fathers are so desperately needed in the home. By contrast, “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” states: “The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity.”
It leads to confusion, chaos, and destruction. “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matt. 7:16-17). What are the fruits of this movement? While it has accomplished some good, as mentioned above, it has also resulted in confusion, violence, destruction, even death. For example, it has created confusion by redefining common terms such as racism, white supremacy, fascist, biological sex, and even woman, sometimes to the point of meaninglessness.
Violence has been widespread, with rioters even destroying minority-owned businesses in poor neighborhoods. Statues of historical figures including abolitionists have been toppled and churches vandalized. Worst of all, many lives have been lost. As of July 5, at least 29 people have been killed in riots. Murder and other violent crime rates have spiked in large cities such as New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In contrast with such confusion and destruction, the gospel is about order and creation. “Mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion” (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8). The gospel enables all who seek God to come closer to Him, the Creator and Giver of Life, the ultimate source of hope and peace.
With all of that said, I believe that the worst feature of critical social justice ideology is that it exploits people’s goodness—even their most Christlike traits, their love and compassion for others. For Latter-day Saints specifically, knowing we have our own painful history to sort through regarding racial issues, this ideology targets our covenantal desire to “mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9).
Critical social justice expert James Lindsay said this about this ideology: “I actually think it’s evil. And the reason is … it plays on people’s best nature. It takes good people and twists them to its purpose. And that’s horrible. The whole game is to try to make you a nicer, more caring person. So, it takes your care and turns it into something literally totalitarian. You’re not allowed to disagree with it; anything you say, you get branded with these horrible stigmas. They try to cancel people. It’s literally trying to use people’s best, fairest, most just and caring instincts to make them program into this way of thinking.”
Once I began trying to understand Critical Social Justice Theory, I finally saw how the craziness of today’s world is part of a familiar story. It is the story that the Lamanites told themselves in the Book of Mormon to justify unending hatred of the Nephites. It is the story that Cain told himself to justify killing Abel. It is the story that 1000 tyrants throughout history have told themselves as they invade another country or enslave another group of people. It is an ideology based on covetousness and theft and hatred, a violation of several of God’s commandments. In short, it is not about justice at all but instead about injustice and iniquity. It is comforting to know the story is not new, but it is not at all comforting that we must live to see these perilous times. Luckily, we know the Savior will come again soon to set things right. But for now, we are in for difficult, harrowing trials. Strength Latter-day Saints!