This Is Your Brain on Critical Theory
The stories and images out of Israel in recent weeks are nothing short of shocking. The initial invasion into Israel involved Hamas militants parachuting into a music festival to kill whoever they could. Those who were not immediately killed were sexually assaulted and then killed. In some cases, their bodies were desecrated and ceremonially paraded through the streets as a kind of trophy. As many as 5,000 rockets were fired indiscriminately into neighborhoods, schools, and parks.
In the hours that followed, Hamas terrorists went door-to-door executing entire families. Women and children were brutally sexually assaulted, and children were torn from the arms of their mothers to be killed or put in cages as hostages. As shocking as it was, onlookers were equally shocked by the mixed responses to the atrocities.
In the U.S., demonstrations in Atlanta, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles voiced their support — not for Israel — but for those engaged in mass rape and murder. While Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) stopped short of affirmative support, she took the opportunity to demand that Israel “[lift] the blockade, [end] the occupation, and [dismantle] the apartheid system that creates the suffocating, dehumanizing conditions that can lead to resistance.” It seems she thinks their skirt was too short, so maybe they had it coming. In perhaps the most horrifying demonstration of American support for terrorism, a group of 31 Harvard student groups released a statement solely blaming Israel for the atrocities committed against them.
While the White House has said the right things, and subsequently sent aircraft carriers to the region in a show of support, they have been measured in their response. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre recently responded to a question about anti-Semitism with a screed against Islamophobia. She later said she answered the way she did because she misunderstood the question. Maybe so. Regardless, there is much evidence the political Left in America has sympathies for Hamas, and while the reasons are not obvious to many, they should be.
The Left is sympathetic to Hamas because they — and all Palestinians — have been classified as part of the “oppressed” and Israel is vilified because they have been classified as the “oppressors.” We saw similar dynamics at work during the Summer of Love in 2020, when American cities burned in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing. It seemed strange to many that those who looted stores and burned buildings were referred to as “protestors,” not “criminals.” CNN now infamously referred to the riots as “mostly peaceful protests” while the sophisticated class told us we should spend more time listening to them instead of stopping them.
Why? Because, despite what your eyes were telling you, the criminals were really the victims. They were the “oppressed,” and “systemic injustices” compelled them to riot, burn, and loot. Their behavior was either an understandable response to their oppression or a virtuous attempt to overthrow the injustice they had experienced, but in no case was it wrong.
These ideas had been gestating for years, but the “Summer of Love” was America’s first look at what happens to a brain on critical theory. Critical theory does not merely encourage us to find our identity in superficial things like race, sex, or who we like to have sex with, it also establishes a new moral standard of right and wrong. Critical theory demands that we judge the morality of an action not based on what someone did but who they are. Looting and arson done by one of the “oppressors” is crime. Looting and arson done by one of the “oppressed” is morally right especially when directed at those identified as one of the “oppressors.” This was controversial and concerning during the Summer of Love, but now it has become transparently evil because the worldview that excused property crimes in Minneapolis is now white-washing rape and murder in Israel as “resistance.”
None of this is to suggest that people don’t have real grievances. The Israeli government, like police officers, are capable of wrong and have done wrong. In the same way, both the nation of Israel and police officers have had wrong done to them. The mistake is not acknowledging that injustice exists in the world but in believing that real or perceived injustice justifies whatever you might feel like doing in response.
A fundamental doctrine of the Christian worldview is that those who are oppressed have moral responsibility for their actions even while they are being oppressed. Jesus commanded us to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you…” (Matthew 5:44). He further stated how unimpressed He was by those who only loved those who treated you well. “And if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32). This, at least in part, is what makes critical theory and the modern progressive worldview antithetical to Christianity. One demands forgiveness while one forbids it.
Undoubtedly, some of the support for Hamas from the west is just good-old-fashioned anti-Semitism, but broader hesitation to condemn mass rape and mass murder out of sympathy for those doing the raping and murdering is pure critical theory. It goes without saying that a society unable to condemn acts of terror cannot be expected to long endure.
Perhaps this is what the prophet Isaiah meant when he said, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). It’s not that God will punish us if we do, but in the process of tolerating things that shouldn’t be tolerated and celebrating things that shouldn’t be celebrated, we’ll bring so much wrath upon ourselves He won’t need to.
Joseph Backholm is Senior Fellow for Biblical Worldview and Strategic Engagement at Family Research Council.