Critical theorists seek to confuse concepts through the manipulation of language and promote ideas that fail to correspond to reality. Academic theories designed to confuse rather than to clarify must be confronted with calm reason. This is the most charitable thing we can do for those who will come after us.
It can be difficult to get straight answers these days. It doesn’t have to be. The most penetrating answers can be so simple as to be self-evident. Take the preamble of the Declaration of Independence for example:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The goal of promoting and protecting these unalienable Rights is made clear by the Founders. The fact that it has been very difficult to achieve does not make it any less clear. These days, it seems, little of what is important is made clear or straightforward. Those who seek power—I am referring to those who promote critical and related social theories, whether they apply to race, gender, or politics—muddy the clear water of self-evident truths.
St. Thomas pointed out that there are two kinds of self-evident truths: the kind that are self-evident in themselves but not to us, and the kind that are both self-evident in themselves and to us. (ST 1. Q2.) God falls into the first category because we cannot know his essence. Critical theorists would play god by rendering the essence of liberty and related terms as forever mysterious through blurred definitions. One man’s liberty then becomes another man’s prison. Abject relativism applied to language is these theorists’ weapon of choice.
If I’ve learned anything in almost two decades of teaching college humanities courses, it is to beware of those who, when pressed, avoid stating their positions clearly and concisely. Far too many academics refuse to articulate their positions in a straightforward manner. They refuse either because they do not understand their positions or are fully aware that clarifying these positions would expose fatal flaws in their reasoning. Opening themselves up to scrutiny would be akin to an imposter agreeing to have his mask ripped away. The university has become a political masquerade ball rather than a haven for critical inquiry. The university is where critical theorists have erected their stronghold.
What happens in the university does not stay in the university; it leaks into society at large. Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be an Antiracist, for example, are bestselling books used to train government and corporate employees that white people are inherently racist, whether they admit to it or not. Both books were written by academics. Matt Taibbi of the Rolling Stone, no poster child of conservatism, observed that White Fragility may be the “dumbest book ever written.” A goodly portion of bureaucrats and academics, nevertheless, perpetuates the “antiracist” masquerade to fuel societal metamorphosis.
You might think we are living in the cult film Idiocracy where idiots run the show. It may be true, but only partially. The despisers of traditional Western values are working from a tradition all their own: neo-Marxism and anarchism. Instead of Socrates, Aquinas, and our Founding Fathers, they valorize the likes of The Weather Underground, Saul Alinsky, Adorno, and Marx. Theirs is a long tradition stretching back to second-century Gnostic heresies.
Heidegger the Gnostic
In an interview for the German weekly Der Spiegel in 1966, philosopher Martin Heidegger (who had been a card-carrying Nazi) was asked if he thought philosophy could impact the current state of the world. His answer was in the negative. He informed the interviewer, “Only a god can save us.”
If I may answer briefly, and perhaps clumsily, but after long reflection: philosophy will be unable to effect any immediate change in the current state of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all purely human reflection and endeavor. Only a god can save us. The only possibility available to us is that by thinking and poetizing we prepare a readiness for the appearance of a god, or for the absence of a god in [our] decline, insofar as in view of the absent god we are in a state of decline.
It sounds like Heidegger was preparing for the Second Coming. He’s more like one of the men in Samuel Beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, who waits in vain for a god that never arrives.
The translator of the Der Spiegel interview, William J. Richardson, S.J., added this footnote: “In all probability, Heidegger is not using the word ‘god’ here in any personal sense but in the sense that he gives to the word (often in the expression, ‘god or the gods’) in his interpretations of Hölderlin, i.e., as the concrete manifestation of Being as ‘the Holy.’”
If you’re confused, you’re not alone. Is Heidegger advocating pantheism? Are the gods Heidegger is referring to pagan entities that are part and parcel of the natural world, concrete manifestations of Being itself, or do they transcend it? I can’t figure it out. It is neither clear nor concise. Not much in Heidegger’s work is. It is not difficult to conclude that much of Heidegger’s writing is intentionally confusing.
The confusion doesn’t end there. Heidegger’s friend, the priest Bernhard Welte, gave the funeral oration at Heidegger’s Catholic burial. Hugo Ott, author of Martin Heidegger: A Political Life, claims Heidegger remained a Catholic throughout his life. Laurence Paul Hemming, author of Heidegger’s Atheism: The Refusal of a Theological Voice, goes so far as to claim that Heidegger’s atheism is potentially “a holy atheism.”
Holy atheism? What is this strange beast? Was Heidegger a Catholic or an atheist? Both? Huh? What is Heidegger thinking about when he thinks of god? It is difficult to say. His use of language confuses rather than clarifies. This is Gnosticism at work.
Hans Jonas, who studied under Heidegger and wrote a doctoral dissertation on Gnosticism, applied Gnosticism to Heidegger’s work and laid bare its inherent nihilism. St. Augustine battled the Gnostics in The City of God. We are still battling them today. The new Gnostics don’t call themselves Gnostics. They gather under the banners of Critical Theory and disruptive movements such as the 1619 Project.
Faith and Reason
Robert Sokolowski, in his excellent study, The God of Faith and Reason, provides a clear-eyed look at the nature of both God and man. The Christian God is radically different from all others. Pagan gods are “gods for the world” who “could not be without the world.” The Christian God is “so transcendent to the world that he could be, in undiminished goodness and greatness, even if the world were not.” So radially independent of creation is the Christian God that “he created the world out of sheer generosity, not out of any sort of need.” The Christian position is both simple and clear: God doesn’t need man; man needs God.
Authors like Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi, in line with Heidegger but with greater audacity, seek to confuse concepts through the manipulation of language. Critical theorists promote ideas that fail to correspond to reality. They feed on the chaos engendered by intentionally confusing the meanings of concepts that are dear to Western tradition, concepts like “freedom,” “equality,” “liberty,” and “justice.” The 1619 Project, in one example, which is a re-writing of American history riddled with factual errors, is still being promoted in schools across the country. Wearing the mask of the academic, critical theorists are nothing more than confusion-mongers. They are the belle of the ball in the Gnostic masquerade.
Clarity as Charity
Philosopher Thomas Prufer once said, “God does not need to give and does not gain from giving.” Nevertheless, as Dr. Sokolowski aptly observes, “God has given, both in creation and redemption, and in doing so has shown that charity is at the heart of things.” In our current climate of intended confusion, I submit that clarity is charity.
Stick to self-evident basics: all men are created equal and are endowed by God with certain unalienable rights; men need God but God does not need men. For those endowed with common sense and the necessary humility, these truths are self-evident. Through these truths, concepts such as “justice” are tethered to reality. In this reality, we can do our simple best to pursue the good in any given situation.
Academic theories designed to confuse rather than to clarify must be confronted with calm reason. Ours is the God of faith and reason. We must faithfully stand our ground. In the long run, this is the most charitable thing we can do for those who will come after us. It is as simple and as clear as this.
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