You don’t have to buy into Critical Theory to recognise systemic issues might exist

Yesterday, on something of a whim, I posted the following tweet:

It picked up a bit more traction than I expected. I mean, it didn’t go viral, but it did seem to touch on something. As far as I was concerned, it was a bare statement about the doctrine of sin. People sin and so the things they do are sinful and the things they setup are impacted by that same sin too. As far as I am concerned, it should be a fairly uncontroversial statement for a Christian. But I did think it might warrant a bit more fleshing out.

One of the reasons I have no problem identifying myself as a Socialist is that I do recognise the reality of systemic injustice. The principle behind Socialism is to organise society based on need. The reason many Christians in the UK, historically, also had no problem with identifying as Socialist – and why it has repeatedly been said that the Labour Party owe more to Methodism than Marx and its founder was a Scottish Presbyterian – is that they recognise injustice exists. If we concede the Biblical reality that sin exists, it is no great leap of logic to recognise that the systems setup by sinful people suffer from the effects of the sins of those who created them. Nor is it therefore unchristian to note those injustices and biases and seek to do something about them, either address the systemic issues or create new systems that don’t suffer those same problems. Of course, we can have a discussion as to whether Socialism is the best, or most effective, way to tackle those sorts of injustices (particularly those economic ones). But that is an altogether different discussion after the fact of the matter has been established.

People sin and, as sinners, set up systems tainted by their sin. As sinners whose sin necessarily impacts the systems they create, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that those sinners sometimes create systems that serve their own interests and/or gladly maintain systems from which they personally benefit. I have had this conversation many times (see here and here for early examples and you can search this blog for many others) and my position remains largely the same.

Given the existence of total depravity, any system that relies on the goodwill of all men strikes me as absurd. A system that assumes people will share what they have just because they have a lot already seem unlikely to work. A system that revolves around people being given enough freedom to do what is right is flawed in conception. Because total depravity is real, we need a system that recognises people are sinful and will hoard resources. Sometimes, we need to be compelled to do what is right rather than relying on a belief – over and against the reality of the sinful human heart – that they will do it by nature.

By the same token, the idea that systemic issues of sin and injustice exist in areas beyond economics should hardly come as a surprise to us either. One doesn’t need to be a fully paid up Critical Theory advocate to recognise this point. If sinful people happen to benefit from cultural and systemic circumstances, minimally, most of them will not fall over themselves to do anything to change the status quo from which they benefit. If the benefits of such a setup come under fire, it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to see why they might pushback at the thought of losing those advantages.

By the same token, we cannot be surprised when those who do not realise the systemic advantages they have feel hard done by because what they perceived to be a level playing field appears to be made uneven in a bid to serve those who are not like them. Again, we can’t be that surprised when not see the issues – but benefiting from the way things currently are – these people view efforts to remove barriers to the flourishing of others as a zero-sum game in which they are now on the losing side. This does not mean the systemic issues were not there, just that when those who benefit from them do not realise such is the case, we cannot be surprised if they perceive any shift to unfairly disadvantage them given the advantages they had over others up to now.

There are some important issues to be considered when determining where systemic issues exist. There are discussions to be had on which, if any, groups suffer from these things and how they manifest. Equally, not everybody who belongs to any given group will necessarily face all the effects of whatever systemic issues might exist. I am not, in this post, trying to make a case for any particular group(s) facing specific systemic issues. My purpose here is much more simple than that.

I am simply posing some questions. Is it not at least possible that, in a sinful world, systemic issues exist? If, on an entirely Biblical worldview, is it at least possible that one might recognise the existence of systemic issues without necessarily buying into Critical Theory? If – apart from Critical Theory – we might recognise the existence of systemic issues, might it be the case that we are being dishonest to fail to recognise that any exist in the actual sinful world in which we live?