Oct. 1 marks the appearance of Healing Humanity: Confronting our Moral Crisis is a new book I co-edited with fellow Orthodox Christian scholars Archpriest Alexander Webster and Prof. David Ford, with a team of contributors who are clergy, professors, and prominent writers in the Orthodox Christian tradition in North America. By meaningful coincidence, today marked the appearance of a new book by one of the contributors, Orthodox Christian writer Rod Dreher, Live not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents. The coincidence is that both relate integrally to the culture of self-destruction, social division, and cultural totalitarianism in our era of “woke capitalism,” which ironically features the melding ideologies of Critical Race Studies, the Anthropocene, Pansexualism, and Antifa, ready to take hold of America like a bad dream from a Dostoevsky novel or a rerun in cultural Marxist form of 1917.
The case for the urgent need for the West to explore traditional Orthodox Christian anthropology and morality made in the Healing Humanity book lies in the model set by the so-called sexual revolution of 1960s America for the materialistic passion and self-pleasure we now see on display in the violent merging of consumer capitalism and socialist self-eradication. The resulting American Cultural Revolution could be trademarked as IdentityTM given its commodified or objectified view of self as built up by targeting others. (Nota Bene: This critique of culturally totalitarian ideology does not question the need for authentic concern for victims of bias or hate, and institutional and personal corruption that enables it.)
The Canadian writer Jonathan Van Maren, drawing on the essayist Mary Eberstadt’s work, notes that, “The sexual revolution may have given people freedom, but what it took away was far more precious: a sense of belonging, identity, and families filled with siblings, cousins, and other relatives. This way of life is so scorned and even demonized that many of the bitter, angry young people marching to the trendy tune of the latest Pied Piper do not even realize that their primal screams are howls of longing for the very things many of them claim to despise.” Hannah Arendt warned in her study of totalitarianism The Origins of Totalitarianism that such loneliness is the modern precursor to technology-enabled totalitarianism.
The effect of the American Cultural Revolution in separating individuals not only from family ties but aspirationally from bodily limitations and real personal relationships, also leads away from the historic Church and our Incarnate God the Lord Jesus Christ. Relying on experiences of initiated cognoscenti, it lends itself to comparisons to the ancient disembodied heresy of Gnosticism, but in a new technocratic mode. Sexually, first more advanced forms of contraception and now other quasi-magical technologies, seek to defy embodiedness and mortality and God in hyper-instrumentalist models of physical life. They move people to seek “out of body” passion without God, their abstracted minds separated from their hearts in a drive for orgiastic power and ultimately violence. May resulting extremities help lead them by God’s grace, with our society as a whole, to faith in Him, in His Orthodox Church!
St. Irenaeus of Lyons in early Christian times, a spiritual grandchild of the Apostle John the Theologian, wrote a classic text Against Heresies, which is applicable today as an antidote to the American Cultural Revolution. It is helpfully summarized and briefly excerpted in volume 6 of The Synaxarion by Hieromonk Makarios of Simonos Petra, quoted below.
“He showed first that this ‘Gnosis,’ which heretics vainly sought in the mythical plots and complicated constructions of their perverted intelligence, is the pre-eminent gift of the charity that the Holy Spirit gives to the Christian in the living organism of the Church. It is only within it that one quench one’s thirst with the clear water that flows from the side of Christ, thence to receive life eternal. All other doctrines are nothing but broken cisterns (Jer. 2:13). The true ‘Gnostics’ are not those who reject and despise the body to worship God, ‘ineffable’ and his ‘Demiurge,’ but spiritual men who have received from the Holy Spirit the earnest of the Resurrection of the body and of incorruptibility. Breaking with the Hellenic duality of body and soul, Saint Irenaeus developed Saint John’s doctrine of the Word made flesh to interpret the meaning of the vocation of man. The first Adam had been formed from clay by the two Hands of God: the Word and the Spirit, in the image of God conformed to the model of the glorious flesh of Christ; and the breath of life had been given him in order to progress from the image to the likeness of God. Having been tricked by the Devil, jealous of his prerogatives, and having fallen into death, he had not, however, been abandoned by God, who had from all eternity intended to make him a partaker in His glory. The revelations and prophecies of the Old Testament, and above all the Incarnation of the Word, His death, His Resurrection and His glorious Ascension, constitute the necessary stages in this ‘Economy’ of the history of Salvation. Always keeping in mind this ultimate end for which He had created man, the Word was made flesh, ‘recapitulating’ the first Adam in Himself. As the first man, born into a virgin earth, fell, through the virgin Eve’s disobedience by a tree, so Christ came into the world through the obedience of the Virgin Mary and had been hung on the tree of the Cross. ‘He gave His soul for our souls and His flesh for our flesh, and He has poured out the Spirit of the Father to bring about the union and communion of God with men, bringing God down into men by the Spirit and drawing men up to God by His Incarnation.’
“The Word of God who had created the world, invisibly making it in the form of a cross, made Himself visible at the time appointed on the Cross, in order to bring together in His body all the beings that had become separated, and bring them to the knowledge of God. Appearing, not in His ineffable glory but as a man, He has shown in Himself the restored image of God, conformed once more to the likeness. He has nourished us ‘at the breast of His flesh,’ so that, accustomed to eating and drinking the Word of God, and strengthened by the ‘bread of immortality,’ we might draw near to the vision of God that gives us incorruptibility. ‘It is impossible to live separated from Life, and there is no participation in life without participation in God, and this participation in God consists in seeing God and enjoying His sweetness…. For the glory of God is the living man, and a man’s life is the vision of God.’
“For Irenaeus, a disciple of those who had known the Apostles, knowledge (gnosis) is love and the deification of man in the Person of Christ the Saviour. Much more than a simple refutation of false ‘Gnosis,’ his doctrine, wonderful in its simplicity and profundity, contains the seed of all that the latter fathers developed in their inspired writings.”
Against such holy teaching and experience of embodied virtue in Christian anthropology, modern revolutionaries on all sides offer the exertion of dominance for pleasure, exemplified in the works of the Marquis de Sade, extended by technological control in enjoyment of control of others and perverse pleasure in self-destruction. Whether it is writer Vicky Osterweil’s manifesto In Defense of Looting, or Prof. Mark Bray’s Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, both ultimately advocating philosophies of violent anarchism in the service of revolution leading to totalitarianism, or many others, hipster revolutionaries are discovering their own sweet spots of status and potential power in subverting and overthrowing American society.
The roots of today’s intertwined movements of Antifa, Antiracism, Pansexualism, and the Anthropocene, lie in the atheism of Karl Marx and cultural Marxism, a term developed originally by advocates of Marxist revolution emphasizing cultural rather than class struggle. This is not to dismiss the real humanity and concerns of people who are victims of oppression in any form. But the movements as melding ideology, and their increasingly totalitarian culture, separate themselves from such personal concerns in a common drive toward Marx’s goals of undermining traditional networks of family, faith, and community, to overthrow the Christian sense of sobornost or spiritual unity and solidarity in Christ.
Sobornost in Christian tradition involves the intersection of mystical hierarchy and conciliarity “under God,” a trans-generational continuity that defines freedom as both self-restraint and generous service to universal truth, with justice ensuring the opportunity for such service and meaningfulness to all. Sobornost historically was the basis of the American republic, however dimly reflected its practice and deeply flawed, reflected in the references to God as the source of equality in the Declaration of Independence and Gettysburg Address, and the structuring of a decentralized republic “under God” to restrict the fallenness of the human drive for power. A millennia-old experiential teaching and practice in Christianity, sobornost grew from terminology in the fourth-century Nicene Creed, but was coined as a term by modern Russian philosophers, particularly a Jewish-Orthodox Christian refugee from Communist and Nazi totalitarianism, S.L. Frank, in works such as The Spiritual Foundations of Society.
If Christian virtues were distant often in actual practice in American history, it was because of their perversion by a combination of self-serving idealism and materialism now institutionalized in pseudo-revolutionary ideological cultural hegemony. The link between the sexual revolution and passions of civil unrest is suggested by types of systemic violence often ignored by today’s American Cultural Revolution. For example, the systemic violence of abortion disproportionately killing babies of color, and of tragically high number of deaths of youths of color at the hands of other youths of color, often from broken homes, in American cities, and taking sexual advantage of children, are often ignored because of not serving the meta-narrative of our new techno-gnosticism, leaving the most vulnerable to suffer in a system where dissolute elites cheer on orgiastic social self-destruction. Extreme levels of violence involving youths occurs in cities like my hometown of Chicago, which have been ruled for decades by mini-socialistic political machines, ostensibly serving the cause of social justice.
Such systemic violence challenges modernity itself, and if honestly faced would challenge the status of American “woke” elites. In some ways this situation echoes the original cultural flaws of the framework of 18th-century American revolution and its resulting ideology of exceptionalism. Despite the Christian roots of the early American republic, its elites nurtured ideas of American exceptionalism in chiliastic (utopianist) Protestantism and Masonic-Deistic idealism, as well as in Eurocentric Western Enlightenment thinking. Such factors mingling with atheistic Marxism have fed the modern techno-Gnosticism of our current Cultural Revolution, with its attempted erasure of traditional social and faith networks, and its privileging of those culturally illuminated who supposedly enjoy expert magical knowledge outside of traditional faith, family, and social networks.
Across American culture, developments such as the decline of marriage and rise of children outside of wedlock, early sexualizing of children, normalizing of polyamory, opiatizing by online bread and circuses, and pansexualizing of culture, all indicate the essentializing of passions, which rise at the expense of traditional norms of self-restraint in Christian traditions of the old republic. These are all trends in which elites and often ostensibly Christian people have participated, and sometimes led. They end badly. On the link between personal violence and objectification of others, as one micro-example, consider the backgrounds of some of those allegedly involved in hunting down 17-year Kyle Rittenhouse during a recent riot in Kenosha, WI: one a registered sex offender-pedophile, another convicted twice for domestic abuse, and a third allegedly a gang member and amateur porn actor. None of that at all justifies fatal shootings, to be sure. But such contexts suggest how private passions provide a context for erupting social violence and anarchistic politics, which Hannah Arendt also saw as a necessary source of totalitarianism.
Note that in the great tradition of Lenin’s Vanguard, none of our current cultural revolutionaries in education, letters, media, politics, the arts, or the corporate world are stepping away from their careers or incomes to allow others less privileged socioeconomically and culturally to take the status of their positions in accord with their own ideological rhetoric. Life handbooks like How to be an Anti-Racist and White Fragility have become the latest pop culture versions of Mao’s Little Red Book, Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking, or the King James Bible from other eras and ideologies, garnering fame and status for their contemporary authors as oracles underwritten by elites.
Critical studies efforts in academia have developed since the 1960s as hotbeds of advocacy and activism rather than what C.S. Lewis would have called the “old learning” of the humanities with their cautions on the need for virtuous self-restraint with otherworldly grace. The morphing of humanities fields into race/class/gender studies ghosting “woke” social sciences, of Environmental Studies into revolutionary-technocratic Anthropocene and environmental-justice studies, and other late-twentieth-century “studies” fields of gender and race into ever-more-radical forms of advocacy and activism on the Left, leave little tolerance for dissent, which they classify as phobic madness and hate. They leave a desert and call it victory.
Russian philosophers from an Orthodox Christian standpoint since the days of the Slavophiles and Dostoevsky’s “back to the soil” movement challenged Eurocentric secular ideas as neocolonialist. But today’s American “studies” fields ironically by contrast do so in a unifyingly dominant Eurocentric secular voice, in advancing cultural Marxism with hatred of traditional Christianity.
The claim that the Green New Deal–often closely linked to the Environmental Studies field of activism-advocacy academics–is nonpartisan is a good example of the lack of self-reflection and transparency in this American Cultural Revolution. Organized by the Sunrise Movement, it seeks to galvanize the election of hard-left Democratic officials nationally to gain control of the levels of power. It now seeks to link its “anthropocene” view of cosmology — technocratic and devoid of God — to Critical Race Studies’ Antiracism, a natural fit for cultural elites building the current revolutionary coalition. For years now the official Black Lives Matter has featured its opposition to the nuclear family, which is part of secular Eurocentrism, packaged ironically as a rejection of a racialized white hegemony by group leaders ironically immersed in the global West’s neocolonialist cultural Marxism. Such “radical” views were recently scrubbed from the website in an apparent effort to keep and gain support with non-elites who still identify as Christian.
Authentic Marxism, wrote the young Antonio Gramsci, a founder of cultural Marxism, “sees as the dominant factor in history, not raw economic facts, but man, men in societies, men in relation to one another, reaching agreements with one another, developing through their contacts…a collective, social will; men coming to understand economic facts, judging them and adapting them to their will until this becomes the driving force of th economy and moulds objective reality, which lives and moves and comes to resemble a current of volcanic lava that can be channelled wherever and in whatever way men’s will determines.” (The Revolution Against Capital, Selections from Political Writings, 35-6)
Ironically, “systemic racism” is often another name for socialism’s modern historical effects, oppressing minorities through government-corporate conglomerates. Examples include Chinese Communist persecution of the Uighurs and other minorities; Soviet Communist persecution of Ukrainians, Christians, and Jews; Nazi German persecution of Jews and Slavs; the subjugation of low-income African-Americans in the Democratic “progressive” political machines of America’s major urban centers; and the “industrial slavery” of urbanization with alliances between government, corporations, and unions, which morphed into high-stress paycheck-to-paycheck “professional” as well as working-class lives, often impacting minorities disproportionately, which now offers a “solution” in nascent dehumanizing social credit systems, initiated in Communist China as its contribution to cyber-cultural Marxism.
All this reflects the technocratic categorization and objectification of people and communities begun in European secular projects of scientism, overlaid by Social Darwinism in America’s first “progressive” movement, and now by neocolonial consumer culture, of which identity politics is the latest digitally enabled style. Without critical reflection on the source of this modern objectification of both individuals and whole peoples in materialistic will-to-power virtual reality, Cultural Revolution serves elites as a tool of obfuscation for self-serving and destroying passion, advancing socialism in a broad sense on all sides of the political spectrum as the greatest source of human slavery and suffering in history. Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s dissident colleague Igor Shafarevich detailed the self-destructiveness of this trajectory in his prophetic book The Socialist Phenomenon. He includes the important thread of Protestant chiliasm or utopianism in the development of socialism in the West. That is the background or formational cultural milieu (even if now generationally distant) of many in the current revolutionary movement in America.
Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (Third Edition) offers basic definitions by practitioners of today’s current lead revolutionary ideology in America, and outlines a few key principles of CRT, which reveal the quasi-religious fault lines in the Cutural Revolution. First, CRT describes racism as ordinariness, in the sense of Hannah Arendt’s “banality of evil” or Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “permanent lie.” But this masks the very totalitarianism of cultural Marxism, by which the arbitrariness of the homogenized virtual reality of binarized racism and antiracism is enforced by socioeconomic elites in “woke” capitalism, media, and educational institutions. It ignores the ideologicql complicity of cultural Marxism, of which CRT is a part genealogically, in deaths of tens of millions in racial and cultural genocides in the past century under Communism, a hate-filled legacy that remains the American revolutionary Left’s great unacknowledged unreparated moral debt. And it ignores the companion “secularness,” of which CRT forms a part, seeking to eradicate traditional minority cultures in America.
Another principle of critical race theory according to the participant-authors is “material determinism.” This alleges an unspoken alliance of elite economic interests with psychic needs of the white working class. A version of dialectical materialism, an atheistic ideology going back to Karl Marx, its materialistic approach is undermined by the embrace of CRT by “woke” capitalists and privileged cultural elites. Their material role in the economy would seem to belie their pre-determined support for revolution.
A third principle bited by the book is social constructivism of race and “differential racialization,” concluding that race is fluid identity and constructed for purposes of social control, which is marginalized or privileged in varied ways across time. But, in another paradox, CRT’s “intersectional anti-essentialism” asserts that varied identities can simultaneously shape a person’s socially constructed situationality even as the “voice of color” deserves privilege. In the “voice of color,” “people of color” unite to assert the primacy of their own narratives in a white American culture that is itself becoming a minority culture, by comparison with the aggregation of groups claiming both to be minorities and the new majority, and thus by right dominant, in contradiction of valorization of minority marginalities.
Paradoxes inherent in CRT as an ideologically framed field betray the secular quasi-religious nature of the current Cultural Revolution, a lack of self-reflection on inherent paradoxes and contradictions. That revolution’s para-religious drive for power oddly melds with economic passions of the corporate world, as key elements of the “surveillance state” and “surveillance capitalism” join in. Cyber-scholar Paul Edwards warned of the totalitarian impulse inherent in high-tech virtual reality and its uses by tech-centralized states, in his pioneering study The Closed World. Shoshona Zuboff writing from the Left added the explaanation of how corporate efforts to monitor and control people’s lives accelerate as well, in her Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at a New Frontier of Power.) Both work together in the new Cultural Revolution, as the Orthodox Christian writer Jean-Claude Larchet notes in his book The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul.
To return to the techno-gnostic spirit of the current American Culture Revolution, behold the close ideological affinities between CRT’s Antiracism and Antifa with the latter’s principle of “pre-emptive violence” as a means to eradicate dissent and non-conformity, and both with the “environmental justice” of the Green New Deal movement, objectifying the identities of humanity within an atheistic technocratic frame of resource regulation, and of all with the Pansexualism that asserts the non-essentiality of sex in a new technologically post-human world, while like the ideologies paradoxically at the same time asserting the essentiality of identity political interests. All seek to erase traditional Christian cosmology and anthropology as a public presence by equating them with hate, in efforts such as support for the Equality Act, to relegate public expression of traditional views of sex and family to illegalities. Targeting of dissenters from faith minorities with technologically enabled social and economic pressure are described in Dreher’s new book.
The techno-gnostic spirit of disembodied will-to-power by those with supposedly esoteric knowledge, controlling others through virtual reality, also has fundamentally affected many established religious organizations and movements of America. Their affinity to cultural Marxism results not only from intentional infiltration and subversion of major denominations across decades (although that has occurred), but relates to the departure in emphases of those traditions across centuries from non-Western Orthodox Christianity amid the secularization of the West, again especially in utopianist elements of Protestantism and Deistic-Masonic philosophies. The Orthodox writer Fr. Josiah Trenham provides good background on Western religious wanderings that is a good companion study in effect to Shafarevich’s above-mentioned Orthodox survey of socialism.
In the West, theology historically divided in the view of the Eucharist, as central rite of the Christian Church, into the consubstantiation of many Protestant religions seeing the transformation of the mystery often as symbolic, and the Catholic view of transubstantiation seeing a literal transformation of the bread and the wine into the Body of Christ, God. In Orthodox Christianity, these views remained integrated, in that the Eucharist involves the very Body and Blood of Christ and also at the same time the bread and the wine. This reflects the Orthodox identification of natural law with grace, as can be seen in writings associated with the so-called Eighth and Ninth Ecumenical Councils, by St. Photios the Great and St. Gregory Palamas. The full Incarnational sense of Christian theology is that embodiedness matters integrally with our relation to God, and that our relation to God’s uncreated energies or divine grace is the very source of our identity as embodied individuals. In that lies the Christian antidote to the technocratic Gnosticism of our age with its totalitarian bent. It is perhaps a meaningful coincidence that American racial attitudes developed mainly in Protestant culture involved like consubstantiality a symbolic meaning for the color of people’s skin ultimately separated from the actual physicality of human embodiedness. That same view ironically continues in different forms with Antiracism, and influences the Anthropocene cosmology of the Green New Deal as a technocratic matrix for earth, and the techno-gnosticism of Pansexualism, all encouraging conceptualizations of reality rather than embodied integration with Creation as a gift in the Body of Christ in the Church. Today’s American Cultural Revolution is largely led by secularized people embedded in the civic after-life of America’s foundational utopian Protestant and idealistic Masonic-Deist and Enlightenment cultures, which ironically enabled slavery.
Even the Orthodox Church, persecuted terribly in the modern era while spread diasporically by exile and evangelism, in the secular West today suffers efforts by academics to change her traditional Christianity into the 21st-century equivalent of the renovationist Bolshevik “Living Church” in the Soviet Union, to be the tool of a new secular American order. Some Anglo-American academics claiming affiliation with Orthodoxy pursue agendas of altering its anthropology and cosmology by seeking to justify the ordination of women, and of essentializing sexual passions as identities.
But the extremities of the American Cultural Revolution can be spiritual opportunities for Orthodox Christianity, too. S.L. Frank, the Russian Orthodox exile from totalitarianism in the mid-twentieth-century, described the effects of the breakdown in sobornost or spiritual unity in Christian cultures as offering existential clarity beyond the “fallen idols” of false idealism (see especially the appendix to his book The Meaning of Life). However, a disturbing glimpse into this fall of the idols of American culture without the hope of God can be seen in this video portraying controversy surrounding shootings recently in Kenosha, WI, displaying a bleak wasteland of extremist violence in a small Midwestern American city today.
Perhaps new academic fields will emerge such as Critical Secular Theory and a new movement of Antisecularism. These could show young people the evils of Secularness, Secular Nationalism, and Systemic Secularism, while advocating for Believers to advance from their marginal cultural position in today’s technocratic America, and commemorating the tens of millions killed outright by genocides of Secularness in the past century.
But the systemic evil that critical studies of all types seeks to trace involves ultimately the fallenness of human nature and its drive to power, influenced by demonic forces. Utopianism that would attempt to establish a perfect society in human or post-human technological terms is doomed to fail, as the classic totalitarian systems of Soviet Communism and Nazi Germany did in their own variant forms of twisted utopianism. There is no salvation in extremes of the political Right or Left, nor in their identitarianisms. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote in the section on “The Soul and Barbed Wire” in his The Gulag Archipelago,
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states nor between classes, nor between political parties, but right through every human heart.”
In today’s America, a 1611 Project, celebrating the Authorized or King James Version of the Bible, and the widespread availability of the Bible in the vernacular in Anglophone lands uniting people in study of Scripture, could be an antidote for the fragmenting excesses of the 1619 Project, with its partisan twisting of history, or any countervailing 1776 Project, given the inevitable mortal limits of the American project.
Ultimately, however, what the Apostle Paul described as running the race is the antidote for any static will-to-power sense of race (white, black, or other), which with sex are now contested master symbols for essentializing of passions and identities by all backgrounds and political perspectives in technocratic Eurocentric atheism’s will to power. The Apostle wrote (I Cor. 9: 24-47): “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”
The anti-Christian spirit of the current American Cultural Revolution seeks to reject the Incarnation of God in our Lord Jesus Christ and His One Holy Apostolic and Catholic Orthodox Church for an abstract and disembodied techno-gnostic critical spirit. The latter leads toward cultural totalitarianism and loss of any remnants of the historically Christian-inspired sense of commonwealth in America. We suffer for our sins. But as the Prophet David sang, the Lord will not despise a broken and a contrite heart. Lord Jesus Christ our God and Savior, have mercy on us and our country!