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    Critical Theory, Situational Ethics, And Societal Collapse

    February 24, 2023
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    Critical Theory (CT) is a Leftist ideological approach to social philosophy drawing primarily on the thought of Karl Marx. CT, in whichever form it takes (such as Critical Race Theory), proposes to reveal, critique, and challenge societal power structures in order to seek human emancipation from domination (as defined by Marxist ideology) and to create a world in which all people equally can satisfy their felt needs and abilities. At first glance, this sounds like a great idea, which is how it ensnares the naïve, but its goals reveal the fatal flaw of CT. This fatal flaw is at the heart of all Leftist ideology, a flaw which has made it universally fatal for the millions of people who have fallen under the power of Leftist political and economic systems. This flaw is that no human philosophy or action on our part can perfect the human person or create a utopia on the earth, where everyone is equal. Every attempt to forcefully perfect the human person or to forcefully create utopia has ended in tyranny, war, and genocide. This is true in every case where someone tries to implement Leftist ideology, whether in politics, ethics, or economics. It disfigures the human soul because it ultimately requires increasingly violent force to realize its attempt at universal equality and a utopian society. Leftist ideology inevitably results in the diminishing of human freedom, and it always ends in tyranny, war, or genocide. Always. Every time.

    Leftists view the world as a power struggle between classes, or, when fomenting class warfare fails to put them in power in a given context, the struggle is repackaged as the power struggle between ethnic groups, gender identity groups, sexual orientation groups, ad nauseam, all in the attempt to achieve an impossible utopia where all people are equal. The only equality that Leftist regimes eventually bring about is equality in being impoverished and equality of living under the dominion of tyrants. I say impossible because people cannot be forced into utopia. We are not able to create utopia on our own. Leftist idealogues, feigning to be working to free the oppressed from oppression, have in every single case become the most monstrous oppressors, whose humanity becomes hideously distorted by arrogating to themselves the right to decide which people are expendable in order to achieve utopia. The 20th century can be read as a textbook on the bloody, genocidal failure of Leftist ideologies being brutally forced upon entire populations. Conservative estimates of the total number of people who died because of wars and genocides caused by Leftist ideology during just World War II, and Stalin’s and Mao’s despotism immediately following the war, equaled roughly 12% of the total global population of the time, not to mention the millions who died during the Bolshevik revolution in Russia, North Korea, Viet Nam, etc. 

    How any sane person could still advocate for such an evil ideology is hard to explain, unless we understand it for what it is: a secular religion. With the decline of religious belief hastened by Enlightenment philosophy and the rise of Leftist ideologies, we must understand that Leftist ideology is a secular religion that attempts to fill the void for those with little to no religion. This secular religion has its own scriptures, prophets, apostles, martyrs, missionaries, and saints. Marxist philosophy is a profoundly lacking replacement for the Biblical promise that God will one day return the human family to a state of innocence and restore the earth to paradise. Only a secular form of religious belief can explain the continuing, fanatical, genocidal adherence to such a failed, thoroughly evil belief system. 

    In order to understand CT, we need to know where it fits in the larger world of philosophical thought. Without going down the rabbit hole, and it is deep, we first must locate it is a subset of Social Philosophy. Social philosophy, in its many manifestations, attempts to examine the foundations of social institutions, of social behaviors, and of interpretations of society in terms of ethical/moral values rather than empirical relations, meaning that it relies more on feelings than on hard facts. One school of Social Philosophy essential to our look at CT is Ethics, also called Moral Philosophy, which is concerned with defining what is morally good/bad and morally right/wrong, whether based on an external source of authority or on secular Enlightenment based attempts to locate authority with the state or the individual. Social Philosophy asks the question, “How should we live?” In Western civilization, the Bible had been the source for deciding right/wrong and good/bad for 1700 or more years, that is up until the so-called Enlightenment. The Enlightenment era, a direct inheritor of the Renaissance era, began as a European intellectual movement of the 17th and 18th centuries in which ideas concerning God, reason, nature, and humanity were separated from the Bible and from Church teaching as sources of authority. It was an attempt to develop a systematic worldview that places human reason rather than divine revelation as the source of knowledge and of authority. The putative goals of this “rational humanity” centered on knowledge, freedom, and happiness, a new philosophy releasing mankind from the restraining power of the authority of the Bible. No one really defined just what “rational humanity” is in a way that lasted. Rationality, without the Bible, ends up simply giving license for people to do whatever they want to do without regard to the freedoms of others. Yes, there have been many philosophical attempts to define rationality, but no one can really agree, especially between different cultures. What is rational in one part of the world is heinous in another, and vice versa. Thus, the Enlightenment continues to leave Western civilization with profound moral confusion and vulnerability to corrosive, genocidal ideologies like those proposed by the Left. 

    Enlightenment philosophy inevitably gained wide assent in the West and instigated revolutionary transformations in the arts, philosophy, and politics. Central to Enlightenment thought were the use and celebration of reason, the power by which humans understand the universe and improve their own condition, rather than any reliance on external sources of authority like the Bible. While the Enlightenment produced many advancements, especially in the sciences, in terms of social cohesion and an eternal standard of morality/ethics, the placing of “rational humanity” as the only source of authority unleashed well over 300 years of moral confusion, a state that persists until this very moment. It was in this philosophical, narcissistic free for all that Karl Marx developed his secular religion, a secular religion that disfigures the human soul as do all secular, atheistic religions/philosophies, and which has produced nothing but horror, tyranny, and genocide. 

    With the placing of “rational humanity” at the center of the universe as the sole source of authority, it became necessary for Western Christianity to attempt to respond. As history has shown, the Church, whether Protestant, Roman Catholic or Orthodox, was largely shut out of academic discourse in Europe and now in the United States. The Protestant Churches were more open to discourse because they lacked the Magisterium, the central decision-making body of the Roman Catholic Church. Where the Roman Catholic Church doubled down on its authority in the lives of its members, and where it has the authority to direct the education in their universities across the world, the Protestant Churches fractured even more in trying to remain intellectually respectable in the academic world, as well as in the hearts and minds of the average person who had now been told that the only good/bad and right/wrong was what they decided. This is the direct foundation for the often-heard phrase “my truth”, the belief that “personal truth” matters more than objective fact, or other people’s freedoms, or the authority of Biblical ethics. Fast forward to the middle of the 20th century, and we come to the inevitable result of hundreds of years of trying to square the Bible and Church teaching with the reality that Western civilization has been taught to turn only to their own inner compass as the basis for morality. From Sartre, to de Beauvoir, Merleau-Ponty, Jaspers, and Heidegger, “rational humanity” as the source of what is moral has become nearly absolute in secular culture (and even to a very large degree amongst those who are religious).

    This eventually metamorphosed into a system of ethical enquiry called Situational Ethics. Situational ethics became intensely popular, most especially in the United States since the 1960s, with the work of Joseph Fletcher and his book Situation Ethics. It must be pointed out that the work of Fletcher and his peers on situational ethics began as an exercise in attempting to harness CT to Christian ethics, an enterprise that was doomed to utter failure because it tried to have a theological substrate but with no theos, no God. 

    Situational ethics, or situation ethics, is a morally relativistic approach to life that takes into account only the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically rather than judging it according to external, absolute moral standards. Right and wrong depend upon the situation. There are no universal moral rules or rights. Its goal is for people to have a fair basis for making judgments or taking actions, looking to personal ideals of what is appropriate to guide them, rather than an unchanging universal code of conduct, such as Biblical law under divine command or other forms of categorical imperatives. The problem is, who defines “fair”, and who arbitrates “fairness” between people? In Fletcher’s philosophy, "all laws and rules and principles and ideals and norms, are only contingent, only valid if they happen to serve love”. So, laws may be broken or ignored if another course of action would achieve a more loving outcome. Again, the problem is, who gets to define “love”? Is it love of self, or family, or God, or nation, or job? If each person, in each interaction or situation, is left to define “love”, you can count on the fact that each person will define it not just differently from every other person, but will also do so narcissistically, favoring themselves, their family, religion, nation, et al. With this kind of wildly variable and self-serving “love”, what is the bond that holds together political, legal, moral, religious, and cultural questions such as medical care ethics, forms of government, forms of economics, universal human rights, equality of the sexes, and justice between nations, just to name a few? This is where the “my truth” worldview came into maturity.

    Alongside Fletcher, other specifically Christian attempts to create a coherent version of situational ethics placing love above all particular principles or rules were popular in the first half of the twentieth century by liberal Protestant theologians such as Rudolf Bultmann, John A. T. Robinson, Josef Fuchs, Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and Paul Tillich.Tillich, for example, declared that "Love is the ultimate law." These theologians point specifically to agapē, a Greek New Testament word meaning self-sacrificing love, as the highest end. What they all universally fail to recognize is that you cannot borrow a Biblical phrase/word, dump the rest of the Bible, utilize secular, non-theistic categories, and come up with anything other than an incoherent mess, a mess that will wreak havoc in the lives of any who try to adopt this philosophy. American culture since the 1960s has been a slow train wreck in no small part by adopting this dangerous, incoherent mess of a means of determining right/wrong and good/evil.

    Fletcher proposed that in forming an ethical system based on love, he was best expressing the notion of "love thy neighbor," which Jesus taught in the Gospels of the New Testament. Fletcher was attempting to find a "middle road" between legalistic (based on external authority) and antinomian (not based on any external authority) ethics. Fletcher developed his theory of situational ethics in his books The Classic Treatment and Situation Ethics. Situational ethics is a teleological or consequentialist theory, meaning that it is primarily concerned with the net, end outcome or consequences of an action. Fletcher proposed that loving ends justify any means. His attempt to create an ethical system unhinged from any external authority rested on four principles: pragmatism (what is the most loving thing to do?), relativism (there is no set right or wrong), positivism (love is the highest goal), and personalism (the person is more important than any external source of authority); and on six propositions: only love is intrinsically good, all decisions must be based on love, love and justice are the same, love compels us to seek the good of our neighbor, the end justifies the means, and decisions. 

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    Back to my basic criticism of CT, Situational Ethics, and the removal of God from Western Civilization as embodied by the Enlightenment and the many philosophies that it gave birth to plague mankind. Joseph Fletcher, aside from being a professor, was also an Episcopal priest. Typical of an academic of his era, the attempt to create a system of ethics based on Enlightenment ideals, while rejecting all forms of external authority (i.e., the Bible in the case of Fletcher and his Protestant peers), created moral chaos. As with all Enlightenment derived moral philosophy, social and moral chaos is the only possible outcome for such a system of philosophy. I say this because in making “rational humanity” the center of the universe, or rather each person the center of their own universe – essentially saying we are all gods, each person meets with the  competing needs and desires in every human interaction, and without the one, true God who is the author and arbiter of good/evil and right/wrong, we fall into conflict every time. With no acceptable way to define “love”, “fair”, or “proportional” without an appeal to external authority, the consequential outcomes create a culture of narcissism and lawlessness in which each person gets to decide what right for themselves, regardless of how it impacts others. Everybody gets to follow their “own truth” without concern for how it affects others. It is not a Judeo-Christian ethic because it ignores the transcendent creator God and his absolute moral commands, even though originally tried to emphasize the Biblical concept of agape, all while rejecting God and the Bible as being normative and authoritative. One has only to look at the life of Fletcher to see in a microcosm how corrosive Enlightenment, secular, atheistic moral philosophy, and its child Situational Ethics, actually is and its utter failure to offer anything of value. After beginning as a priest, his pursuit of situational ethics as a professor led him to become a leading voice in bioethics, which led him to become a leading academic proponent of the benefits of murdering unborn children (abortion), murdering born children (infanticide), euthanasia, and eugenics, and he ended his life as an atheist, supporting these most heinous and evil practices. Like other Leftist ideologies, it ubiquitously continues to haunt our education system and warp the minds of our people. 

    American culture since the 1960s has been a slow train wreck in no small part by adopting this dangerous, incoherent mess of a means of determining right/wrong and good/evil. Critical Theory, in whatever form it takes, along with Situational ethics, are no different from any other Leftist, secular form of ethics, all of which ultimately subjects their proponents to the same horrible distortion of the human soul.

    In my next article, we will look at Critical Theory and Linguistics Theory and explore how authoritarian regimes universally evolve from power holders controlling what they determine to be acceptable language and ideas.



    Father Troy Beecham

    Fr. Beecham is a native of Atlanta, Georgia, where has parents and his two brothers and their families still reside. A priest for the last 20 years, he has served parishes across the country, including time as a monk. Fr. Beecham holds BA, MA, and STM degrees in Theology and Biblical Studies, including studying in Jerusalem, with special emphasis on Biblical languages, history, and comparative religions.
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