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The Effects of Cultural Marxism in Society and the Church
Guest post by Dr. Tony Costa
“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:3–51
The Christian is in a state of war against the dark powers of the evil one (Ephesians 6:10–17). Because the fundamental nature of our warfare is spiritual, our weapons must possess “divine power” which can destroy his strongholds — the arguments and opinions that are opposed to God. Wherever possible, Christians are to take these arguments captive and make them obedient to Christ.
This is military language. It reminds us that we are not only in a battle for people’s souls, but their minds as well. What we are fundamentally engaged in is a battle of ideas, which Paul reminds us of in 2 Corinthians 4:4: “The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
One such stronghold, which I will address today, is that of Cultural Marxism (hereafter CM). If ideas have consequences — and surely history testifies to the fact — then CM’s disastrous fruits are now being witnessed to, both in society and, sadly, the church.
The Origins of Marxism and Cultural Marxism
CM is very different from the Marxism-Leninism of the old Soviet Union. You will probably recognize CM today by terms such as multiculturalism, political correctness, tolerance, inclusion, safe sex, sensitivity training, postcolonial studies, aboriginal studies, black lives matters, social justice, diversity, equity, various special interest groups, and the general idea of being “progressive.” By using these terms, the Marxist source of these movements is hidden from plain view.
CM traces its origins, then in seed form, to about 1919 — right after WWI. Karl Marx (1818–1883) had argued that the cause of all societal ills were class distinctions and economic inequality, which created oppression for the working class, who Marx called “the oppressed,” or the proletariat. These were distinct from the ruling business class, or “the oppressors,” or the bourgeoisie, who took advantage of the servants who worked for them. Marx believed that only a revolution of the working class against the ruling class — realized in the obliteration of class distinctions and the supposed economic corruption around the world — would bring about a utopian world where humans would be truly free and no longer held captive by their capitalist masters.
Where human beings were once understood as Homo sapiens (“thinking man”), Marx came to view them rather as Homo fabers (“man the maker/creator”). Because human beings appear to be able to control their lives and fates by means of the tools they possess, they must own the means of production. This is why, under the former Soviet Union, the symbols that appeared on their red flag were the hammer and sickle — tools of labour.
We see in Marx’s view a parody of sorts with the kingdom of God. Marx envisioned a new race of people who would be liberated from their shackles and enter into a paradisiacal world of the Utopia. This, of course, is the humanist version of the new people that God has elected in Christ; the last Adam, who is the federal head of a new humanity, and the establishment of the kingdom of God and the eternal order. The apostle Peter describes this order in these words: “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13).
Marx believed it would be a major war which would cause the working class to rise up against their “rulers.” When the First World War arrived in 1914, Marxists believed the time for revolution had come and that the working classes all over Europe would overthrow capitalism and welcome communism, thereby paving the road to the Utopia. But this did not happen. Instead, millions of people from every class lined up to join the army to fight for their respective countries. Even when the Bolshevik Revolution occured in Russia in 1917, led by Vladimir Lenin, workers in other European countries did not support it. This proved to be a shock to the Marxists, as history was not unfolding according to plan.
Other communist revolutions have occurred throughout history, such as the Chinese Communist Revolution (1949) led by Mao Tse Tung (1893–1976) and the Cuban Revolution (1959) led by Fidel Castro (1926–2016), both of which ended in mass bloodshed. The genocide of a third of Cambodia’s population under Pol Pot (1925–1998) and the Khemr Rouge was another testimony to the horrors of the communist ideology. North Korea today, one of several countries still under active communist rule, is rated as the worst place in the world for Christian persecution, according to Open Doors.2 The once prosperous South American country of Venezuela also descended into absolute chaos, disorder, and starvation with the implantation of communist and socialist views in government in 1999 by Hugo Chavez (1954–2013).
The utter collapse of the Soviet Union in December 26, 1991 led the West to believe that, for the most part, communism was dead. However, Marxism did not die. It merely morphed into another form. Its new target would not be economics, as Karl Marx had thought; it would be culture.
Enter Cultural Marxism
The old Marxist idea that economic disparity was the problem with society was soon abandoned in favour of a more nuanced approach; the way to subvert capitalism would be through culture, not economics. Two Marxist theorists, Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) in Italy and Georg Lukács (1885–1971) in Hungary, viewed two major obstacles to the advancement of Marxism:
Western culture, and the values it was based on
Marxists realized it would take time to dismantle these obstacles, as Christianity had been around for nearly 2000 years and by now the working classes were infected with its worldview. As such, the West had to be “de-Christianized;” Christianity had to be uprooted. This would not happen overnight, but would be a long, slow march, particularly through the academic institutions.
CM, like its predecessor, is atheistic and antichristic to the core. Karl Marx had said that religion was the opiate of the people — a drug, a pie in the sky illusion of another world — which hindered progress in the here and now. By destroying the Judeo-Christian principles upon which Western civilization was based, the whole Western world would collapse. This is the essence of deconstructionism, and would eventually become a matter of “pride” for many people. Whatever Christianity exalted in terms of morals must become deplorable; whatever Christianity found deplorable must be exalted. CM would move to subvert any values based on the Christian worldview and, in their place, emphasize women’s rights, gay rights, racial minority rights, and criminal rights — all in the name of social rights.
One of Lukács’ first acts was to introduce sex education into Hungary’s public schools. He knew that if the West’s traditional sexual morals could be destroyed, this would lead to the destruction of Western culture itself, as well as Christianity. He spoke of “free love” and mocked Christian views of sex and monogamy within the context of marriage. He would show graphic sexual images in his classes and encouraged rebellion against parents. Lukács knew very well that the family unit was a biblical Christian concept and so sought to make it the main subject of his attacks. Some of the fruits of Lukács’ thinking included the increased instances of family breakdowns, a steep rise in abortions, and skyrocketing rates of single-mother families.
The irony in all of this is that the Cultural Marxists who produced these tragedies were the same ones claiming to really care for these people.
Cultural Marxism’s Agenda
Cultural Marxists saw academia as the best venue to accomplish its goal of subverting the West and its Christian foundations. They hoped to achieve their mission by influencing the minds of future students, and were largely successful in conquering academic institutions throughout Europe, North America, and Australia. We need only look to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, and the writings of its founder Margaret Sanger (1879–1966), as an early example of their success. Sanger was a eugenicist who saw racial minorities as weeds in need of eradication — it is no surprise that many abortion clinics are located in areas with a higher population of minority groups, where abortion is encouraged.
We are not only seeing the fruits of CM in broader society, but in the church as well, with the rise of Marxist ideologies such as Critical Race Theory.
In 1923, inspired in part by Lukács, a group of German Marxists established a think tank at Frankfurt University in Germany called the Institute for Social Research. This institute, which soon came to be known simply as “the Frankfurt School,” would soon become the main instigator of CM. Other prominent members of the Frankfurt School — Max Horkheimer (1895–1973), Theodor Adorno (1903–1969), Wilhelm Reich (1897–1957), Eric Fromm (1900–1980), and Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979) — also began to engineer methods by which Western culture and Christianity could be dismantled.
In the 1950s, Herbert Marcuse assembled a coalition of blacks, students, feminist women, and homosexuals and told them that the reason for their oppression was Western civilization and particularly the influence of Christianity. This explains much of the vitriol that Christians in particular continue to receive from these groups, while other religious groups, such as Islam, get a free pass from criticism.
Things were not to continue for the German Frankfurt School due to Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) coming to power in 1933. They fled (Hitler detested Communism) and re-established themselves in New York City. Their focus was still the same, but instead of destroying traditional Western culture in Germany and Europe, they turned their attention to destroying it in the United States, capitalizing on the freedoms afforded there to promulgate their ideology and inventing what came to be known as “Critical Theory.” What was this theory? Essentially, to criticize and denigrate every traditional institution seen as “oppressive,” starting with the nuclear family. We have seen these attacks continue their march in Canada with the redefinition of marriage, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, and the promotion of LGBTQ ideologies.
The Frankfurt “refugees” also wrote a series entitled Studies in Prejudice, which argued that anyone who believes in traditional Western culture is ipso facto prejudiced, racist, sexist, facist, mentally ill, and laden with presumptuous privilege. It is telling that CM always states what they are against, but rarely what they stand for. They will protest by yelling and screaming, but rarely will they enter into any meaningful dialogue. To them, logic is nothing but chatter and a tool of the patriarchy; it is not about truth, but about power over truth.
How different from Christianity, which is about truth over power.
Cultural Marxism, Critical Theory, and the Media
As noted above, Critical Theory includes cultural studies, women studies, aboriginal studies, African-American studies, LGBTQ studies, transgender studies, postcolonial studies, and so on. In all of these studies, Western civilization and Christianity are identified as oppressors and the main cause of all societal ills. Women are told they are victims of a patriarchy, and that Christianity is a misogynist, male-centred religion; African-Americans are told they were enslaved by white Christians who also worship a white Jesus; Native Americans are told the Christian white man killed their ancestors and way of life; the LGBTQ movement believes they are hated and condemned by Christians.
It is no surprise there is a deep-seated anger against the West and Christianity by activists in all of these camps.
Cultural Marxists also made their way to Hollywood during the Second World War. Through media and entertainment, they believed (rightly) that they could promulgate their ideology more effectively. We see the fruits of their inculcation even today where Hollywood has become a powerful Leftist ideological medium, positioned to normalize all forms of sexual perversions while cultivating a systemic hatred against anything deemed “Christian.” Such is derisively mocked in the media while other religions are exalted as noble, victimized, and marginalized.
After WWII, most members of the Frankfurt School returned to Germany except for Herbert Marcuse, who stayed in America. He would go on to write Eros and Civilization and argue for free sex (which bloomed in the 1960’s with the sexual revolution) and the abolition from any type of restraints. Marcuse, in fact, coined the phrase, “Make love, not war.” Sex was used by Marcuse to argue for what was called “liberating tolerance,” which he defined as tolerance for all ideas coming from the Left, and intolerance for any ideas coming from the Right. This kind of “tolerance” is still practiced today among many special interest groups. Marcuse praised polymorphous perversity, destigmatized non-heterosexual relations, and stigmatized heterosexual relations in marriage as oppressive.
In short, Marcuse believed humans must be ultimately autonomous in their sexual expression; which is also how Paul describes degenerate men and women in Romans 1:18–32.
The Demonization of the West
Postcolonialism blames all the world’s ills on the West and their oppressive incursion and imperialism into other cultures (Middle East, India, Africa, and the New World among others) and the exploitation of those cultures.
But in fact, all nation states have engaged in colonialism since ancient times. Take islamic colonialism, where Islam “Arabicized” cultures and peoples by eliminating their traditional identities and replacing them with Arabic names and architecture (most of which was copied from Christians in Byzantium). Though CM blames the British as the creators of the caste system in India, it was actually an ancient concept rooted in Hinduism and practised for millennia long before the British even arrived in India. Among the practices the British abolished in India was sati (the practice of widow burning if her husband predeceased her), and the practice of throwing infants to the crocodile. They also built engineering schools as well as other institutions.
The slave trade is also blamed on the West and attributed to their greed. Again, what is never mentioned is the Eastern Slave Trade, which was orchestrated by Muslims and in which captured black, male slaves would be castrated and the females kept as concubines. What is never mentioned is the fact that black tribes in Africa had already been engaged in enslaving other black tribes, even contributing to their sale to Europeans on the coast. And while Westerners are condemned for their oppression of the Indigenous people, no mention is ever made of Native tribes that were annihilating other tribes before Europeans ever arrived (e.g. the Hurons were wiped out by the Iroquois in Canada).
The Crusades are also routinely stereotyped as a malicious attempt by Western Christendom to attack innocent Muslims and take over their lands, including the Holy Land. The going myth is that all of these groups lived happy, harmonious lives until the West got involved. Hollywood, in its production of the movie Kingdom of Heaven, distorted the facts of the Crusades to the point where medieval scholars dismissed the entire feature as a horrible distortion of facts. What is conveniently left out in their narrative is that with the death of the prophet of Islam Muhammad in A.D. 632, the Islamic armies began to take over Christian lands throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and as far as Spain.
The Crusades were launched 400 years later to repel the Islamic hordes from taking over all of Christendom. If it were not for the Crusades, all of Europe would likely have been overwhelmed by Islam and the Reformation would most likely never have taken place.
The New Language of Cultural Marxism
CM is responsible for the slew of new terms that have evolved over the last few years such as homophobia, transphobia, and Islamophobia, to name a few. Oddly, we never hear of “Christophobia.” Why? The reason is simple. Christianity and the West continue to be viewed as the oppressor class, making every other group oppressed.
We see CM at work in Western Europe, where many Europeans are clueless about the growing Islamic threat due to the migration of “refugees” into Europe. This has been allowed via the language of “tolerance,” where migrants’ suffering is viewed as the direct result of the West’s involvement in their countries. What they fail to see is that migration is a central strategy within Islam to spread its religion. The results have been disastrous as many ISIS operatives have come through the migration system and gone on to commit terrorist acts in the West. Westerners continue to excuse these as acts of lone wolves, mental illness, or anything they can think of except addressing the elephant in the room — which is the Islamic religion itself.
This also explains the West’s ever-increasing hatred for Israel — the only democratic country in the Middle East — and siding with Palestinians, who are portrayed as victims of Israeli atrocities. One of the greatest ironies here is the LGBTQ’s support of the same Islamic groups who put homosexuals to death under Islamic sharia law! This also explains why LGBTQ groups will sue Christian bakers for not baking a cake for a gay wedding but would never do the same with a Muslim baker who vehemently refuses to offer his services for gay weddings. Trinity Western University in British Colombia (a Christian institution) was even attacked by the law society in an attempt to bar their graduate students from becoming lawyers.
The Infection of Cultural Marxism in the Church
In the church, we have seen CM rear its ugly head through initiatives in the past such as the Emergent Church (led by Brian McLaren, Steve Chalke, and Bruxy Cavey) and, more recently, Black Lives Matter and Critical Race Theory.
Pastors wishing to become politically correct by entertaining social justice narratives have admitted LGBTQ members into the church without a corresponding call for repentance, and even ordaining them. Several churches I know have entertained Critical Race Theory only to find their churches in utter confusion, which have resulted in church splits. Another church I am familiar with in Toronto has “land acknowledgements” before the service in which they assert they are on the land of Aboriginal tribes. Of course, the only land acknowledgement that a Christian recognizes is Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”
We hear terms such as “white privilege,” which is a code word for white, male, heterosexual Christian oppression. If you have white skin, you are not only privileged, but you also bear the original sin of your white oppressive ancestors, which can never be wiped out. It is the unpardonable sin. While the emphasis of CM is on group identity, the Bible focuses on individuals as being made in the image of God. Christ, who was the truly oppressed one, came to save sinners and to remove ethnic boundaries so that He could unify them in Himself; where there is no Jew or Gentile, no male or female, no slave or free, but all are one body in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
All of these incursions by CM have occurred under the nose of the Church. How?To paraphrase a saying commonly attributed to Edmund Burke, the only thing necessary for evil to spread is when good men do nothing. The Church is in the midst of an ideological war. She must reclaim her position as the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:10–16). We have the remedy, and the remedy is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Cultural Marxism, like all other ideologies, is ultimately impotent and spiritually bankrupt. It is an inconsistent worldview built on sand; it will crumble. God has raised the Church in our day for such a time as this. The Church needs to come out of the shadows, out of her comfort zones, and own ourselves as the King’s men.
John Calvin once remarked that a dog will bark when its master is assailed — should we not speak out when our Master, Christ the King, is assailed by those who oppose His sovereign rule? If not now, when? The Church needs to take a stand and destroy the arguments of those who oppose the Lord and His Christ (Psalm 2:1–2), to take their ungodly inconsistent opinions set against the knowledge of God and take them captive to obey Christ the King (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).
Join the Fringe
Tony Costa earned a B.A. and M.A. in Biblical Studies from the University of Toronto and earned his Ph.D in New Testament and Theology from Radboud University in the Netherlands. He is a professor of apologetics at the Toronto Baptist Seminary. He also teaches as an instructor with the University of Toronto in the areas of Gospel Studies and Archaeology of the Bible and the Ancient Near East. He is the author of Worship and the Risen Jesus in the Pauline Letters and Early Christian Creeds and Hymns. His forthcoming book No King but Christ: The Collapse and Bankruptcy of Secular Worldviews will be released later this year. Tony has also been a contributor of scholarly essays in Christian Origins and Greco-Roman Culture and Christian Origins and Hellenistic Judaism and various journals.
All biblical citations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV).
“North Korea remains a brutally hostile place for Christians to live. If discovered by the authorities, believers are either sent to labour camps as political prisoners where the conditions are atrocious, or killed on the spot — and their families will share their fate as well. Christians have absolutely no freedom.” https://www.opendoorscanada.org/worldwatchlist/country-profiles/north-korea/