Try to make sense of this dialogue:
Smurf: Our village has been smurfed by a smurf that smurfs smurf.
Homnibus: A "smurf that smurfs smurf"? I don't understand, what is he saying?
Peewit: Easy, he says that his village has been visited by a bandit who talks through his nose.
Sir Johan: Really, I suspect that he's talking about a plague that came from the sky.
King: No, no, you got it all wrong, it's a wolf that came from the forest.
Smurf: No, that isn't it either.
Peewit: An elephant who blew his horn then?
King: Or a wildman who drinks blood?
A lucky escapee Smurf in the comic book version of "The Cursed Land" trying to tell that their village had been demolished (Smurfed) by a dragon (A Smurf) that breathes fire (That smurfs smurf).
When you use the word “smurf” to describe almost anything, it can get rather confusing in conversation. I feel similarly these days in regards to the term “Cultural Marxism.”
It seems to me that anything which a conservative doesn’t approve of is branded under this term. But just as in the Smurfs, there is a meaning to the term — and it might even be an actual threat. But in order to discover these, we need to sift out some misunderstandings.
What Is Cultural Marxism?
Because “Cultural Marxism” has been used much like the word smurf, it is imperative that we define it. And we find that much like an attempt at pinning down a definition of “smurf,” Cultural Marxism is also difficult to define.
If you ask Wikipedia, Cultural Marxism is,
“a far-right antisemitic conspiracy theory which misrepresents the Frankfurt School as being responsible for modern progressive movements, identity politics, and political correctness. The conspiracy theory posits that there is an ongoing and intentional academic and intellectual effort to subvert Western society via a planned culture war that undermines the Christian values of traditionalist conservatism and seeks to replace them with culturally liberal values.”
If you ask The Christian Worldview, Cultural Marxism is,
“Cultural Marxism is a worldview based on German revolutionary Karl Marx, author of The Communist Manifesto, that views life as the struggle between the oppressor and oppressed.
Marxism is typically defined in terms of economics — the rich oppressing the poor — but the perceived struggle between social groups also applies. Women, homosexuals, transgenders, immigrants, non-Christians, and minority skin colors are viewed as oppressed by men, fathers, heterosexuals, nationalists, Christians, and those of majority skin color.
Terms like ‘social justice,’ ‘diversity,’ ‘multiculturalism,’ ‘equity,’ ‘women’s rights,’ ‘anti-fascist’ and ‘Pride’ are used to advance Cultural Marxism.”
As you can see, the definition ranges from thinking it’s a made-up conspiracy theory to saying it’s the underlying strategy of all those attempting to undermine our society.
Perhaps our safest definition is the simplest. I prefer that posited by Robert S. Smith when he says, “Cultural Marxism is nothing more than the application of Marxist theory to culture.”
What Is Marxist Theory?
Certainly, that definition requires a bit more explanation. First, what is Marxist theory? Simply put, Marxist theory is the idea that there is a struggle between the working class (proletariat) and the capitalists (bourgeoisie).
It is fundamentally a critique of capitalism. Marx believed that capitalism had within itself the seeds of its own destruction and when it imploded (or was brought about through violent revolution), then a new and better classless society would take its place.
In the world that Marx projected, there would be no such thing as private ownership: “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs!”
Marx’s theory impacts more than the working world. It would also signal the disintegration of the family. The primary focus of training would move from the home and toward the state.
One has to look no further than the Killing Fields of Pol Pot, Mao’s Chinese Revolution, or Stalin’s labor camps, to see the wreckage which Marxist theory leads to in practice.
Where Did Cultural Marxism Come From?
But even though it has roots in Marxist theory, Cultural Marxism is different. Where Marx saw bloody revolution as the answer, neo-Marxist theory (now dubbed cultural Marxism) set its sites on institutions of culture. Robert Smith summarizes the strategy:
“The program, then, at least in theory, is simple: subvert society by changing its culture and change its culture by infiltrating its institutions. The goal is likewise clear: destroy capitalism and replace it with a communist counter-hegemony. This is why many see Cultural Marxism as an accurate description of Gramsci’s neo-Marxist philosophy. ‘The long march through the institutions’ is likewise regarded as an apt summary of his strategy for establishing the necessary conditions for a socialist takeover and the (supposed) arrival of a communist utopia.”
Essentially, what neo-Marxism attempts to do is to subvert Western culture. Just as with Marx, it places the blame for social ills upon the bastions of Western society.
It is fundamentally a negative movement — its focus is to rid all systems of oppression. It has the same core philosophy as Marx but pursues it by subverting culture.
Is it Really a Threat?
This is a somewhat difficult question to answer because of how poorly defined Cultural Marxism is within popular society. Saying it is really a threat feels a little like the boy who cried wolf. Or someone who sees a conspiracy theory in everything.
One can make a significant amount of cash, and garner a healthy following, by inciting fear and anger. Calling everything cultural Marxism is a rather marketable grift these days.
And so, I’m hesitant to say that there is an actual threat here. But I do believe this philosophy poses at least some level of threat to humanity.
There is a quote attributed to C.S. Lewis that “The most dangerous ideas in a society are not the ones being argued, but the ones that are assumed” (Lewis might have said this somewhere in a conversation, but this appears to be a misattribution. I can’t find the original source anywhere).
The greatest threat of Cultural Marxism is likely not in the things you are going to hear in the news. The greatest threat will probably be folks crying wolf while the actual seeds of Cultural Marxism are implanted into the fibers of society.
Furthermore, Martin Luther spoke of history being like a drunk horse. No sooner does he fall off on the left side than he overcorrects and falls off on the right side (Actually, this is another one of those misattributed quotes. I’m not sure Luther said this one either).
One of the gravest dangers of Cultural Marxism might not be the philosophy itself but the ground we give up by overswinging. Our fear of this philosophy could potentially do more to believers (and even society) than the thing itself.
How Should Christians Respond?
At whatever level a worldly philosophy, like Cultural Marxism, holds sway over society or believers, we have an anchor in Scripture.
In Colossians 2:8, we are urged to “See to it that no one takes you captive through holly and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ.”
A steadfast hope in the gospel is our anchor for these uncertain times. Being anchored in Christ will keep us from the allure of hollow philosophies from the left (like cultural Marxism) and from the right (like alt-right versions of “Christian” nationalism). Knowing our hope keeps us from being overcome by fear as well as falling into bitterness.
Yes, we should know the philosophies of the day. It’s important to think about the philosophical basis of many of the things we see in society.
But we should also be careful not to assume that everything with the label Christian is necessarily immune from these deceptive philosophies. We must be anchored in both orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
We must have a theology that is both robust and loving. It’s also good to remember that our task is to proclaim the kingdom of Christ and not to defend Western civilization.
The best way to rescue someone out of a hollow philosophy is rarely to argue them into the kingdom. Our best approach is to ask good soul-searching questions.
Know these philosophies well enough that you can find the bottom in them. And from there, you can point to Christ. He is the answer to the longings of those prone to embrace Cultural Marxism.
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