Will-To-Power or Will-To-Charity?

The ideology that is running rampant in our culture has several characteristics that distinguish it from several other Western worldviews, especially the great Western monotheistic religions. The differences between what is often labeled “Wokeism” and Christianity are deep and at great odds. These differences deserve significant treatment.

One of those differences is what is at the basis of social reality, or our relationships. This includes every social relationship from person-to-person, among family members, person-to-business, government-to-person, and government-to-government. Wokeism comes from a tradition that teaches the basis of all these relationships is an act of power. Marx, and Hegel before him, taught this and used it to describe the grand sweep of all human history up to that point (Marx explicitly says that all human history can be explained by the power struggle between the economic classes). By extension, the future will be won through power for the sake of the oppressed, resulting in the earthly utopia of communism.

Rousseau, the patron philosopher of the bloody French Revolution, also taught that social relationships are acts of power, even if created by and obeyed through convention. His famous line early in The Social Contract uses power to describe the constant and universal condition of humanity: “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they.” Nietzsche reduced human interaction to the “will to power”.

The cultural Marxism that runs through our culture like a virus in a host, co-ops all language and interpretation to change human interaction into power dynamics, always pitting one group against another. The magic in this move is that the power dynamics never stop. If you assent to this ideology, you are its slave forever. You must always see your relationships as power. You will never be able to solve problems created by power. This is the dynamic behind vocabulary like “white privilege”, “colonialist”, and “structural racism”. They never go away, no matter what anyone does. The grievance is perpetual. The guilt is deep and lasting. Victimhood becomes an identity.[i]

Never mind that a culture cannot sustain itself like this, individuals certainly cannot. A student of this ideology is either forever guilty or forever grieved. There is no escaping power, even when friendship and love are present, and, when you actually read what the cultural Marxists write, even when family ties are present. It is power and grievance all the way down.

When you engage with these ideas, they can be very persuasive. Afterall, we really do see a lot of power-plays around us, and many of us have felt the blunt end of someone else using or abusing us for their own ends. If we are not careful, we are tempted to project power onto every relationship because we have experienced it in a few.

The primary problem with this perspective is that it gets reality wrong. The primary relational dynamic in the universe is not power, but Trinitarian love and authority.

The primary relational dynamic in the universe is not power, but Trinitarian love and authority.

The Christian doctrine of the Trinity, that God is one in essence and three in persons, describes the ultimate reality of all that exists. Everything else comes from the creative power and nature of the God who exists, created all things, makes humans in his own image, and who is involved in individual lives. If this is the fountainhead of all that exists, including our relationships, it behooves us to try and make sense of the nature of the relationship within the Trinity.

In his book, Biblical Critical Theory, Christopher Watkin proposes something besides raw power (especially power as violence) as the foundation of our relationships with each other. He makes the case that the relationship of love within the Trinity is the foundational principle for Christian relationships. He writes, “By contrast, it is no exaggeration to say that in the Trinity the Bible gives us an ontology of love, that for a Christian Trinitarian view, love is ‘the original law of human social being,’ and that violence is its negation” (BCT, 50). He goes on to say, “Instead of a will-to-power, Christian Trinitarian theism has a will-to-charity (agape), and this inscribes self-giving rather than the libido dominandi (will-to-power) at the heart of reality” (pg. 51).

This fundamental social principle of agape, or will-to-charity, is both descriptive and prescriptive. This means we can take the character of the Trinitarian God to be the actual basis of human relationships, even when often corrupted by power. In fact, it may be that power in the form of violence or coercion is the consequence of the fall manifest in relationships. Thus, it can be understood as prescriptive as well. Since we are fallen, and the wrong kinds of power manifest in our relationships, the Christian should recapture the original intention of agape.

And, without detailed explanation, this includes the proper relationships of authority that are often understood to be within the Trinity. This is an authority of economy, not authority of priority, and one that is based on love and good-will. It is entirely possible for human relationships to reflect the same kind of positive use of power as authority without becoming power as violence. This is possible only if we can imagine a social structure that is not just will-to-power.

Christ, then, reinforces this possibility with the second of the two Great Commandments. He says, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). The very character of ultimate reality – the Triune God – makes this possible, and the command of our Savior makes it imperative.

Society as persistent power dynamics is a perpetual motion machine of grievance to which there is no end. And, it should be said, that is the point. Those who make use of power-as-grievance need it in order to maintain whatever social power they have. Society as an interconnected set of relationships beginning with the Triune God of the Bible puts an end to those things and draws all of us closer to the source of our life. I can stop suspecting you, and I can love you. You can stop blaming me, and accept the saving grace of our mutual Savior (if we believe in Him).

Christian theology, well done, is a powerful and freeing thing.

[i] One poor white pastor, in White Awake, says he cannot have friendships with his African-American friends because he is white and must re-start his relationships with them by begging forgiveness. Not for anything he did, mind you. This is an affront to genuine friendship love, and a degree of unmerited self-hatred.

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