A Christian’s Guide to Cultural Marxism

If you Google the term “Cultural Marxism,” you will likely be told that it is a right-wing conspiracy theory. But pick a different search engine, or scroll for long enough, and you will find a more robust definition.

Cultural Marxism—for those new to the concept—is a worldview gaining immense popularity throughout the West. It refers to a collection of ideas rather than a collection of people. Cultural Marxism is a secular philosophy that views all of life as a power struggle between the oppressed and the oppressor.

The oppressor is usually an aspect of traditional western society such as the family, capitalism, democracy, or Christianity. The oppressed is anyone who is or who feels marginalised by these institutions, depending on the cultural and political debates of the moment.

“Cultural Marxism is a secular philosophy that views all of life as a power struggle.”

Several years ago, the oppressed group in focus was the members of the homosexual community who wanted to marry. Last year, it was schoolchildren who felt threatened by climate change, and biological men seeking to identify as women and compete in women’s sport. This year, it is ethnic minorities protesting police treatment.

What needs to be acknowledged up front is that this power dynamic in our culture is real, since even the most well-intentioned societies produce inequality that must be addressed.

And as followers of Jesus, we are called to care for all people, and to be particularly sensitive to those who are sidelined by society. Love for ‘the least of these’ is, after all, the example Jesus set for us.

“Even the most well-intentioned societies produce inequality.”

But if we are not discerning, our impulse for compassion will be recruited and used for harm. Jesus stood for the downtrodden—but he also stood for marriage, gender norms, private property, a God-given moral code, good pay for hard work, a faith lived out in public, and civil law and order.

Cultural Marxism, on the other hand, sees all of these divine norms as the problem. And Christians who uncritically accept the oppressed-oppressor narrative end up fighting against the very institutions that God has ordained for human safety and flourishing.

To better understand Cultural Marxism, we do well to trace its origins. To read about it in depth, see the Gospel Coalition’s brilliant exposé on the subject. For a potted version, read on.

Karl Marx (1818–1883) was a German political theorist who believed that workers were oppressed by capitalism and should rise up to overthrow it. He dreamed of a socialist or communist utopia—a classless society where all resources were shared.

“Cultural Marxism sees divine norms as the problem.”

Marx’s philosophy was trialled in Russia, China, and many other nations in the 20th century. Tragically, 100 million people lost their lives in the communist bloodbath that followed. What became clear through this experiment is that when a stable government is overthrown, bad actors will always rush in to take power—because power corrupts, and the human heart is evil.

In other words, Marxism is good in theory but terrible in practice because it fails to account for the moral complexity of humans. We are at times victims of the sin and oppression of others, as Marx saw. But we are also guilty of sin ourselves and prone to abuse power when given the opportunity.

Despite Marxism’s obvious failings, many of Marx’s followers continued to subscribe to his ideals. One of these was Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937). He believed that Marxism failed because capitalist values were still too deeply embedded in every aspect of Western society.

A culture-wide revolution was needed, Gramsci argued, if Marxism were to succeed. This would involve a reshaping of sexual ethics, organised religion, mass media, academia, the legal system, and more.

“Marxism fails to account for the moral complexity of humans.”

According to Gramsci, “In the new order, Socialism will triumph by first capturing the culture via infiltration of schools, universities, churches and the media by transforming the consciousness of society.” This dream came to be known as the “long march through the institutions.”

The doctrines of Cultural Marxism were further developed by a group of intellectuals in Germany known as The Frankfurt School—most prominent among them, Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979). Fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s, this group ended up scattered in universities across the Western world, most notably in New York and California.

Many of the seismic cultural shifts we have been experiencing over the last decade were being promoted by Frankfurt School academics as early as the 1960s. The sexual revolution, the redefinition of tolerance, radical sex education in schools, belief in gender as a social construct, the virtue of censorship, and Critical Theory can all be traced back to this group.

And as many have observed, however deliberate the campaign has been, this “long march through the institutions” is near complete.

“Cultural Marxism is a mood that defines our generation.”

Cultural Marxism today is not an organised group or a hidden society. It has its zealous prophets, to be sure. And ironically, they tend to be white, middle class, well educated, and able to cushion themselves from any chaos they might inspire—just like the Frankfurt School and Marx before them.

But more commonly, Cultural Marxism is a zeitgeist; a mood that defines our generation. Political correctness and our tendency to self-censor are some of the more obvious signs that Cultural Marxism has now gone thoroughly mainstream.

These new values are being enforced in more active ways, too. If your opinion fails to align with a narrow set of new ‘orthodox’ ideas, you will pay the price in some way or another—whether that’s your reputation, your relationships, or increasingly even your livelihood.

It is necessary to point out that people don’t need to understand the history of Cultural Marxism or own the label to openly promote its doctrines. But nor is it a conspiracy theory to describe these ideas as Cultural Marxism, since the label is proudly owned by many of its proponents, and its teachings have been in the public domain since their inception.

“If your opinion fails to align with a narrow set of new ‘orthodox’ ideas, you will pay the price.”

Today, the unmistakable cry of Cultural Marxism is that of victimhood. Put simply, the more oppressed groups you can claim membership to, the more your opinion counts and the more your demands must be met.

While seeming to promote equality, what Cultural Marxism actually inspires is a never-ending grievance between sexes, races, and other fixed descriptors that divide us. And this is a necessary component of the Cultural Marxist philosophy, since the West’s institutions will only be supplanted if enough anger can be rallied to the cause.

To this end, minority groups often find themselves being used for political advantage by those who claim to care about them the most. Radical groups hijacking the George Floyd protests is only the latest, ugly example of this.

“The unmistakable cry of Cultural Marxism is that of victimhood.”

Always, Cultural Marxist solutions are political ones. And it can only be this way, since Marxism is an atheistic worldview that only deals with a materialistic universe. To Marxists, the state is God.

This is why Christians must tread with caution. Jesus has sent us as salt and light into our culture. Most of the culture-shaping actions he calls us to actually don’t involve government at all—like intercession, care, financial generosity, friendship, community service, and civil debate, to name just a few.

Yes, Christians are called to be politically engaged as well. But according to Jeremiah 29:7, we are to “work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile, praying to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” Our voice should be for reform and renewal, not merely joining the chorus for radical overthrow.

“To Marxists, the state is God.”

But the greatest tool we have been given is the gospel. The truth is that intolerance and oppression and bigotry aren’t some great evil ‘out there’—rather, they are sins found in each of us. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn noted, “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

God’s ultimate and eternal solution to these evils is for every individual to be set free from their sin and reconciled to the One in whose image we have all been made. Only on this foundation can we build a truly just society where competing tribes no longer struggle for power—but instead, where each person puts the needs of others before their own.

This side of eternity we won’t achieve utopia. But the closer our culture aligns to the ways of God, the more we will see the vision of Amos 5:24 fulfilled: “Let justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Be brave, don’t self-censor and give into the mob. If you think this article will help others, please hit share. Also, scroll down if you’d like to subscribe. Thanks for reading!

11 comments

  1. Heidi Rickard · June 11

    Thanks so much for your insights Kurt. I really love how you manage to capture and express so wonderfully what our culture is experiencing and feeling. It really helps me to explain things to the kids too, and just put my mind in some sort of order! Keep up the great work! Heidi

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  2. Kevin · 29 Days Ago

    Thanks – I too appreciated this. But it raises a question for me. I completely agree the LORD’s transformation of the heart is the solution. However (and it seems wrong to put a ‘however’ after that affirmation..!!!) where do you see the place for calling/lobbying governments and institutions to change, for protest? The Gospel is a grassroots focus, yet particularly in democracy should we not also speak out against institutional injustices? How and when should we be such a voice in our society? Unfortunately it seems only the loudest and most violent voices are heard. Thus meek Christianity appears voiceless in the public square…. thoughts?

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    • kmahlburg · 29 Days Ago

      Cheers for your encouragement Kevin. I think there’s absolutely a place for lobbying like this. When there are good policy reforms proposed on these and other issues, I will often lend my voice to them with petitions, letters etc.

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  3. Kevin · 29 Days Ago

    Appreciated – particularly “When there are good policy reforms proposed” – response instead of reaction – helpful….

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  4. Helen · 29 Days Ago

    This is a very timely article. I have some questions where I would appreciate some thoughts.

    It seems to me that a sign of cultural Marxism is to try and erase those parts of history that don’t align with current thinking. For example, it’s acceptable to Destry a statue of an historical figure because they had racist views or made their fortune from slavery. Any good they might have done in their lives counts for nothing. Even now, a comment made 20 years ago is enough to ruin someone’s reputation or career, no matter what has transpired since. Is that an accurate observation?

    What troubles me with that attitude is that it denies that a person cannot evolve their views of a contemporary person. If a historical person there is no allowance for the times in which they lived – there views are no longer acceptable so therefore they should have no place is our history. It also denies them forgiveness, it denies everyone . How do you sensitively counter these arguments or points with a non-Christian?

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    • kmahlburg · 28 Days Ago

      Hi Helen, yes I share your views on so-called ‘cancel culture’ and the erasing of our history. Note that this is exactly what the soviets did as communism swept through Russia – it is feature of all totalitarian regimes, so it should be a wake-up call to our entire culture that the zealous prophets of Cultural Marxism are taking no prisoners. I hope to address this in an upcoming blog, so stay tuned 🙂 Scroll to the bottom of any blog post to subscribe by email if you like.

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  5. Donovan Jasper · 26 Days Ago

    Hi Kurt, this is a helpful article because it is informative without being alarmist. One concerning aspect that is becoming increasingly evident is that like the rise of original Marxism in the early 20th century spawned a wave of fascism and hard-line nationalism in response, we are again seeing a rise in hard-right nationalistic conservatism paralleling the more visible emergence of cultural Marxism throughout the Western world. If Marxism thrives by highlighting oppression, then fascism thrives by making us feel like our way of life is being threatened. As Christians we should be equally as concerned about this phenomenon and we should be wary of allying ourselves to secular conservative voices who paint themselves as our defenders but are really trying to fuel a counter-revolution for their own political ends. As you point out, “the greatest tool we have been given is the gospel. The truth is that intolerance and oppression and bigotry aren’t some great evil ‘out there’—rather, they are sins found in each of us.” We need to be careful that we don’t overreact against the ‘threat’ of cultural Marxism and unwittingly become part of the counter-movement trying to ‘save’ our society by political means. I would go further and say that the gospel is the only tool we have. We can only change society by changing people, and only the gospel can change people for the better.

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    • kmahlburg · 26 Days Ago

      Hi Donovan, thank you for your encouraging feedback. I’m glad you found it helpful. I agree with you about Christians maintaining a distinct voice and not becoming too caught up in secular political causes. I can see a rising tide of nationalist populism in the US especially (MAGA and all that) but I am yet to see it as a “hardline” movement with significant dangers – unless I have missed something? I know there are also white nationalist groups out there, but they seem to be very fringe from where I stand and certainly don’t have a voice in the media, the academy, the government, entertainment, education, law, or any other visible institution. Comparing the recent MAGA protest against COVID restrictions in Michigan, with the last few weeks of protests, is to me evidence that there is more moderation on the right than on the left at the moment. Like I said, I may not have everything in view here and I’m happy to be corrected. But as I read the play, I think the “left” is a far greater threat to freedom and public safety than the right is at this time.

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  6. Bernice Williams · 20 Hours Ago

    I happen to be Black. My parents lived thru him crow and segregation. I don’t know why you think we should continue to wait for equality. I’m a Christian and I don’t think God wants us to continue to have to fight battles. We are UNITED States citizens. You notice there are more and more angry Black people and that’s because they are tired of waiting. You talk about not getting in secular political causes. Where is your concern your Black brother and sisters? I don’t see Christ in you. Reading your Bible is fine, but it’s not going to stop the police brutality, or innocent Black people having police called on them because they are living their life. A good God fearing church should have their congregations meeting with Black churches and asking what can they do to help.
    I want to see Confederate statues put in a museum. My ancestors were slaves. Why should I have to walk pass a statue of some man who wanted to keep my people as property. That is history you want to celebrate. I want to celebrate they were freed.

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    • kmahlburg · 19 Hours Ago

      Hi Bernice, just to clear things up:
      – You’re a sister in Christ
      – I am all for equality and see no need to wait for it
      – I love your suggestion for churches to work together across the racial divide
      – I think there’s a good case to be made for Confederate statues being moved to museums, and if this happens, it should be done democratically rather than through mob protest
      – I just don’t think a deadly philosophy that killed 100 million people in the 20th century is going to help achieve peace, or any of the objectives that we’re seeking

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