True Humanism: Jesus, Marx, or Jenner?
March 15, 2022

Many contemporary thought leaders have spoken intriguingly about a future without Jesus or, to be more precise, a future in which the transcendent truths of the Christian faith hold little or no sway over society. More to the point, these thought leaders often pose as anthropologists who find Christianity dehumanizing and as tea-leaf readers who discern in the anfractuosities of history a movement toward a more “humanized,” Christ-less future. In this article, I wish briefly to disabuse them of this errant notion.

Among the contemporary gaggle of thought leaders, two archetypes are prevalent: the Marxist and the Individualist. The Marxist is one who, even if unlike his progenitor Karl Marx in some ways, shares with Marx an unperturbed confidence that justice will be had when the West’s legal and economic institutions are razed and reconstructed. The Individualist, on the other hand, shares with its popular transgendered exemplar Caitlyn Jenner the unshakeable belief that society will be just only when it overturns the West’s established traditions concerning gender, sex, and marriage.

And while I can quite easily understand a future without Marx or Jenner, it has always seemed to me that if our society’s future is indeed to be without Jesus, the decision will be His, not ours. At any rate, it appears to me that Jesus is not bound by the deliberations of Western thought leaders or pop icons. Still, it is important to understand just how much these thought leaders underwrite the entire social fabric of our contemporary moment. If we are to position ourselves as worthy vessels for the Lord Christ—who will usher in an era finally free from their poisonous effects—we must equip ourselves to recognize all the ways we and the neighbors we love are forced to inhale, second-hand, the mephitic air emitted by the Marxists and Individualists.

The Marxist

Karl Marx’s anthropology is tied to an entire narrative which is, in fact, degrading and dehumanizing. Marx’s narrative is “redemptive” in nature, promising as it does an eschatological consummation of human history. In this narrative, material equality is Lord, class struggle and material inequality are Evil, and Marxist revolution is Savior. Instead of churches, Marxists envision pockets of classless people preaching revolution in an evil capitalist world. Instead of priests or pastors, he posits socialist vanguards training the masses to unify themselves around the oppressor-oppressed narrative. His utilitarian ethic spares nothing to achieve a socialist state; his eschatology is one in which the state withers away, thus eventuating in a society without war or crime; his philosophy of history is a closed system in which meaning is found within history itself.  

In other words, Marx’s anthropology dehumanizes by flattening the individual. It locates evil primarily in human (capitalist) institutions and salvation focally in human (socialist) prophets. But the socialists are wrong; man is not merely “economic man.” Economics is not the sole motivator of man, the definer of man, nor the primary lens through which we should view humanity. Man cannot be made better through revolutionary action—socialist or otherwise. His problems lie not with evil actions in history, but with the spiritual break between every individual and God himself. The Bible shows us that we can never expect full salvation to come in history before the return of Christ and his judgment. In the meantime, therefore, we must mitigate the effects of sin by establishing moral and social guiderails to seek the common good. We must work with the institutions we have inherited, seeking to reform them rather than to clear the decks and start over again.

In response to the Marxist, we must say that the best therapy for persons with Marxophilia is to encourage them to align their expectations with the real world. In reality, human beings are both finite and fallen. Because we are fallen, our cultural institutions will inevitably always fall short of perfect justice. Additionally, we are finite, the implication of which is that even our best social managers, bureaucrats, and politicians will be unable to create “just” institutions from scratch.

The Western seekers of a revolution that will restore meaning to man and justice to our institutions must recognize the fact that, historically, the West’s social revolutions extirpated the very institutions that allow human beings to exercise their individuality. Consider, for example, the French, Russian, and Chinese revolutions. I submit to would-be revolutionaries that if they are concerned about the restoration of humanity, they should seek it by reforming the institutions bequeathed to us rather than by burning them to the ground.

The Individualist

Jenner’s anthropology is similarly dehumanizing. Consider his statement that, “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.” How did our society get to the point that this statement is considered meaningful or coherent? The story of the individualist, as Carl Trueman has shown, traces back to Sigmund Freud and his belief that society is mired in the problem of repression. The truest thing about the individual, in this view, is his or her desires, especially sexual desires, and while we must repress such desires to prevent society from collapsing into chaos, this comes as the cost of individual fulfillment. By this view, the human person creates her identity by staying true to her repressed desires, showing that the human person is fundamentally plastic. To find liberation, individuals must say “to hell with society and its mores” and unlock their true selves by turning inward to discover how they can set free the person we were truly meant to be.

The chaos this brings is legion. Herbert Marcuse, a disciple of both the revolutionary Marx and the therapeutic Freud, held that all social and moral barriers to full sexual expression inhibit the individual’s liberation. He envisioned a society unhindered by the nuclear family, monogamy, and even the notion of biological sex imparting anything normative to our gender identity. Decades later, we are all Marcusean, or at least we all inhabit the rubble of his individualistic revolution.

Despite the insistence of the Jennersof this world that what matters most is the individual, rather than the collective good, they have all drunk deep of the victim polarity devised by Marx and his disciples. Anyone who stands in the way of individualist self-expression is deemed an oppressive bigot on the wrong side of history. The march of culture is held religiously to be one towards a utopia in which the animalistic desires of the individual reign supreme, and any persons who think humans possess a stable nature given by God at creation must be silenced or told “get thyself to the ghetto.” The revolution is coming for us all and our children.

For Jenner, the God all must worship is authenticity, defined by personal desires. Evil is all “inauthenticity” and the repression of authenticity takes the shape of cake baking, health forms, and children’s clothing sections separated into neat sections of “girls” and “boys.” For the Individualist, redemption is only realized when society coerces the wholesale approval of a person’s deep desire, no matter how libidinous or non-sensical. The Individualist Church is composed of activist groups roaming the streets and policing Twitter profiles, encouraging all to partake of the sacrament of celebration at the mutilation of boys’ genitals and the binding of little girls breasts, and so find self-righteous purity from stain of heteronormativity. The Priests of this slavering carnival of horrors are our celebrities and faux intellectuals, cheering the cancellation of all who stand in the way of progress.

As an ideology which embraces radical self-expression as the highest moral good, its ethic is strictly utilitarian. Whatever furthers the movement and advances the sexual revolution, no matter how culturally transgressive, is the only ground for certain truth. Accordingly, those who ally themselves to the movement are said to be on the right side of history, which functions as its final eschatological vision. History has meaning not from any transcendent source such as God and universal truths, but because it marches progressively toward the goals determined by the movement’s ideologues. The only meaning to be found in historical occurrences, therefore, is self-conjured, created from within by one’s longings and lusts.

The Christian

The Christian view of humanity differs significantly from the Marxist and Individualist views. In Scripture, we are taught that God created human beings in his image and likeness, calling us to manage the world in a way that brings him glory and causes us to flourish. To be a human creature is to be a servant of God, to be a junior partner working in the world on his behalf. For this reason, God called Israel to conform its corporate life to his divine law as embodied in the Ten commandments; sent Jesus to fulfill the Law in a way that Israel had not; and created the church to adhere to his law and, in thus doing, serve as a preview of his coming kingdom.

By conforming to God’s intentions for life in this world, we set forth a truly humanistic vision for the decaying societies in which we live. In Jesus’ words, we become “salt” for our decaying societies (Mt 5:13-16). Salt not only preserves but flavors, and a distinctively Christian humanism will not only recompose that which is decomposing but season that which is unsavory. Yet, to be effective, salt must remain chemically distinct from that which is preserves and flavors. Salt cannot be mixed with sand, for example, or its powers will be mitigated. The implication for God’s people is that we must conform to God’s intention for human life rather than allowing any admixture of today’s false humanisms.

Unlike the Marxist and Individualist views, therefore, we must seek the social and cultural reform of our society—the redirection of its inner life an external forms—rather than its revolutionary overthrow. Versus the Marxists, we must remind our society that humans are finite and flawed. Our society cannot build heaven on earth and instead. Instead of seeking to force equal outcomes via social and economic engineering, we must labor to reform the procedural injustices present in our cultural institutions. Versus the Individualists, and on the basis that humans are finite and flawed, we must remind society that individuals cannot and should not trust our own desires. Our deepest desires are corrupt. Instead of forcing society to applaud an individual’s conformity to his deepest desires, we should applaud people’s attempts to conform their lives to God’s deepest desires. 


We are all immersed in an era of revolutionary Marxism and expressive individualism, affected by them unconsciously. But we must not be complicit. We must understand how we got here, historically and philosophically. And we must create culture in our anti-culture; we must help our society recover the unshakable truth of God’s creational design for humanity and the frightening beauty of his “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not.” We must take our cues from the biblical heroes and the exemplars of the second century church. The ancient church was a marginal sect in a dominant, pluralistic society. Increasingly, Bible-believing churches in the West are also viewed as sects, and only our faithfulness as a closely-knit doctrinally-bounded community can the foundations for future vitality and witness.

To forge a renewed humanism, therefore, we find no help in Marx or Jenner, but considerable help in Jesus, whose apostle Paul observed that, ‘though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed, day by day.”

Bruce Ashford is a writer and theologian.

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