The Root of Evil: Sin or Systems?

36-year-old rapper, singer, songwriter, and producer J. Cole boasts a successful career spanning over a decade that has made him “one of the most influential rappers of his generation.” In the summer of 2020, Cole received criticism for not responding publicly to the killing of George Floyd, then received further backlash when he released the single “Snow on Tha Bluff” in response to criticism of his public silence. Cole’s problem, according to his critics (primarily fellow rapper, Noname) and according to the lyrics of his “Snow on Tha Bluff,” is that he is “not woke.” As a black celebrity, Cole has not used his platform to decry racism and systemic injustice to the taste of progressive political activists.

Cole’s stance on political issues and political activism is complex. In “Snow on Tha Bluff” he reproaches his critics for their “holier than thou” attitude, but also asks them to educate him further on social issues, explaining that “These shackles be lockin’ the mental way more than the physical.” Cole agrees with his critics that racism is an issue, but he has not actively participated in the aggressive political and ideological advances of social activists because he does not see himself as a leader or as well-educated on the issues. Cole’s request for his critics to educate him has been called both misogynistic and racist. It seems that the problem is that Cole just doesn’t “get it,” and is therefore not strongly against the social institutions that perpetuate injustice. While Cole still acknowledges that there are problems of racism and social injustice—and has assumedly been trying to “educate himself”—his critics will see the same problems they condemned in “Snow on Tha Bluff” in his recent album, The Off-Season. Rather than embarking on a social justice crusade or calling for the overthrow of political powers (which is what a Marxist worldview says is the answer to societal ills), Cole cites personal vice as the root of society’s problems. In “Pride is the Devil” (stylized as “”), Cole suggests that the problems in society are not just a result of corrupt systems; they are also the result of corrupt people, what Christians would call “indwelling sin.” The implication of “” is that if people are broken, we cannot fix society just by targeting the broken system. If we want to heal the wounds within society, we need to heal the individuals within society. We need salvation not just from a broken system, but from pride and sin—from our very selves.


*Contains explicit language

The Problem with Society According to Marxism
J. Cole’s critics are operating out of a neo-Marxist philosophy that assumes that the basic problem with society (and therefore the root cause of things like racism) is within the system itself, not within individuals. Despite having failed spectacularly in the twentieth century in places like Russia and China, Marxism is alive and well in universities and progressive political activism in the United States. Marxism and communism can seem non-threatening and as if they have the good of all people in mind, but in actuality, “Marxism requires a radical remaking of society”1. Karl Marx, in The Communist Manifesto, explicitly identifies the solution to societal oppression and injustice as the working-class rising up in bloody revolution against the ruling-class. In Marxist thought, there are the exploited and the exploiters, and it is the responsibility of the exploited to overthrow the exploiters at whatever cost. 2 Inherent in Marxist philosophy is violent conflict. It requires an “us against them” mentality that identifies one group as evil and in need of extermination.

The core problem for humans, according to Marxism, is economic inequality and oppression. 3 The system is the problem, so all of our efforts should be towards overturning the system and replacing it with a communist system. Because the core human problem is identified solely within government, “Marxism rejects the Christian view of the sin nature, that we are all corrupt and in need of a savior.” 4 In short, it’s no use identifying problems within individual persons (unless they are instruments of the corrupted economic system, perpetuating inequality and injustice); rather, the problems are all within “the system.” Within this philosophical framework, the criticisms leveled at J. Cole make sense: he has failed to do his duty to “fight the system” that is perpetuating racism and injustice. According to Marxism, this is a moral failing. However, whether intentional or not, J. Cole takes an approach in “” that contradicts the basic premises of Marxism that many social activists (including many rappers) are working from. Instead of “fighting the system,” Cole makes a bold counterclaim: maybe the problem is within each of us.

Pride is the Devil
Within a climate that’s deeply influenced by Marxist philosophy, claiming that the cause of social ills is not the system itself but is rather (at least partly) the sin of pride is radical. Cole states that pride, not just the system, can be behind violent crime ([Pride] make you have to use your last resort and pull a robbery), relationship issues (Make a baby mama make sh- harder than it gotta be/ Make you have to take the b- to court to see your prodigy), and the breakdown of the family (Pride be the reason for the family dichotomy/ Got uncles and some aunties that’s too proud to give apologies)5. According to Marxism, all of these problems are rooted in the economic system and the solution to all of them is overthrowing the oppressive system. Cole counters by saying that he is “Slowly realizing what the root of all my problems be”— pride.

The Bible tells us that “the Lord detests all the proud of heart” ( Proverbs 16:5), making it clear that pride is sin. While pride is not the devil himself, pride is one of the most insidious and destructive sins. Some would even argue that all sin is rooted in pride, including original sin. Christianity acknowledges that sin is at the root of all brokenness. When it comes to how this plays out in societies, Marxism and Christianity approach the issue from opposite ends: according to Marxism, the primary problem is that systems in society are broken and that is why [otherwise good] people are broken; according to Christianity, people are sinful and that is why we have broken systems. Because the root of the issue is within us and plays out in the systems and cultures we create, we have to address the brokenness within people in order to address the brokenness in the systems.

There is only one solution to brokenness, pride, and inequality, and it is not the Marxist solution of overthrowing the government. Christians and Marxists alike must understand that there is no alternative, secular salvation that can be found through any political agenda or system. While Christians should have a deep desire to act justly in the world ( Micah 6:8), apart from salvation from sin through Jesus Christ, any attempt to achieve justice and equality by attacking broken systems will fail. Only through Jesus is there salvation, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” ( Acts 4:12). As Paul explains, salvation comes only “by grace through faith” as a “gift of God, not as a result of works” ( Ephesians 2:8-9). Only through Jesus Christ will justice ever be realized. Marxism fails to recognize that systems will not be redeemed until people are redeemed.

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Jesse Childress

Jesse Childress has a deep appreciation for good food, philosophy, theology, and literature. He is the former Lead Content Editor and Writer for Summit Ministries' worldview blog Reflect, and spent a term studying at Francis Schaeffer's L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland. Jesse has an MA in Cultural Apologetics from Houston Baptist University (now Houston Christian University), and began attending Denver Seminary in the fall of 2022 to study counseling, focusing particularly on the relationship between trauma and faith.