The Religion of “Wokeism”

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Max Funk, Creative Director of Converge, an online Christian outlet that says it “exists at the intersection of faith and culture” and hopes to be “a prophetic voice in today’s culture,” wrote an article last October that should have gotten more attention. Entitled “Wokeism – The New Religion of the West,” Funk offers an excellent analysis of the woke culture and its similarities with religions, though religions that are not positive contributions to the search for new life and redemption.

Funk identifies the roots of “Wokeism” in the Frankfurt School, a philosophical movement in Germany in the early 20th century that interprets everything — yes, everything — in terms of hierarchies of power, of oppressor v. oppressed. The goal of Critical Theory, the Frankfurt School’s practical embodiment of its philosophy, was to tear down the system and build a new, utopian one of equity and justice. The philosophy became popular among academic in the 1990s, but has since taken over many other institutions, including the mainstream media and corporations. Funk claims that “Wokeism” is now the dominant moral culture in western society, and that today oppressors and oppressed are delineated along lines of race, sex, and gender identity.

Secularism, which gained many adherents in the midst of the rejection of the Judeo-Christian tradition in the West, failed to offer people a sense of purpose and meaning to their lives. Indeed, many atheists, champions of secularism, insist that there is no purpose or meaning to our lives. Neither did secularism provide a moral code by which to live (how could it?) other than do not hurt anyone because you do not want anyone to hurt you. Or, as Funk says, “be a good person because the alternative is undesirable for everyone.” Hardly anything that is going to much inspire people.

“Wokeism,” however, offers people what secularism could not – purpose, meaning, and a moral code. The meaning is found in the struggle for justice, for tearing down the current system and replacing it with a better, more just and equitable system. The purpose is found in the work of doing justice, of being “on the right side of history” and contributing to a better world. The moral code is the one of righteousness or, better, self-righteousness, where I am judged, even if only by myself, as a better person than that other because I am more committed to the cause. It is what used by called “Pharisaism,” after the Pharisee in the the Gospel story who thanked God he was not a sinner like the tax collector (Lk 18: 9-14).

Funk says it better than I do:

“Wokeism offers everything that secularism failed to provide, and has quickly filled the God-shaped hole in our culture. It purports its version of truth, justice, righteousness, sin, and judgement. It provides its adherents meaning, with its meta-narrative of societal conflict, power struggle and the struggle for redemptive freedom. The tearing down those oppressive power structures helps give purpose to the individual and the collective. These values are solidified in public rituals like sensitivity training or confronting white fragility. There is a strong communal aspect, and people feel like they are part of something greater than themselves. Also inherent in this “social progress” is the hypothetical future utopian society liberated from the evils of the current oppressive system. Most of all, however, Wokeism offers what every sinful human heart deeply longs for, and that is moral justification. People believe they are acting justly within the world, and being fair, sometimes they are. But often, all that they are doing is mere posturing, or worse, destructive.”

One critical difference between “Wokeism” and Christianity is that “Wokeism” offers little in the way of forgiveness. Sin or guilt are based on one’s racial, sexual, or gender identity, regardless of personal actions. As such, one cannot receive forgiveness if one belongs to a group that is identified with the oppressor class. White people can ally themselves as much as they want with people of color and the cause of racial justice, or be desperately poor and unprivileged (at least in conventional terms), but they will always be White, which means they will always be an oppressor. There is no escaping the guilt that comes with one’s racial, sexual, or gender identity (if such is judged oppressive), and there is no losing one’s innocence that comes with one’s racial, sexual, or gender identity (if such is judged oppressed). “Wokeism” rejects emphatically the notion that people ought to be judged, not be the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. According to the doctrines of “Wokeism,” the color of one’s skin, or one’s sex or gender identity, is precisely the basis on which all are judged, at least ultimately. As the Black woman who objected to being stopped for a traffic violation by a Hispanic police officer told the officer, after accusing him of being a murderer, “You’ll never be White!” You see, according to “Wokeism,” White people all benefit from great privilege, people of color all suffer the lack of privilege, and those who are not White can never attain such privilege, at least under the current system, no matter how hard they try at acting White or acclimating to White dominant culture.

Funk is not optimistic about the future in a culture dominated by the new religion of “Wokeism.” While he allows for the possibility that “Wokeism” will die out, mainly as a result of its own self-destructive, “eating their own young,” habits, he thinks this is too optimistic. More likely is that “Wokeism” will be taken to what he calls its logical conclusion, and cancel culture and a political and social movement promulgated by violence will emerge. He warns those who think that the horrors of the French Revolution or the Great Leap Forward could not happen here are very much mistaken.

What is the answer? Funk insists that Christian theology cannot incorporate the principles of “Wokeism,” because they are fundamentally opposed, though some, he says, have already tried. I recall the efforts of many Christians to incorporate the principles of Marxist ideology into Christianity, to dismal results. Because “Wokeism” offers what its adherents regard as a moral vision to follow, Funk says that Christians must offer an “alternative moral vision.” That alternative moral vision, of course, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, proclaimed with passion and love, and without compromise. I would add, as I have in other posts, that joy must be an essential element in the lives of Christians, even when faced with negative consequences because of our resistance to the woke culture.

The Church has faced down many political, social, and cultural enemies over her centuries. She is still here for two reasons: first, the grace of God promised by Jesus and embodied in the guidance of the Holy Spirit; second, the willingness of Christians, even at times a minority of Christians, to not compromise the fullness of God’s revelation in Christ, but to proclaim that revelation with passion and live that revelation with joy.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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