Social Justice Warriors and the Religion of “Woke”

In his remarkable book American Awakening, Professor Joshua Mitchell connects identity politics and modern-day crusaders for so-called Social Justice with an underlying religious motive.  Perhaps one might say that Mitchell explores the inverse relationship between a robust religious culture with “Woke” social justice warriorism.  Whereas Christian doctrine teaches that man in his original estate was the crown of a “very good” created order, only to be cast out by sin against the God who created him.  The philosophy of identity politics and social justice asserts that the world is indeed religious.  

According to this novel worldview, the world has indeed gone wrong, but the perceived injustice is not sin against a holy God, but rather transgression and innocence are based upon racial and not moral injustice.  In other words, the woke SJW who subscribes to a secular worldview maintain Christian categories (transgression and innocence), but this stain is without God and without any hope of forgiveness.  Speaking for myself, I would be hard-pressed to find a better example of an idea which has “a form of godliness” while “denying its power” (II Timothy 3:15) than identity politics.  Mitchell asserts that in this new world of identity politics, “God is nowhere to be found … Neither is forgiveness.”[1]

Along those same lines, i.e. the replacement of biblical redemption with secular ends, British historian Paul Johnson argues persuasively that “the decline and ultimately the collapse of the religious impulse [among the advanced races] would leave a huge vacuum.”[2]  Johnson concludes that the bloody, war-ravaged 20th century is largely the history of how that vacuum was filled: namely, a secular ideology of one kind or another and its victims.  Among them, Hitler’s 30 million slaughtered, Stalin’s 60 million annihilated, and Mao’s 45 million sacrificed in the name of “progress”.

Prof. Mitchell makes a related point when he asserts that “Americans have lost or are losing their religion; however, the fever of identity politics that now sweeps the nation” is simply a political and ideological worldview that is attempting to fill the void left by traditional religion.[3]  Again, he argues that the identity politics of innocence has transformed politics, essentially turning politics into a religious venue of sacrificial offering. 

This is a new and godless religion or worldview, rather than simply a continuation of Leftist ideology.  In the religion or ethic of Woke, the new dogma indeed has all the markings of the birth of a new religion.

In Mitchell’s conception of this novel, profoundly godless and distorted Awakening, there is an invisible economy measuring transgression and innocence.  At the bottom of this racial and sexual hierarchy sits the white, heterosexual male.  This class of Western person must be purged like an Old Testament scapegoat in order for African-Americans, women, and persons who identify as LGBTQ or other various identity groups to ascent the newly minted hill of social justice.  This quest for so-called ‘equity’ – and notice the term! Not liberty or justice or even equality – equity becomes an exercise in scapegoating a la Rene Girard.  

In both Girard’s conception and the Old Testament, the concept of the scapegoat is that the stain or sin of the community is transferred onto the head of a goat and sent out of the camp.  This prefigures the Divine Scapegoat, Jesus Christ, who renders the impure pure by taking upon himself the sins of the world.  But in the distorted philosophy of identity politics and intersectionality, the scapegoat is the white, heterosexual man rather than the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus Christ.  Indeed, the person and work of Christ has no place in this godless ideology, which is itself pathological.

We Americans living in the advanced modern world are not left without weapons in this intellectual and spiritual battle, however.  The Apostle Paul exhorted the saints in Ephesus to be mature, “so that [they] may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14).  The worldview of identity politics and the intersectionality scorecard, if you will, is ingenious in its conception, but it is such an infinite regression that there can be no ultimate victor!  Take, just as an example, a black, transgender lesbian, who may be on the top of the heap one day, but she will only remain so for ten minutes before someone else comes along with a “higher intersectional score”.  The craftiness of this deceitful and fanciful scheme is brilliant if the aim is to replace traditional Christianity, but guilt and transgression of sin remains, even for the most intersectional intersex lesbian minority.  And yet the fact of guilt regarding God’s moral law and a God-given conscience possessed by every man, woman, and child created in His image still plagues anyone outside of Jesus.  Everyone who is not born again must go to sleep at night in peace or in anxious fears of guilt, transgression, and stain.

That is ultimately why the rise of identity politics and intersectionality seems pervasive now but is doomed to failure.  Its foundation is faulty, and so it will collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.  All of it rests on sand invented in some American or European academy, rather than the bedrock of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  So for all of the intersectional points, accounting ledgers, adherents and cultural dominance that seems to be flooding into Western halls of power, the entire scheme is worldly and built upon transitory sand.  As Jesus concluded the Sermon of the Mount, the winds will blow and the waters will rise – as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow morning – and when they do, the house built on a faulty foundation will collapse.  All the while, the mountain of the Lord’s house, his church, is built on a foundation of granite.  No matter what worldly tempests are blowing or threatening her, she will survive.

As Hilaire Belloc once quipped, “The Church is a perpetually defeated thing that always outlives her conquerors.”  And I, for one, do not see why this current ascendent conqueror which threatens to finally undo her will be any different.

[1] Joshua Mitchell. American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time. New York: Encounter Books, 2020. xix.

[2] Paul Johnson. Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties. New York: Harper Collins, 1991. 48.

[3] Mitchell, xx.

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