If you want to make sense of what appears to be America’s rapid descent into cultural madness, the Public Religion Research Institute’s (PRRI) newly released 2020 Census of American Religion is a good place to start. According to PRRI, nearly a quarter of all Americans now claim to have no religious affiliation. PRRI refers to these people as religious “nones.”
This situation is unstable and unsustainable. Religions have arisen and spread around the world for a simple reason: they fulfill deep human needs. Religion provides individuals with ways to access the realms of the unknowable. It provides a framework within which to understand existence, birth, death, luck, risk, unfairness, love, emotion, and so many other questions that elude empirical explanation. At a societal level, religion provides the basis for morality, law, and community—along with recognizable rituals marking lifecycle events. To many adherents, these earthly manifestations are far more important than theology; even the religiously uneducated and the deeply agnostic can appreciate the usefulness of objective morality and the comfort of familiar weddings and funerals.
While there are almost certainly some number of people who genuinely need neither spiritual nor communal connection—much as there are indeed people who have no sex drive—it seems inconceivable that tens of millions of Americans belong to this category. Those who feel these needs but do nothing to fulfill them are, by definition, leading unsatisfied lives. Though many deny feeling deprived, the evidence suggests otherwise. The sheer number of people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” who invent their own rituals, or who flock to psychoanalysis, self-help, 12-step programs, fitness regimens, self- medication, sexual exploration, or other panaceas suggests that America is facing epidemic levels of faith-starvation.
Worse, without some external anchor for basic concepts of good and evil, all morality becomes situational—rendering the rule of law untenable. In short, if a quarter of America can find true fulfillment as nones, American society is dangerously unstable.
What seems far more likely is that many of the nones are meeting their spiritual, communal, and moral needs in a system that provides many of the benefits of faith, but is not yet recognized as a religion. The supernatural abhors a vacuum every bit as much as does nature.
This nascent faith has taken on many provisional names and drawn from many sources, but for present purposes it should suffice to call it “wokeism.” Though far from all nones are woke, the overlap between their demographics is striking. The nones account for 36 percent of Americans between 18 and 29 and 23 percent of registered Democrats.
A Well-Developed Eschatology
As currently configured, wokeism lacks a canon, a hierarchy, a fixed set of rituals, and many other earthly trappings common among organized religions. Nevertheless, wokeism already has many of the metaphysical elements capable of filling emotional, spiritual, and communal needs and of underpinning a distinctive moral code. It’s gaining greater substance at a dizzying pace.
Woke views of biology, sex, race, gender, justice, the supernatural, the start of life, and the place of humanity within nature set the woke apart from adherents of other faiths. Wokeism has a particularly well-developed eschatology, an end of times borne of humanity’s sins against the global climate. People living out of harmony with nature, these faithful believe, are causing pain to mother Earth. If we refuse to repent, turn from our profligate ways, and alter our lifestyles, the earth, seas, and skies will conspire to smite us.
The woke regale in excommunicating (i.e., “canceling”) blasphemers, questioners, doubters, and deniers. They reserve a special antipathy for Christians and Jews who refuse to concede that newly discovered scientific “truths” have debunked their repressive Biblical superstitions. Their greatest enemies, however, are believers in the civic religion of American exceptionalism. Their assault on statues is symptomatic of a new faith working to debase the iconography of its predecessors. With a deliciously ironic twist, their literal iconoclasm follows in the footsteps of Abraham and Mohammed.
Deeper and more profound irony, however, arises in the number of rejected bits of Christianity that Wokeism has recreated in warped form.
Transgenderism provides the ultimate test of faith. Evolutionary biology, genetics, field studies, and every known culture recognize that there are exactly two genders, and that they’re clear, genetically determined, and immutable for all but a tiny number of humans. Gender dysphoria is a rare disorder; those suffering from it deserve compassion, help, and (where possible) accommodation. To the woke, however, such compassion is dehumanizing. The woke can effect gender transformation through sheer will and declaration. Their mantra, “transgender men are men; transgender women are women,” denies objective reality. It makes sense only as an expression of faith, akin to the literal transubstantiation of the Eucharist into the flesh and blood of Christ.
The 1619 arrival of a slave ship birthed an America indelibly tainted with racism? The idea seems absurd. No more absurd, however, than the idea that Eve’s acceptance of the snake’s recommendation to eat a forbidden fruit doomed man to a life of toil and woman to the pain of childbirth. Empiricism is inconsistent with the entire concept of a societal “original sin.” It makes sense only as a matter of faith.
George Floyd—in life neither a good man nor an inspiration—died for that original sin. Not to atone for it, but rather to remind us that much work remains. He is revered not for the man he was but for the aspirational nation his martyred soul calls upon America to become. To get there, it is hardly enough for “white” Americans to regret past racism, or to attempt to move past it. “White” Americans, still bathed in original sin, must first confess their privilege, then willfully encourage discrimination against themselves. Only confession of antiracism and self-flagellation can cleanse the American soul of its original sin.
Experts and scientists commune with “the science,” then descend to bestow its revelations upon the woke. They’re exempt from explanation—or even tough questioning—and their work need not conform to the scientific method. That’s true even when their message rests in morality, politics, or other judgments far beyond the reach of science (as conventionally understood)—as long as that message conforms to the desires of their woke flock.
Irrationalism in Scientific Robes
Dr. Anthony Fauci, High Priest of the Pandemic, put the matter succinctly. Those who doubt him or question his motives are openly attacking “the science” in precisely the manner that those who challenge a true prophet are truly attacking God.
Fauci’s jeremiad also gave wokeism its first sacred garb. The persistent popularity of face masks eludes rational explanation. Some scream that they remain mired in terror of infection long after vaccination. Others announce their desire to avoid being mistaken for the non-woke. Still others report relishing the freedom to avoid smiling in public. What they’re wearing is not a face mask but a faith mask—a useful outward showing of woke piety. It’s an ideal symbolism for a faith focused on group identity and culpability rather than on individual responsibility.
What unites issues like the elimination of the gender binary, the 1619 Project, the beatification of a thuggish addict like George Floyd, the embrace of an overtly racist antiracism, the blind devotion to selected experts, the masking, and the belief in a climate-induced end of days, is that they make no sense. Rational people could never derive them through observation, experimentation, reason, or logic. In the realm of faith, however, they are no more implausible than the central beliefs of many other faiths.
Of course, the woke themselves insist that theirs is not a faith at all. Wokeness is merely a search for truth, a quest for justice, a desire to restructure society along the lines of equity and enlightened thinking, and a set of guidelines to conform behavior accordingly. To those who understand the meaning of the word “religion,” that’s a decent working definition. Because of that denial, however, Wokeism allows nones to meet their spiritual and moral needs while pretending that they’ve rejected the entire outdated notion of religion. It meets the needs of the many woke nominal Christians and Jews without forcing them to disown their ancestral commitments.
The denial of the faith at the heart of wokeism provides yet another benefit. Though the Constitution prohibits the establishment of a religion, it is silent on the establishment of an ideology. Wokeism is establishing itself in ways that Christianity would never be allowed to do. It’s beyond time to awaken to the woke. Wokeism is a new world religion engaged in a stealth conquest of America, the West, and the Judeo-Christian tradition.