Woke – a religious revival?

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Mark Lehain
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I grew up in a very big and very religious family. This being relatively unusual, it made me feel, in the best way possible, a bit of an outsider.

Having tonnes of brothers and sisters and cousins knocking about made for amazing family occasions. It also meant endless double takes from people as we turned up en masse to events or poured out of a car that couldn’t quite seat us all.

On the faith front, we followed a very traditional Catholicism, so there were crucifixes and statues in every room, and between mass, the rosary, and daily prayers, rituals and routines galore.

We all got pulled from R.E. and sex-ed lessons. I spent these slots in the school library, happily working my way through a series of books about paper aeroplanes. It meant I started adulthood with a limited grasp of contraception, but significant experience of making a “Fast Hawk” or “Zip Dart”. (Fortunately, the latter meant that the former didn’t matter so much.)

I became atheist at university but I still see things a bit differently because of how faith and family shaped me. It also means that I can empathise with people who hold strong beliefs, religious or otherwise. It was how I was for a long time, and how many I’m close to now are. And while I don’t have a religious basis to my beliefs today, I will defend the right of others to live according to them, insofar as it doesn’t restrict the rights of others.

Faith makes demands of you and how you live. It shapes and informs how you see the world around you. I’ve been thinking about this lots as I’ve immersed myself in the wonderful world of woke activists recently, to try to better understand them.

And this is the thing: the social justice movement has all the basic elements of a very traditional, pre-enlightenment, religion. To take just a few:

  • It is built on tenets of faith, most of which cannot be proved or disproved – the world is intrinsically unfair, and things don’t happen by accident. Old-school religion blamed the Devil for everything, wokery blames capitalism & power dynamics.
  • It has prophets and icons, seminaries (in universities) and a priesthood: hello Diangelo, Kendi, Greta, et al.!
  • There are a variety of holy texts and banned tracts – “Praise Be To ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Racism’! Burn ‘The Madness of Crowds’! ”
  • It explains how the unseen world operates – “systemic racism”, “patriarchy”, “white privilege”, “unconscious bias.”
  • It offers ways that we can atone for and try to change these – through “educating yourself”, “checking your privilege” and other modern takes on confession and penance.
  • They reject the separation of state and religion, and think that the government should actively promote their faith. 
  • They won’t allow dissenting voices, says these are malign or foolish in their motivation, and should be banned from the public and private spheres. “Of course white privilege is a fact, how can you say otherwise? You’re not fit to do your job & should be removed.”
  • Worse than sceptics and heretics are apostates – people who were once on their side of things but who they believe to leave the faith behind. See: centrists in Labour Labour 2015 – 2019, various parts of the environmental movement, Suzanne Moore & JK Rowling.

You get the idea. Once you view wokery as essentially a pre-enlightment religion, then you can better understand the drivers behind the movement and its followers.

Reasoning won’t change their beliefs, as theirs is a faith, not a rational philosophical system. If we are to challenge and then reverse their capture of large parts of public life then we need the reformation to come from two places: political leaders outside of the movement (even if they’re opportunistic like Henry VIII and Boris Johnson), and heretical thinkers from within (like Zion Lights or JK Rowling.)

It’s going to be tricky until this happens.

Most of us are happy to live-and-let-live, and leave social justice warriors to live their lives according to their beliefs. However, SJWs don’t grant this in return. They view it as collaboration with the enemy – hence “if you’re not actively anti-racist, you’re racist” and “silence is violence.”

Also, while traditional religions at least had the fall-back position of salvation for believers in an afterlife, wokery doesn’t, so believers have to achieve heaven-on-earth or all else is lost.

I’m optimistic though. Most people of faith hold their beliefs genuinely and with good intentions. History shows us that extremist religions burn out and fade away over time as they alienate potential converts and turn on their own. 

Things are already starting to move against the worst elements of woke, and if we remain upbeat and polite in making our case, I’m confident things will come good. We just need to stick to our vision of a liberal, pluralistic, tolerant society, and not get downhearted when others accuse us of nastiness and stupidity.

And if it all gets too much at times, I can highly recommend making a paper aeroplane or two. There are few better ways to switch off, and find some peace amidst the religious warfare. Enjoy!

Mark Lehain


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