If we have suffered wounds from rampant infidelity to Christ, we won’t resolve them by a different sort of infidelity to him. The division between orthodoxy and ideology among Christians has reached a new level of obstinacy. Both sides fear the other poses an existential threat to their core values. And in a way both are correct.
By Noelle Mering
There is a recurring movie scene, some version of which might be familiar to most, where a woman, fed up and visibly disgusted, gets in a car and tells the driver to take her anywhere but here. Her aversion to what she is leaving behind is palpable and her destination is irrelevant.
It’s a funny encapsulation of that feeling of having had enough with such intensity that we are consumed by the thing we are rejecting. But in reality, of course, we all know that the thing we choose ultimately matters more than what we leave behind. It’s a version of an old Chesterton quote, “The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.” Battle should be for the sake of something.
In the great undoing of 2020 a quieter, but no less consequential, upheaval has been the rapid Wokening of American Christians. While many who “get woke” follow the path of exodus forged by the nones, others choose to remain as Christians and seek to bring new energy to the religious Left by advocating Woke activism as the authentic outgrowth of their faith. Jesus, they say, would have marched in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement in reaction to racial injustice, or embraced feminist ideology in reaction to harms done to women, or renounced the judgmentalism of traditional sexual norms.
Muddying and exacerbating the discussion is the fact that our political disagreements are often shallow sloganeering devoid of necessary distinctions. We tend to make complex policy issues seem black and white, while foundational principles we cloud with complexity. Part of political wisdom is knowing which is which.
But beyond the political there is a real dynamic of Christians going Woke in reaction to personal wounds that should not be dismissed. Perhaps we have experienced hypocrisy, harshness, or scandal in a more orthodox Christian community, and, well, the solution just might be to become a faith defined by its reaction to, and rejection of, all of that. While reasons vary, the common thread is grievance and a strong desire to distance themselves from more conservative Christian associations.
We can easily recite a litany of grievances propelling people to establish this distance. For example, we all know that Woke Christians are incensed by Donald Trump and his supporters, but a less frequent and more constructive conversation concerns not what they are rejecting, but what they are choosing. Ideas lead us somewhere and the destination will come eventually, and perhaps surprisingly if we remain consumed by the thing we've left behind. Ideology, once internalized, will play out its internal logic and will take us places regardless of whether or not we intended to go there. Once the destination is reached we might little remember what it is we left.
What are Woke Christians choosing? The term ‘Woke’ refers to the state of being alert and attuned to the layers of pervasive oppression in society. While it originated specifically with regard to racism, it has since broadened to include other areas of what is considered social oppression commonly understood to be along the lines of gender, race, and sexuality. Specific incidents of injustice are used to reinforce the larger goal of the ideology that all human interaction be seen as a power contest. New horizons of grievances must be continually sought, for outrage is both the sustenance and currency of the movement, and division is the product. Growth for the Woke movement is measured by fracturing.
While the orthodox Christian understanding of personal identity is informed by all sorts of attributes and circumstances, at his core, each person, made in the image and likeness of God, is an irreducible subject with an intellect directed toward truth and a will oriented toward the good. Because truth and goodness are transcendentals of God, at the core of our identity, by our very nature, we are defined in relationship to him. In addition to being distinctly human by our capacity to reason, we achieve our purpose, and are most fully ourselves, in relationship with Love himself. While orthodox Christians are certainly not immune to being fueled by grievances, the defining logic of Christianity is a corrective for such errors.
In contrast, for the Woke, we are not to understand ourselves in proximity to the goodness of God, but in proximity to the evil of society. Whereas membership in a family is personal, membership in the political tribe is abstract. Each person belongs by virtue of being an instantiation of a movement. But while sharing in group membership is necessary, it is not sufficient. What is demanded is to share the ideology as well. It is the ideology, not the individual, which must flourish.
For example, if oppression is at the very core of womanhood (as the Woke say), then woman’s perfection exists in fighting her oppression and striving for power. A pro-life woman then is denying something central to her womanhood. A conservative gay man is inauthentic and not able to represent the gay community. A conservative man of color will have his blackness questioned. This is echoed in a recent statement by the main author of the New York Times’ 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones. “There is a difference between being politically black and being racially black.”
Someone who is racially black can be dismissed, ignored or vilified by the movement if his politics contradict the movement. In lacking the correct political consciousness, such a person is said to be repressing the core of her identity and cannot have an authentic voice nor should she have a platform. While empowerment and diversity are the stated goal, uniformity and ideological power are the actual goals. You are only important insofar as you further their agenda.
Woke ideology is a powder keg combination of postmodernism on top of Critical theory, as established by the Frankfurt School. The point of the movement is to destabilize, fragment, and eradicate hierarchy, history, meaning, and fundamental human identity. We see this in the dissolution of any stable conception of a human being. A person must be nothing in order to be anything. This is epitomized in the increasing realization among some feminists who rightly see the transgender movement as dependent upon the erasure of any meaningful concept of woman.
It is easy to overlook or dismiss the more sinister drives of the movement, but to do so is a negligent ignorance. For example, the current pet cause on the Left of transgenderism is not a quirky one-off effort to include a small group of people, it is an ideological bomb meant to eradicate a stable conception of human nature. Maybe that seems like an esoteric philosophical point until we realize that every tyrannical regime justifies fundamental assaults on its citizens by first demolishing the integrity of bodily dignity. We begin by instrumentalizing our own bodies. We end with justifying the instrumentalization of the bodies of others.
Similarly, we can try to overlook the avowed Marxism of the Black Lives Matter movement. Maybe it was just an eccentric peccadillo that their statement of beliefs included such things as queering the culture and disrupting the nuclear family. How odd for a movement about racial justice! Except that these are perfectly natural and explicit goals for Woke grievance culture. Abolish the family! Defund the police! Smash the patriarchy! Why do we not take them at their word?
Revolution is not born from a stable society of whole persons. It comes from a divided society that is populated by a wounded citizenry who see revolution as their righteous solution. In fact, so many of the wounds which lead people to this sort of tribalism are rooted in pathologies that are encouraged and celebrated by Woke ideology: the dissolution of the family as the primary cell of human society, the rejection of sexual mores that served to protect the health and integrity of the dynamics between men and women, the uncompromising support for abortion which has left millions of women with a depth of pain and remorse that they are not allowed to acknowledge. These wounds are useful to the cause of revolution, and so rather than resolve them, Woke ideology seeks to exploit them, “rubbing raw the sores of discontent" as Saul Alinsky would say. The same ideology that creates these wounds is not going to serve as a remedy for them.
In my upcoming book, Awake, Not Woke (TAN Books, Spring 2021) I examine the origins, dogmas, and indoctrination of the Woke movement. It is a revolution which elevates will over reason, the group over the person, and human power over higher authority. What is rejected—reason, the person, and authority—are the three characteristics of the Logos himself. The Logos is the mind of God, communicated in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the author of, and authority over all. It is he who is the ultimate target of the Woke revolt. It is a war of words against the Word. Once the internal logic of the movement is understood it becomes impossible not to see the patterns as they have played out time and again in Maoist China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Stalinist Russia.
If we have suffered wounds from rampant infidelity to Christ, we won’t resolve them by a different sort of infidelity to him. The division between orthodoxy and ideology among Christians has reached a new level of obstinacy. Both sides fear the other poses an existential threat to their core values. And in a way both are correct. Woke ideology is a jealous god and will not coexist with Christ in the heart of man. One or the other will eventually triumph, one through annihilation or the other through redemption.