The implications of "wokeness is a religion", plus a life update.
A friend recently remarked to me that we live in a Puritanical age. I find this very insightful. It seems to me that we are indeed looking at the template of Calvinist religion as it has been developed and secularized over the generations into the American culture of liberal high-mindedness and duty. The Godly of today are deeply engaged in the distinctive sin-contrition-atonement cycle of thePuritan Elect, just with different objects: for the sin of Eve, we have slavery and capitalism, for Original Sin, we have systemic racism and greenhouse emissions, for Contrition we have equity and climate apocalypse, and for Atonement we have anti-racism and the Green New Deal. For witches we have "haters" and billionaires.
Love your writing Sheluyang, always enjoy what you have to say. I found this piece quite inspiring so this may be wordy, but I’ll try to keep it brief.
I studied political science (IR) and music performance formally and philosophy auto-didactically (especially regarding psychology/psychoanalysis and theology. No deep textbook dives in these fields as of yet, barring some Freud and Jung, but a cursory and working knowledge). I’ve always had a propensity to be curious and drawn to intellectual challenges, so both the discursive and expressive natures of music and politics fit me well. I’ve found having a proper bearing on cognitive and spiritual functions and how they pertain to these fields to be essential in my understanding of them, as much as all of these subjects have helped with my understanding of reality.
I find your linguistic explanation of some of the origin points of religion to be quite elucidating. It reminded me of Leighton Woodhouse’s writeup on fanatical political expression as a form of religion, particularly his section detailing a possible origin point of religious expression in the experience of “collective effervescence”.
What I have found is that ideology is capable of functioning as *a religious substitute* in a secular and political context. By this I mean that when the philosophical elements of spirituality are absent from a secular worldview (corroborated by your definition of religio), ideology has the potential to take on a spiritual dimension as the vehicle of religious expression.
Look at the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia 1975-79. An ideological cult with a fanatical devotion to its promulgation that produced within its members a cognition of pure religious purpose and virtuous justification. The true faith in and belief that a heaven will be built on earth in the form of agrarian communism (for the record I am a Marxist through and through, I find the idealization and rejection of scientific philosophical Marxism by the Khmer Rouge to be truly fascinating and tragic).
To answer your question - I think religion can be defined as: the belief in, and spiritual expression of, ideology that seeks to answer the epistemologically unknown, through faith alone. To clarify my use of spiritual, I mean: that which is expressed by humans as an extension of themselves and imbued with our emotions as a means of non-linguistic emotional communication and communion. In other words - a projection of ourselves.
Where music is the dialectical expression of our spirituality and emotions in a non-verbal sense, religion is the idealistic expression of our spirituality and ideology in a - more or less - verbal and emotional sense.
P.S. - all those books you’ve got for school look fascinating!
Well done, again. Thanks for the book references. Here is my answer to your question:
A religion is a set of beliefs among a community of like-minded people that 1. explains who we are and why we are here, 2. provides comfort to those who feel alone or unworthy, and 3. teaches the behaviors of a virtuous life.
Yeah, I’ve written up over ten thousand words on the theology of postmodernism. I should probably actually post it rather than just sitting on it. I did put up a brief intro to belief versus belief in belief. [https://taboo.substack.com/p/tyre-nichols]
My main concern with postmodern theology isn’t that it involves faith based belief (although it does) but that the faith demonizes people. There are violent religions and peaceful religions. Religions you can leave easily and cults where you’re punished for leaving. Those are the main distinctions I’m worried about.
I was very disappointed with McWhorter’s book for calling anti-racism a religion but never defining religion. And then I’m a fan of Batya Ungar-Sargon, who said it’s not a religion, but also never really defined religion.
Some random notes:
- Paul Gottfried touched on wokeness as religion in "Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Towards a Secular Theocracy."
- RW blogger Z Man recommends "A History of Christianity" and "A History of the Jews" both by Paul Johnson, so I keep them both as references.
- I got into GK Chesterton in highschool years because of the cyberpunk video game "Deus Ex" which sprinkled quotes from "The Man Who Was Thursday" throughout its missions in a way that was both subversive and reactionary. A surprising number of RW podcasters that I listen to were also Chesteron-pilled because of that game.
- Finally, neo-reactionaries use "Gnon" as a way to prevent factions of the right from getting bogged down in scriptural circular firing squads: https://twitter.com/0x49fa98/status/1038055873950576647?lang=en
I was totally wondering if you were OK this morning b/c I realized I hadn't seen a post from you in a while! Enjoy your studies!
(Re: religion, for me it has to have a more institutional reality to be one, but "wokeness" and especially genderism definitely look religiOUS in the way people embrace and police and perpetuate the ideologies.)
Thank you for freezing our subs Sheluyang, you’re a Dude! Wishing you all the best in your academic endeavors!
I agree that McWhorter's definition is flawed. It is simultaneously too precise and too vague. Original sin is too precise, specific to Christianity*; evangelical is too vague. I mean, a lot of woke isn't evangelical in any meaningful sense; they enjoy the shaming more than the conversion in a lot of cases. And Judaism isn't evangelical; if you extend it to concepts like tikkun olam, a light unto the nations, evangelical loses its meaning. Then there are religions such as Alawitism that share with Judaism an ethnic character but have absolutely no evangelical aspects whatsoever.
For me a religion is a shared community of belief that ultimately rests on a supernatural claim. Those are the only non-negotiable aspects for me. I have no defense for this claim that isn't circular, though. For me: Belief in historical materialism is a shared community but cannot be religious. Believing privately that the earth was created by an eternal hedgehog named Jim is supernatural but, as it is not part of a shared community, isn't a religion per se. Again, I can't defend this. It is because it is.
Everything else - evangelism, rite, ritual, liturgy, elect, the specificity of supernatural claims (Creator God? Elemental gods? Pantheon? Angels? Transubstantiation? Afterlife? Reincarnation?), the structure of the community, the role of the believer within that community - is negotiable
*notwithstanding some neo-Gnostic dualist sects influenced by Christianity but I think those are all LARPers anyway.
Lots of people use words as technical classifications: "The pope is technically a bachelor, because a bachelor is an unmarried man." I can use words that way, but I prefer to use words as informal exemplars: "The pope isn't really a good example of a bachelor, because the typical bachelor is a young man looking for a date."
Wokeness is a social phenomenon with the hallmarks of a cult:
* a countercultural movement,
* demanding strong emotional commitment from its adherents,
* centering around sacred figures or martyrs,
* encouraging its members to cut ties with outsiders,
* creating a subculture where where all events are perceived through the lens of the cult, and
* encouraging dogmatism and showy professions of belief, etc.
To say "wokeness is a religion" may wrongly imply it's as much of a religion as Islam, which it isn't. But to say "wokeness is not a religion" is even more misleading - try putting a tomato in a fruit salad, and you'll see what I mean.
Every single person you mention here should stop saying the stupid little word "woke" right this very instant. It sounds puerile, it isn't accurate, and it's misguided. What is being described as "woke" did not recently manifest whole-cloth in this form. Rather, activist-academics have been elaborating similar doctrines and dogmas for decades in the fringes of academia. The only difference is that now they are used to justify legal action.
There is a plain keystone that connects activist-academic theorizing with social-justice-based calls to mandatory upheaval - this keystone is Psychology, through which it is declared that "harm" as construed by activist-academics must be eliminated posthaste to avoid the commission of grievous psychic injury.
*Ascends soapbox* Ahem. Friends, Americans, Countrymen - We the people have established a state religion in America today! It is a religion called Psychology, and it should always be written with a capital P.
The arrogant insertion of the religion Psychology into every facet of life has led us to the present crisis. The religion Psychology wears the clothes of science, and it performs a caricature of the scientific method when needed, but it is not bound by science's limits. The dicta of Psychology are accepted without factual evidence and without waiting for scientific research. We see that when science contradicts Psychology, Psychologists abandon science. We see that "Psychology" is not an "-ology" any more than Scientology - it is a religion.
The vocabulary of Psychology is found everywhere & heard incessantly. Bad people are “narcissists,” “bipolar,” “socopaths.” In “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” we have an excellent example of how Psychology overwrites cultural touchstones - in this case the ancient myth of Narcissus - with its own particular definitions.
The average American of today searches for meaning through the lens of Psychology in just the same way as the average American of two hundred years ago searched for meaning through the lens of Christianity. Likewise, in just the same way, the average American of two thousand years ago analyzed himself & his place in the world through the lens of animist tradition passed down to him from time immemorial.
The "psych" of "Psychology" is not the brain - that would be neurology - it is the psyche, the spirit, the mind, the soul. We may observe the brain, we may observe the body, we may observe behavior. We may observe how chemicals, conditions & chromosomes affect the body, affect the brain, affect behavior. Yet the study of the unobservable mind - this is not in the remit of science. It definitionally can not be.
This is not a pedantic distinction - this is fundamental. When one attempts to study the unobservable, one steps outside science. The mind is studied with the mind, the soul with the soul, the spirit with the spirit. The study of the psyche by the psyche for the psyche - this is called art, this is called literature, this is called music, this is called religion. So-called Psychologists have set themselves above all these. They have set their purported true understandings of the psyche above art, above science, above everything.
A psyche studying the psyche can communicate its findings on the psyche by art, by literature, by music. It can not purport to declare empirical truth. To do so is to found a religion. It will not matter how disturbed & bizarre the doctrines grow. Psychologists have claimed moral & scientific truth theirs to pronounce.
We must firmly restrict Psychology to the religious domain. As long as we fail to bind it thusly, its shifting dogma & whimsical clergy will rule us by clerical fiat.
There's a great book about this called "Politics as Religion" by Emilio Gentile (2001), and he calls these totalizing political-ideological movements "political religion", which he describes as:
"Political religion is the sacralization of a political system founded on an unchallengeable monopoly of power, ideological monism, and the obligatory and unconditional subordination of the individual and the collectivity to its code of commandments. Consequently, a political religion is intolerant, invasive, and fundamentalist, and it wishes to permeate every aspect of an individual’s life and of a society’s collective life.
The resulting religion of politics is a religion in the sense that it is a system of beliefs, myths, rituals, and symbols that interpret and define the meaning and end of human existence by subordinating the destiny of individuals and the collectivity to a supreme entity.
During the Modern Era, the relationship between the religious and political dimensions and between power and sacredness entered a new phase that gave rise to the sacralization of politics, which reflected the affirmation of the primacy of the sovereignty of the state, secularization of culture, the loss of the church’s spiritual hegemony in relation to the state and society, the subsequent separation of the church and state, the triumph of the principle of the people’s sovereignty and the creation of mass politics."
A single definition is a good exercise since in truth it probably requires an entire book. I think the best way I can describe it is that it’s a set of externally prescribed and ritualistic beliefs AND behaviors that seek to settle unanswerable or at least very difficult questions and provide a deep meaning for the self that can’t be obtained through material things, with faith holding it all together.
I’m sorry. I think white guilt is a crock put out by a mentally Ill racist Robin D’Angelo. I can’t believe so many people are falling for this junk ....
I think they’ve been brainwashed in school over the last few generations by the Green Agenda. That is what is the religion behind Wokenss
Religion of the earth 🌍. It’s anti-human.
Have you seen King Charles, religious leader of Major Church recently stated the Magna Carta is invalid & he created the new Terra Carta... “a 2 step change that puts animals & EARTH above
That is a religion
On a weird side note..Terra Carta was listed as a location by both Epstein & Maxwell listed as “place of residence”. Back then, nobody knew what they meant ..
I’m a Jew, who’s in ❤️with a Christian & have a Shaman sister. We all make it work together 🙏
Two words: Unquestionable Dogma.
Some great insight here, Sheluyang! The history of the word “religion” is even more complex the further back in time you go.
The etymology of the word is surprisingly obscure, and it’s clear that different people used it to refer to different things.
Cicero thought. it meant rituals that are performed for the gods.
Julius Ceasar thought it was a specific kind of oath.
Pliny the Elder used the term religio to describe how the intellect of elephants was a testament to the power of the heavens.
The best insight I’ve read into the modern use of the word is Leora Batnitzky’s superb book “How Judaism became a religion.” (Spoiler: Judaism isn’t really a religion. At least not annoy most people think of it.) I highly recommend the book for all scholars in those interested in this question.
In Wokeness thinking, original sin pertains to the African slave experience in America, an origin story, not the preexisting experience of slavery within Africa or, for that matter, elsewhere in the world that existed by perpetrators of all races for thousands of years before it unfolded in the New World well before the advent of Christianity. As such, original sin as a necessary religious precondition for Wokeness is fallacy and consistent with much of the lazy and sophistic imaginings of today's Woke radicals. You don't need the original sin of Christianity to believe in your own bad ideas. Today’s woke radical thinkers different only in detail from those of others historical upheavals who destroyed in the name of righteousness to remake society in their own image.