Picture, if you will, a world where a priesthood pronounces the hopeless failure of humanity, and demands sacrifice in order to expunge the evils of the past. These priests tell people that because of the state into which they are born there is no hope of washing away their evil. It is inbuilt, inherent, inescapable. The only thing to be done is obey the priests’ edicts while destroying one’s worldly possessions and vanities in an endless effort to expiate the sins of the past.
The picture above could perhaps describe the Old Testament law and priesthood. Some would also say that this is the call of the Christian faith, a founding impulse of my own Canadian nation, and one that continues to reverberate through the thoughts and feelings of present-day Canadians. Others would say that the picture above could just as easily describe the new religion of “Wokeness.” The new priests of Woke call people to their great temples of political correctness. They hunt ruthlessly for heretics, with the same zeal as the Inquisition of Roman Catholic Spain.
In a recent Twitter post noting these similarities, Quillette editor Jonathan Kay wrote:
Christianity teaches that we’re all contaminated by original sin, which can only be (partially) expiated by confession & penitence. That’s (literally) exactly what Wokeism teaches to white [people]. Same self-lacerating cultural reflex but with a different catechism.
On the surface, this is a damning indictment of the Christian faith. And Kay continues on to draw conclusions about the natural religious impulses of Canadians being subsumed into the new Woke religion. He identifies “millions of white Canadians, stumbling around glassy-eyed, looking for some purity cult to peacock their piety.” In a way he is not wrong, for there are indeed several similarities.
Original sin: Christianity teaches that because of the original sin of Adam and Eve, all people are born sinful and can do nothing on their own to fix this state. Every thought is inclined toward evil. A cursory reading of history provides decent support for such claims. Wokeism teaches a similar concept, based not upon the original sin of the father of all humans, but rather the forebears of all those whose white skin marks them as hopelessly tainted in body, mind, and soul.
Confession and penitence: Christianity does indeed teach that one should confess one’s sins, repent from them, and seek to live a life without sin. Wokeism likewise emphasises the need to repent not merely of actions, but to confess that one’s inbuilt attributes render him or her wholly hopeless, unable to change the pure evil that courses through every aspect of their being.
Expiation: Christianity teaches that the sins of humanity were so great that there must be great sacrifices to expiate the sins of humanity. In a similar way, Wokeism demands the forsaking of property, status, and career, as well as the rejection of heretical ideas, books, films, friends, and even family.
The need for purity: Christianity emphasises holiness, the idea that one must be set apart to God and pure before him. Wokeness likewise calls the faithful to sanctifying works, by which they may purify their lives of everything from plastic straws and fossil fuels to microaggressions and unconscious biases.
Lifelong struggle: Christianity teaches that the believer is not instantly freed from sin, but rather that he or she must daily battle against the sinful desires that are still present in the redeemed person. In a similar way, Wokeism assures its acolytes that they will never be free from the curse of inbuilt whiteness. Though they may strive, sacrifice, debase, and torment themselves, though they may willingly assimilate every prescribed action and idea, they must still endlessly confront their own evil.
Priesthood: Christianity teaches that in order to reach God, one needs a priest, one who can mediate between the Almighty and mortal humanity. In a similar way Wokeness provides a priesthood, a body of academically trained experts, speaking their own specialized Latinate professional dialect, who determine on any given day what the great oracles of the Woke One demand of the faithful. These commands must never be questioned or controverted if one expects to escape the reaping force of cancellation.
But there are also some key differences, which actually speak to the failure of the Woke religion, and indeed the failure of any religious impulse that depends on the work of humans to restore their relationship with their particular god. In this regard, the things that Kay missed go to the very core of the Christian message: Grace, Faith, and Redemption. It is these three key elements that Wokeness, and indeed many other ersatz religious impulses, fundamentally fail to provide.
Grace: As Kay rightly pointed out, Christianity teaches us that humanity is utterly hopeless, lost in sin and doomed to an eternity apart from God. But Christianity, unlike the religion preached by the oracles of Woke, also teaches that in the midst of this hopelessness God made a way by Grace for every human to be saved. The very word means “unmerited favour” (something perhaps approaching the Woke indictment of “privilege”)—which is to say, something that a human cannot ever deserve. Grace is not based on a complex series of rituals and sacrifices, carefully choreographed to humiliate and degrade the faithful, but rather upon the simple idea that God loves humanity and made a path for them to be freed from original sin through faith in Jesus Christ.
Faith: In the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Christian faith shows us the way to be free from the permanent and pernicious power of sin over individuals and collective humanity. By merely believing in Jesus Christ and trusting Him, by ceasing to try to solve the problem of sin, by repentance and turning to Christ, any person can be totally free of the penalty that all deserve for both original sin and all past, present, and future sins they commit. This faith is not blind and unreasoned, but rational and encouraging the love of God with heart, soul, mind, and strength.
Redemption: With faith comes redemption, the work that Christ does to free the person from sin, fill them with the Holy Spirit, and enable them to live a life that is no longer affected by the past, both in regard to the believer’s own actions and those of other people. This redemption forever frees the believer from the stain, the stigma, and the status of a sinful being.
Additionally, a closer inspection of the superficial similarities between Christianity and Wokeness shows the falsehood of the analogy: The message of original sin is not one of a permanent and hopeless state, but the start of the story of grace and redemption, as Jesus Christ repairs the brokenness of the human soul once and for all. The need for confession and penance is not for the purposes of regaining a lost salvation status, but rather the maintenance of a close and healthy walk with God. The expiatory sacrifice is not one that can be made by a human through great effort, but one that was completed once and for all by the one and only priest a Christian needs: Jesus Christ. The lifelong struggle for purity and righteousness is not one that can be fought by a person for themselves, but one that God in the Holy Spirit fights for the person, providing victory and hope, rather than eternal anxiety and fear. All in all, it’s a vastly different message than that presented by the armies of the Woke god as they glue their hands to paintings, flagellate politicians, execrate their communities, and cry out against every real and imagined heresy.
Though perhaps an inexpert theologian, Mr. Kay does at least provide us with this worthwhile insight:
Most of my audience, at Quillete and otherwise, aren’t Canadians. They sometimes ask me why Canada has gone in so hard for this cult. One reason: We’re a once-christian country that’s become an almost entirely post-religious society in a matter of just one or two generations....This is their new church.
There is a fundamental need in all humanity to go beyond the merely earthly and touch the transcendent. As Kay describes it, there is a religion-shaped hole in every person. In modern days, we have found an answer to this, turning not merely to one new god, but a whole pantheon. For those who value nature, we provide the climate god, who will demand endlessly costly sacrifices and condemn all climate-change deniers to a painful demise. For those looking for a bit of fun, we have the pleasure gods, encouraging a continuous pursuit of self under the cover of “you deserve it” (or, in its more understated and medicalized variant, “self-care”). Standing above all the others, the Zeus of this pantheon, is the god of Woke. This great deity is unknowable and undefinable, continually changing (or even reversing) its form, expecting of its acolytes not merely slavish devotion but also acts of great mental and doctrinal contortion. The faithful must tear down their traditions, social networks, citizenship, ancestry, and then, having thrown all else upon the fire, calmly stride into the sacrificial flame, proclaiming their eternal unworthiness.
Despite the abandonment of religion by many in Canada, the problem of sin has not ceased, and attempts to solve it through ever greater paroxysms of ideological fervor are doomed to fail. Not only that, the campaign itself has produced a narrative of fear, distrust, and division that has caused inestimable harm to individuals, communities, and the nation as a hole. Wokeism is indeed a religion. But the associated god provides no grace, no real faith, and no redemption. And an honest appraisal of its effects might induce my irreligious fellow Canadians to reflect on the trade they’ve made, and perhaps be tempted to hearken back with fondness to the “bad old days” when religious life was centered on, well, religion.
Postscript: As a parenthetical trailer on his Twitter thread, Kay made a point of connecting Wokeness to not just Christianity in general, but Calvinism, in particular, on the basis that “whenever anyone starts babbling about addressing their ‘whiteness,’ they always situate it as a ‘lifelong’ struggle that can never be fully completed. It’s a thinly deflected version of predestination.”
Mr. Kay needs a good refresher on his 17th-century Calvinism (it’s always a good time for this, and well worth the study). The doctrine of predestination teaches that God has already chosen those who would be saved from before the creation of the world. Because of this, though, there is indeed a daily need to resist temptation and stand against sin. And contrary to Kay’s understanding, this is not a hopeless battle, but rather a daily (and possibly victorious) campaign against the forces of sin that previously vanquished the human soul.
The Woke priest’s corollary would perhaps be the notion that everyone is doomed to the eternal search for a just and tolerant society that will never truly arrive. But far from sounding to me like a Calvinist community, this sounds more like a vision of hell.