Are You ‘Woke’ or Awake?
It seems as though “wokeness” ideology is taking over our society. Everyone from churches, to schools, to giant corporations seeing who can be the most “woke.” Generally, “woke” ideas emphasize feelings over facts, pretend that individuals determine reality for themselves (i.e. your “truth”), put a priority on affirming feelings, ideas, or behaviors rather than willing someone’s actual good, and often deny even the ability to know objective truth. Being “woke” means you have become enlightened to the alleged systemic oppression of various groups and you vow to fight for “social justice” which usually means working for equal economic and social outcomes in a given context.
In reality, the current popular understanding of “social justice” that undergirds the “woke” movement is the opposite of the good all humans should pursue and is anything but just (i.e. giving someone their due). Historic Christianity, and even things like logic and science, are seen as oppressive, racist, bigoted, etc. Today’s “woke” culture is tearing our society apart and erecting barriers to people considering the true Gospel and the freedom it provides. While acknowledging the need to combat actual instances of racism and bigotry, the Church should summarily reject the major notions of “wokeness” ideology, critical race theory (CRT), “white guilt,” and “white fragility” for several reasons.
False Ideas, Fallacious Reasoning
One reason to reject such thinking is that many of these ideas are built upon the false notion of “standpoint epistemology.” Epistemology is the study of how we know. Standpoint epistemology says we can’t know reality as it is. We only know it as it appears to us from our standpoint. Most often that means our race, sex, or sexual preferences or identity. This is one of the main tenets of critical race theory.
Strangely, some Christians accept this view. As one professor says, “CRT scholars ‘reject the prevailing orthodoxy that scholarship should be or could be “neutral” and “objective.”’ … Human beings are perspectival knowers. We learn about, see, and treat things from tradition-bound perspectives. Our scholarship, then, never arises from a neutral, objective view from nowhere.”
This, however, is a self-defeating proposition. It claims to be an objective truth itself, a view of “scholarship” that somehow transcends the author’s own “tradition-bound perspectives.” This type of thinking saturates the CRT movement. Sadly, even the Bible and philosophy departments of many evangelical institutions buy in to it. Carried to its logical end, such thinking makes biblical exegesis subjective if not meaningless.
In addition, “woke” ideology is largely built upon the idea that every individual who is not a person of color is either racist or anti-racist. If a white person gives a reason to show he’s not racist, it’s just evidence that he is. Thus there is no middle ground; you are racist, or else you fit the new, strictly-defined, rule-bound category of anti-racist instead. This is called a false dilemma. As Clint Roberts wrote earlier today, the strict either-or logic underpinning it is fallacious.
Even further, these ideas violate Jesus’ command to love God and love others. Guilt is collective, based on skin color. This reverts racism back to heights never imagined since Jim Crow days. Yes, every person is certainly influenced by the societal structure in which they live. Ultimately, though, individuals are responsible for their behavior.
Loving Our Neighbors Well Requires Truth and Goodness
“Woke” ideology says we must practice “social justice,” usually meaning equal social and economic outcomes. There are much better ways to understand social justice, though. That’s social justice as it was meant to be, not what the slogan means today. This better way goes all the way back to the Hebrew prophets, but was developed fully in the context of classical natural law thinking, associated most closely with Thomas Aquinas.
Natural law theory tells us that the good for us as humans is that which fulfills the purposes toward which we are directed as human beings given our shared human nature. Christians would understand this notion of human nature as what God intended for us in creating us in His image. Many of the ideas promoted as “woke” actually run contrary to the goods that perfect, or fulfill, our human nature.
One current natural law thinker, philosopher Edward Feser, describes true social justice as “the just or right ordering of society as defined by strong families and cooperation between husband and wife in carrying out their respective roles for the sake of children and elders, solidarity and cooperation between economic classes and other social groups.” He also emphasizes “subsidiarity,” that is, limited government involvement in communities, churches, and families.
Be Good, Do Good
So we need to understand better what it means to be good and to do good. We need to stand boldly for these truths. The Apostle Paul says, “Do not participate in the useless deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them … For this reason it says, ‘Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’ So then, be careful how you walk, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of your time …” (Eph. 5:11-16, NASB).
The Bible and natural law give us an objective basis, common to all human beings and consistent with God’s inerrant Word. From there we can fight the real evils of racism and bigotry. And we can shine a light on the unfruitful ideas of the cult-like movement of “wokeness.”
It’s time to wake up. We cannot love our neighbors well, we cannot lead them to the feet of Jesus, if we sacrifice truth and goodness on the false altar of “wokeness” ideology.
Adam Tucker is the Director of Recruiting and Admissions at Southern Evangelical Seminary and Bible College (SES), where he received his MA in Philosophy. SES is a unique institution that focuses on an integrated approach to theology, philosophy, and apologetics. Read SES’s full statement on racism and social justice here.