‘Woke’ is the New ‘Saved’

By John Zmirak Published on January 18, 2018

Alan Jacobs has written a really important essay for anyone who cares about free speech or higher education. It’s in highly academic prose. I earned a Ph.D. in English, which entailed studying abstruse “critical theory.” But I found Jacobs’ essay slow going. That’s fine. He was speaking to his fellow professors. Because his message is so crucial, let me translate it. If you have college-age kids, you need to know what they’re in for. (I edited a book-shaped vaccine against college-based insanity, Disorientation, which many have told me proved useful to their students.)Disorientation

There’s a reason why so many college students don’t care about “free expression,” “open debate,” and rational discussion. Not when the views presented offend them. For centuries, we thought of most colleges — apart maybe from seminaries — as places where students would have to encounter such views. The liberal arts, which depend on open debate and dispute, were born in medieval universities. They carried on in deeply Christian colleges after the Reformation on both sides of the Tiber.

A New Gospel

Nationwide, with some exceptions, students, professors, and administrators have turned their backs on this tradition. The reason? As Jacobs shows, it is religious. Before him, Andrew Sullivan proposed the provocative thesis that the movement uniting radical students and teachers today, “Intersectionality,” is really a whole new creed. And an intolerant one. As Sullivan wrote:

“Intersectionality” is the latest academic craze sweeping the American academy. On the surface, it’s a recent neo-Marxist theory that argues that social oppression does not simply apply to single categories of identity — such as race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc. — but to all of them in an interlocking system of hierarchy and power. …

It is operating, in Orwell’s words, as a “smelly little orthodoxy,” and it manifests itself, it seems to me, almost as a religion. It posits a classic orthodoxy through which all of human experience is explained — and through which all speech must be filtered. Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others. To overcome this sin, you need first to confess, i.e., “check your privilege,” and subsequently live your life and order your thoughts in a way that keeps this sin at bay. The sin goes so deep into your psyche, especially if you are white or male or straight, that a profound conversion is required.

Like the Puritanism once familiar in New England, intersectionality controls language and the very terms of discourse. It enforces manners. It has an idea of virtue — and is obsessed with upholding it. The saints are the most oppressed who nonetheless resist. The sinners are categorized in various ascending categories of demographic damnation, like something out of Dante. The only thing this religion lacks, of course, is salvation. Life is simply an interlocking drama of oppression and power and resistance, ending only in death. It’s Marx without the final total liberation.

The New Road to Faith

Jacobs builds on Sullivan’s insight and goes into much further depth. He shows how the social justice movement on campus does much of the work that a real religion would do. It offers some of the same psychic rewards.

Here’s how it works: By listening to professors, or following peer pressure, a student discovers that the world is deeply wrong. Permeated by evil. Its evil is inequality. And that evil has an author: straight white males.

Realizing the depth and extent of this all-pervading evil comes as a kind of conversion. One wakes up. Then one is “woke.” That’s SJW-speak for “saved.” Hence the first moment of faith. “I once was lost but now am found./ Was blind but now I see.”

Joining the Righteous

If a student belongs to any other group but straight white males, then she is in luck: She’s certified as a victim. She deserves special treatment from everyone from college deans to government bureaucrats. Even better, she should feel virtuous for wallowing in anger and resentment. No matter if she’s Malia Obama. She can righteously seethe with rage at jobless white coal miners, or homeless white veterans. Her sense of victimhood gives her the “blessed assurance” that she is part of the Elect.

By listening to professors, or following peer pressure, a student discovers that the world is deeply wrong. Permeated by evil. Its evil is inequality. And that evil has an author: straight white males. Realizing the depth and extent of this all-pervading evil comes as a kind of conversion.

This creed offers salvation even to the worst of sinners, straight white males. The price is steep: a life of self-denial and penance. But for those who walk this path, rewards await. You can attain justification. Not by your own efforts — but by the righteousness that suffering, innocent victims (non-straights, non-whites, non-males) can impute to you. As an “ally” of the less privileged, you earn the same right to despise the mass of oppressors. And feminists will date you, for whatever that’s worth.

Growing in Wokiness

Go deeper into the cult, and the disciplines get more rigorous. Now white women must admit their role in oppressing women of color. This requires some of the groveling that white males must endure. But it offers the same benefit: a sense of forgiveness, and spiritual progress. Likewise black males must atone to women of color. All straights must bow down to gays. Even gays must make amends for their insensitivity to “trans” people. I am not sure to whom “trans” people of color must apologize. But give intellectuals time, and they’ll find someone. Or invent them.

This new religious movement apes the structure of a Christian conversion, and of subsequent life in the Spirit. It does so, of course, at a much shallower level. It replaces worship with protest. Spirituality with unhinged histrionics. Examination of conscience with the scapegoating of others conveniently dead or out of power.

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The Fall and Redemption

This creed also mimics Christian salvation history. The straight white male is the phallic serpent in the Garden. In one place after another, these aggressive oppressors found a pre-lapsarian paradise. And in each case, we paved it and made it a parking lot.

To keep up this myth of the Fall, and its tempter, progressives have to ignore a lot of facts. They have to whitewash:

  • The fact of Arab-run slavery in Africa before Europeans arrived.
  • The cruelties and slaughters of the Muslim conquests from Spain to India.
  • The savage wars, routine torture, and environmental devastation that marked the lives of North American Indians.
  • The ritual cannibalism practiced by the genocidal Aztecs.
  • The theological tyranny wielded by upper-class Hindus over millions of “untouchables.”

Likewise in sexual politics, social justice warriors must wish away:

  • The brutal cost of abortion in innocent lives and women’s mental health.
  • The collapse of the human birthrate everywhere that feminism has arrived.
  • The decline of marriage, and the explosion of single mothers dependent on the government.
  • The obsession of gay male culture with promiscuity and youth, including underage boys.
  • The abundant evidence that biological sex is real, and “trans” fantasies are symptoms of mental illness.

Playing Martyr and Burning Witches

Accepting any of these facts would shatter the sweet certitude of a life of faith. Those who try to speak of them in the name of “academic freedom” are in fact committing blasphemy. They aren’t challenging students’ views, but attacking their new identity. They’re not educating students, but trying to contaminate them. So believers must flee the occasion of sin — or better yet, expel the unbeliever. No wonder students need “safe spaces” in which they’ll feel protected. To them these are the catacombs, and conservatives on campus are Caesar’s soldiers, come to seize the holy books and desecrate the altars.

You can’t really argue with zealots like this. They’ve constructed a palace of funhouse mirrors in which to live. Their new, fantastic religion takes up all the space where real faith in Christ could live. And that’s the best evidence we have of its origin: demonic.

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  • Conservator

    And to that I say AMEN!

  • James

    Religion fulfills a basic human need. Get rid of religion and it will simply show up in other forms.

  • James

    True Christianity has been missing from the public square for decades.

    Conservatives, like the Pharasses, obsess about doctrine while forgetting about charity and social services. This is what has historically grown and sustained Christianity. (The old-fashioned run-by-nuns Catholic schools were the most effective long-term anti-poverty program in American history.) Liberals, like Judas, claim to be interested in social services, but really just want a space where people are nice and they can feel good about themselves.

  • Self deception is a great way to resolve real human problems, but it only lasts for a short time. As every collectivist government has eventually realized, self deception must be reinforced by force. The dream wears off otherwise.

  • Chip Crawford

    Doctrines of demons. Where is the voice of the church out there as an alternative for people to hear who would not go to a church? It seems to be white people marginalizing white people, especially white males. Why? What is the point? They plan to manipulate the greater non-white population by telling them they are superior? Anyone have an answer? What’s up with this, other than the spiritual backing, what is the motive for pushing this?

  • Caitie

    Thank you John Zmirak for another insightful on target article. I’m hoping to soon share your Afrin, Syria article on what’s taking place with still little reporting except for a few short articles by the BBC. Patiently waiting

    • Zmirak

      Thanks! But I left that to our Syria correspondent, Johannes de Jong. We published his column on Afrin this week. Check his archive at The Stream.

      • Caitie

        Thank you John for responding I’ll go take a look

  • tz1

    The straight white male is the phallic serpent in the Garden

    You forgot cis-. But isn’t this racism, sexism, and heterophobic?

    Woke is the SJW version (though they cross) of the right’s “Red Pill” (reference The Matrix). To discover the actual reality. However Leftist “Woke” seems to be a blue pill.

    The one thing they have correct is in the garden, the Serpent attacks Eve, not Adam, but Adam cucks and goes along with Eve.

    On burning witches, in this the SJWs are better than the right. CS Lewis pointed out that a man might not be considered cruel in not buying poison or traps because he diselieved (correctly or not) that his house had no mice. The Bible describes actual Witches and the destruction they inflict. Consider Morgana from the Arthurian legends. If you don’t think there are witches, there is no reason to burn someone. But if there were a witch that brought the devil and caused plague and famine, basically a Witch of Mass Destruction or WMD, wouldn’t burning or some other capital punishment be appropriate?

    The SJWs do recognize that a wise Wizard bringing the light of reason and logic and evidence into their illusory dream world will cause even worse destruction so will burn him to preserve their status quo – and this is rational behavior.

    And this is the source of tension today – the right has realized there are something like witches around and their earlier inaction allowed the threat to grow to the point it is necessary to burn things to sterilize and quarantine the infection, but both alternatives are horrible. You either let the devil win, or have to battle and kill – unpleasantly – his followers.

    • Chip Crawford

      Say, do you have any verses (Bible) for that last bit specifically? Notice I said “for.”

      • tz1

        See what God commanded Israel and its leaders and men to do to the Cananites and pagans in general. Kill them all, their women, children, livestock, and take the spoil and destroy it as a burned offering.

        • Chip Crawford

          Nowadays, we don’t wrestle with flesh and blood … And, what does “spiritually minded” mean to you? I’d pray to be led to a current day teacher of the Bible, who prays and hears from God. The old teachers have a place, but revelation knowledge is progressive, not truth, but the understanding of it for our day. Personally, I want to hear what God is saying to the Church today, not in C.S. Lewis’ time. That won’t help me with the light that’s needed to shine on the darkness in our path right now. God gave teachers as well as pastors to the Body of Christ to guide us all the way through. He knows who’s in touch with him and can show you. We need to not set aside those in our generation out of familiarity and canonize those of another era through a removed lens, not knowing their faults and shortcomings which they had as well as any live person now. It’s his message and emphasis and insight for this hour that we will have to give account for, whether we were good stewards of his gifts provided to us in our generation. You think, maybe?

  • BVS

    You need to add lesbians and radical feminists to your group of ‘sinners.’ homosexuals are now deemed fetishists and lesbians are transphobic or bigoted if they don’t agree that trans women are women or can be lesbian or that their penis is female and we do not want to date them. Radical femists are now terfs and transphobes for questioning gender identity politics. There is a huge battle going on for the retention of sex based rights for women right now by radical feminists.

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