Political Correctness/Totalitarian Humanism

The Woke Religion: The Elect and the Lost; Implicit Bias and Spiritual Regeneration; Assurance of Being Good

By Eric Rasmusen

Joseph Bottum sees Wokeism as being pseudo-religion, false food feeding spiritual hunger. That is correct. In every man is a God-shaped hole that he yearns to fill. But this spiritual hunger can be satisfied, at least temporarily, by false food, just as you can satisfy your physical hunger by eating bananas or grass to fill your stomach, or by eating candy to both fill your stomach and temporarily nourish you despite the lack of protein, vitamins, and other essential nutrients.

I haven’t read Bottum’s 2014 book, Spiked has a 2020 interview with him, Wokeness: old religion in a new bottle|Joseph Bottum on how the decline of Protestant America fuelled the rise of identity politics. Bottum is Roman Catholic, which matters, perhaps, to how he sees this.

Walter Rauschenbusch [an American theologian and a key figure in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries] lists six species of social sin. If you go through the list, they are exactly what radicals are objecting to now: bigotry, the ignorance of the uneducated, power, corruption, militarism and oppression. It lines up so perfectly with today’s agitation.

I wrote an essay in 2014 in the Weekly Standard, called ‘The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas’. The first idea I addressed was white guilt – that there is this inherent guiltiness that comes from being white. This notion has the same logical shape and the same psychological operation as Original Sin. The trouble is that, unlike Original Sin, there’s no salvation from white guilt. But the formal structure of white guilt and Original Sin is the same. How do you come to understand that you need salvation? By deeper and deeper appreciation of your sinfulness.

Ross Douthat, in a column in the New York Times, said that one of the things we need to take from An Anxious Age is the distinction between the elite and the Elect.

. Walter Rauschenbusch [an American theologian and a key figure in the Social Gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries] lists six species of social sin. If you go through the list, they are exactly what radicals are objecting to now: bigotry, the ignorance of the uneducated, power, corruption, militarism and oppression. It lines up so perfectly with today’s agitation.

As a follow-up to The Anxious Age, I wrote an essay in 2014 in the Weekly Standard, called ‘The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas’. The first idea I addressed was white guilt – that there is this inherent guiltiness that comes from being white. This notion has the same logical shape and the same psychological operation as Original Sin. The trouble is that, unlike Original Sin, there’s no salvation from white guilt. But the formal structure of white guilt and Original Sin is the same. How do you come to understand that you need salvation? By deeper and deeper appreciation of your sinfulness.

Suppose you analyse this class in terms of its members’ answer to the question, ‘How do you know that you are saved?’. In the past, people would say ‘because I believe in Christ’ and the rest of it. But the modern version of this question is, ‘How do you know you are a good person? And how can you have assurance of your goodness?’.

If it’s all about social ills, then you know you are a good person if you are opposed to those social ills, if you are anti-racist, even if you don’t do anything. You are convinced of your own salvation. You are one of the Elect if you adopt this stance of being opposed to the great sins.
Now, younger people are not going to put up with the hypocrisy of knowing you are a good person but not actually doing anything. And they are starting to be violent. Members of the Elect are much more economically and socially insecure than the elite, but they have the same education, they’ve got the same social markers. In some ways, we are seeing an intra-class warfare between the Elect and the elite.

It’s extraordinary because the young members of the Elect are winning against the old elite. Young staffers at the New York Times forced James Bennett, the editorial page editor, to resign. And that’s incredible. Every old newspaper editor I knew – in generations before mine – would have looked at a letter signed by hundreds of junior staffers criticising an editorial decision, and said ‘I’m sorry that you’re quitting’.

Collins: I’ve also noticed a tendency to avoid detailed analysis of economic and social conditions, or concrete policy reforms. Instead, the issue of race after George Floyd is a simple moral denunciation, or a vague reference to ‘systemic racism’. You hear ‘Why do I have to keep explaining this?’, ‘I’m so exhausted’, and so on, as if the issue was beyond debate.
Bottum: Right. But also it’s defining the Church. It’s a way of saying you either have this feeling or you don’t. And if you don’t, you’re evil, and if you do, you’re good. Christian theology, and Christian spiritual practice, has dealt with this for millennia. This is the distinction Calvin would make between justification and sanctification. The idea here is that we no longer need to argue it, because any argument of it is engaging with people beyond the pale. They are outside the Church, they are the profane. They are just wrong. What are they wrong about? They are wrong in the central feeling of moral goodness. This is the attempt to get others to shut up.
We are living in the age of the ad hominem. The fundamental way to answer a claim is to say something about the person who said it. Whether it’s a tu quoque, or an abusive ad hominem, or poisoning the well – the ad hominem is a whole genus of different species of fallacy. How do we know others are wrong? They are wrong because some bad people have said it too. Bari Weiss [the former New York Times op-ed editor] must be wrong [about the illiberal environment at the Times], because Ted Cruz forwarded her tweet. That’s a wonderful ad hominem – guilt by association. It’s not about the content of what is said, it’s about the people who said it.

Bottum seems to miss one big part of this: spiritual regeneration. The Christian idea is that because of original sin, we are all sinners, lost and unable to revive by our own power. God has decided to save some people, and the Holy Spirit touches them and opens their eyes to their sin. The Elect still sin, but they try not to, because they do love God, something you cannot do on your own without the Holy Spirit. The Elect also try to do good works, out of gratitude to God, not because those in themselves save you. No matter how many good works one of the Lost does, he is damned and deserves the punishment he will get in Hell. The Elect deserve Hell too, except that God has, from pure mercy, decided to save them, at great cost and humiliation to Himself.

The very name “Woke” tells us this. In their theology, we were all at one time hopelessly asleep in our racism, sexism, and privilege (note: this really only applies to white people, just as Judaism really only applies to Jewish people, and the rest of the world is incorporated into the worldview as an afterthought, shoehorned into the theory). Some of us, through no virtue of our own, happen to read a book or hear a teacher who “wakens” us, opening our eyes to our racism. We are still racist–the doctrine of implicit bias– but now we try not to be. Also, we are the chosen ones, superior to the damned, who still deserve to rot in Hell for their racism, not despite being unconscious of it but *because* they are unconscious of it and don’t even think they’re racist. The Woke are good despite their implicit bias, and they are good even if they just have faith, with no good works to show. If they truly have faith, though, and are not faking it just to look good, they will also have works. They will shun unbelievers; they will donate money; they will say pious words; they will condemn the lost; they will fence their faith by avoiding saying things that, while innocent and correct, are also said by the Damned. And they will show their Wokeness by keeping up with the latest doctrine, which is constantly shifting emphasis purposely in order to catch those who are asleep at the wheel or just pretending to be awake.

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