Is being Woke a religion? What about taking the Red Pill?
A video of progressive activists engaging in church service style call-and-answer to affirm their commitment to Woke ideology shows that the answer may be “yes.”
But something is missing.
Wokeness has no god. And it’s likely that many Wokeists are atheist or agnostic.
Is a godless religion possible?
Writing for Unherd, Mary Harrington claims that “faith is making a comeback.”
Human nature’s default position is faith, not reason: “The triumph of Reason over Faith proved short-lived. Like water that’s been dammed, the religious impulse found new channels,” Harrington writes.
Specifically, it’s “the transition of wokeness from fringe cult to mainstream public morality.” She continues,
from the vantage point of wokeness, being criticised for not treating all groups the same is like a monotheist being told off for not honouring the household gods. If you don’t hold something sacred, you won’t care if someone accuses you of sacrilege against it. And for the woke, objectivity and even-handedness are not just impossible, they’re stalking-horses for privilege.
Belief in God points to a hidden, supernatural reality. Being Woke, or taking the Red Pill, points to a hidden political reality (left wing and right wing, respectively).
Being Woke or taking the Red Pill isn’t metaphysical in the ontological sense that being a Christian is. But all three are metaphysical in the sense that each has an epistemology.
It’s not uncommon to hear both Wokeists and Christians talk about “other ways of knowing.”
What is religion?
In my view, religion binds people together through the communal and ritual practice of sacred beliefs that provide moral standards, meaning, and the opportunity for transcendence such as salvation, enlightenment, utopia, etc.
And the sacred is elevated above the mundane, often because it is associated with a deity(ies) and/or venerated beliefs; is treated with reverence; and is protected from the profane with ritualized handling or exemption from critical examination.
- Christianity obviously meets these definitions.
- People debate whether Buddhism is a religion or a philosophy, but I think it’s both. Buddhism, too, meets my definition of religion.
- Stoicism could become a religion. It has most of the elements, except the sacred. But that’s a big exception.
- Atheism, however,with its lack of belief and having nothing sacred to offer, is not a religion.
The elephant and the rider
The “new atheists” made the mistake of thinking that, having slayed the dragon of religion, reason would triumph.
But the mass slaughter of atheistic communist governments should have been a warning.
Communism could only contain the religious impulse by creating a secular religion with the trinity of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. North Korea tried to deify Kim Il-sung.
The religious impulse, it seems, is here to stay. Without the supernatural, it turns its metaphysical attention to politics.
Science explains why reason failed to triumph. Impulse and emotion come naturally to us. But reason must be learned and comes into play after emotion has its say.
Psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes emotion and impulse as an elephant, and reason as the rider. The elephant is big and powerful. The best a rider can do is influence the elephant.
First, we believe based on what we’ve been taught, our perceptions, and our feelings. Reason arrives late to the party and most often is tasked with justifying what we already believe. But on rare occasions, reason is a tool for critical self-examination.
Religion for (some) atheists
So, is Wokeness a secular religion? Activism constitutes practice, and it’s clearly ritualized, moralistic, and aiming for utopia. Further, Critical Theory—the academic core of Wokeness just like theology is academic Christianity—is not to be criticized. That is, Woke beliefs are sacred.
Is it true that everyone has a religion even if they don’t realize it? Well, maybe not everyone.
But it’s unlikely that a society without any kind of religion is possible.
Update, 7 September 2020: Rather than “secular religion,” perhaps “creed” is a simpler, more accurate term. Creeds are often associated with religion, but not exclusively so. And a creed can exist in the absence of an organizational structure.