Social Justice the New Religion?

The intersection of politics, morality, and meaning.

The Atlantic’s Helen Lewis contends that social justice has become a religion of sorts. Her argument begins poorly:

A quick question. If someone is yelling “repent” at you in the street, are they more likely to be (a) a religious preacher or (b) a left-wing activist?

The answer depends on where you are. Last October, a crowd gathered outside Netflix’s offices in Los Angeles to protest the release of Dave Chappelle’s comedy special The Closer, which contained a long riff criticizing transgender activists. Inevitably, there was a counterprotest: a lonely Chappelle fan holding a sign that read we like dave. This went over badly. Someone took the sign from him and ripped it up. Someone else shouted in his face, and their word choice was notable. The man who liked Dave was urged to “repent.”

A similar sentiment surfaced last month, when students protested the decision of University College London to stop paying Stonewall, an LGBTQ charity, to audit the institution’s compliance with laws on diversity. That decision might sound dry and technical, but to the students, it showed the institution’s lack of commitment to LGBTQ rights. They held a sign that read rejoin stonewall or go to hell.

While such anecdotal ledes are common in journalism, they’re easily cherry-picked and seldom persuasive. We have literally two examples, both of which could be wildly unrepresentative of even the specific protest, much less the larger movement.

Regardless, she uses these as a basis to assert her grand thesis:

This fire-and-brimstone language might initially seem odd, because society is becoming less religious—in the U.S., church membership dropped below 50 percent for the first time in 2020, down from 70 percent in 1999. In Britain, where I live, the decline of organized religion is “one of the most important trends in postwar history,” according to the British Social Attitudes survey. We might expect that religious concepts—repentance, hellfire, heresy, apostasy—would have become less salient as a result. But that’s not the case. For some activists, politics has usurped the role that religion used to play as a source of meaning and purpose in our lives, and a way to find a community.

That some activists find meaning and purpose in politics and form communities around it is, well, not all that controversial. Nor is it a new phenomenon. Or, for that matter, uncommon in political activists who are also religious.

In the U.S., the nonreligious are younger and more liberal than the population as a whole. Perhaps, then, it isn’t a coincidence that they are also the group most likely to be involved in high-profile social-justice blowups, particularly the type found on college campuses. 

It’s the opposite of a coincidence. College campuses are precisely where one would expect to find young activists, no?

They’ve substituted one religion for another. In The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff suggest that we look at campus protests as outbreaks of “collective effervescence,” a term coined by the sociologist Emile Durkheim to describe emotions that can be accessed only in a crowd. Singing, swaying, and chanting build up a kind of electricity, which ripples through the group. And that’s how a person can end up screaming “repent” at a stranger for the crime of holding a funny sign.

I mean, sure. Or they could just be immature.

If you’re isolated, reading and sharing political memes and commentary is one way to find like-minded people; meanwhile, social media and dating apps encourage us to label ourselves so that we can be instantly categorized by algorithms and advertisers. Many common social-justice phrases have echoes of a catechism: announcing your pronouns or performing land acknowledgment shows allegiance to a common belief, reassuring a group that everyone present shares the same values. But treating politics like a religion also makes it more emotionally volatile, more tribal (because differences of opinion become matters of good and evil) and more prone to outbreaks of moralizing and piety. “I was thinking about that Marx quote that religion is the opium of the people,” Elizabeth Oldfield, the former director of the Christian think tank Theos, told me. “I think what we’ve got now is [that] politics is the amphetamines of the people.”

That humans are social animals who band together against out-groups has been a fact of our existence since the beginning. But, again, a lot of people who are politically tribal are also religious. And silly shibboleths and performative rituals aren’t solely the province of the left.

Oldfield was one of the many commentators, activists, and religious leaders—and, sometimes, people who are all three—whom I recently interviewed for a new BBC documentaryThe Church of Social Justice. Some of what I discovered surprised me. I asked Alex Clare-Young, a nonbinary minister in the United Reformed Church, whether their faith or their gender was more surprising to Generation Z acquaintances. “I think probably being religious,” Clare-Young responded. “I know a lot of LGBTQ+ young people who say it’s harder to come out as Christian in an LGBT space than LGBT in a Christian space.”

I’m . . . skeptical. There’s natural hostility between the groups but Christianity is more widespread, even among under-25s, than LGBT status.

Politics has now crept into every aspect of our lives. In countries where racial and religious intermarriage have become commonplace, dating across political lines is the new taboo. The young British writer Tomiwa Owolade told me he often saw dating profiles that insisted on “no conservatives.” Victoria Turner, the editor of an anthology titled Young, Woke and Christian, told me that she could happily date someone from another faith, or no faith at all. But a conservative? “Absolutely not. No.” Why not? “Whether your God looks exactly the same as my God, I don’t know,” she told me. “But I do know what the answers are to stop people from suffering and to make the world a more equitable place.”

We’re in a period of political tension not seen in the last half-century or so. But, yes, there’s a tendency on the left to see those who haven’t embraced the rapid change in cultural mores as evil in a way they don’t those who hold other religious views.

As politics has usurped religion, it has borrowed its underlying concepts, sometimes putting them into new words. John McWhorter, a linguist and Atlantic contributing writer, recently published a best-selling book reflecting on what he sees as the excesses of America’s racial-justice movement. Its working title was “The Elect,” after the Calvinist idea of a group chosen by God for salvation. (In the end, it was published under the more provocative name Woke Racism.) “The hyper-woke—who were firing people right and left, and shaming people right and left—think that they’re seeing further than most people, that they understand the grand nature of things better than the ordinary person can,” McWhorter told me. “To them, they’re elect.”

He sees other parallels, suggesting that notions such as white privilege and male privilege are versions of original sin—a stain that humans are born with, no matter their individual circumstances. Problematic, he argues, is the new way to say heretic. In his book, McWhorter also identifies a “priestly class” of influential writers and politicians who he believes are dictating the rules of what can and cannot be said.

I don’t disagree with McWhorter’s analysis but honestly don’t find the religious analogy helpful to it.

Finally, Lewis acknowledges the obvious:

This phenomenon is not confined to the left, though. At Donald Trump’s rallies, booing members of the press, who were kept in an exposed pen, became part of the ritual. The storming of the Capitol involved hardened militia members and amateur gun nuts, but also dozens of otherwise law-abiding citizens swept up in collective effervescence. There are other religious parallels: QAnon’s lurid myths about blood-drinking elites echo medieval anti-Semitic tropes, and the QAnon rally where adherents awaited the resurrection of John F. Kennedy Jr. had a distinctly millenarian feel. As my colleague Adrienne LaFrance has reported, followers of this conspiracy-theory movement treat the anonymous Q’s online postings as something akin to divine revelations. “I feel God led me to Q,” one QAnon follower told LaFrance.

As frustrating as I find performative wokeness, focusing on college kids’ excessive zeal in condemning Dave Chapelle as the main problem while treating a mass movement willing to use violence to roll back change as a parenthetical is just nuts. Indeed, to the extent that the former is useful it’s because it makes it harder to rally moderate support against the latter.

But Lewis seems to treat them as, at best, equivalent:

Because collective effervescence is so powerful, established religions have developed strategies for dealing with enthusiasm that shades into zealotry. “In religious life, or Jewish life, the person you sit next to in synagogue may drive you completely potty, they may be so annoying and have different views, and you must still go to their family’s funeral,” Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, of the Bromley Reform synagogue in south London, told me. “You must still take them something when they have just given birth; you must still go to their mourning prayers.”

In real life, churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples force together, in their congregations, a random assortment of people who just happen to live close to them. But today’s social activism is often mediated through the internet, where dissenting voices can easily be excluded. We have taken religion, with its innate possibility for sectarian conflict, and fed it through a polarization machine. No wonder that today’s politics can feel like a wasteland of anguished ranting—and like we are in hell already.

By and large, I share her belief that it’s essential to treat our countrymen who disagree with us on politics as fellow human beings. We should, by and large, be polite and respectful to one another. As much as most of the OTB commentariat hates the idea, the overwhelming portion of Trump voters—yes, even those who voted to re-elect him after the horrendous shitshow of his first term—aren’t white supremacists and QAnon kooks. But we shouldn’t pretend, either, that there aren’t a whole lot of really dangerous people among their ranks.

In a follow-up interview with Isabel Fattal, Lewis fleshes out her thoughts a bit and we see that her perspective is uniquely British.

Helen: In the 20th century, divisions in politics broadly were economic. We had class politics, in Britain at least. That’s no longer how those divides are best thought of. They’re much better thought of as age, education, and identity divides. Values divides. So you have this switch from a politics that’s based around your economic position to your cultural position. That has brought with it a different type of politics, which is much more concerned with matters of good and evil. Politics in the U.S. and Europe has become more exciting in the past few decades, but exciting is not what you always want from politics.

Isabel: Your piece and documentary are focused on how this is playing out on the left. You mention that, of course, the right is not immune to strongly held beliefs (many of which are not factually sound). Why did you focus on the left, and how is it different from what you see happening on the right?

Helen: More so in Britain than America, the left is less overtly religious. New Atheism and those traditions from the 2000s were movements of the left; there’s the idea that being on the left means you’re skeptical and rational—driven by reason, not these old superstitions. So what initially intrigued me was the idea that people who would self-describe as rationalists were nonetheless acting in these very faith-based ways. On the right, there is a much more obvious synthesis: overt displays of religion into which politics gets woven. It’s not a substitute so much as it is a complement. Something like QAnon is a very good example of that.

So, she’s not intending to argue that the woke left is worse than the nutty right—it’s just that the latter aren’t an example of the thesis she’s defending.

This is also useful context:

Isabel: One distinction you make, particularly in the documentary, is that it’s not religion on the whole that should be compared with some social-justice movements, but rather religious fundamentalism. What’s the difference between the two, as you see it?

Helen: Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner [of the Bromley Reform Synagogue in South London] makes the point really well, that you can be a fundamentalist about all kinds of things. You can be a fundamentalist vegan, a fundamentalist about Peloton. It’s a mindset that says, I’ve got all the answers. What I believe is true, and there is no discussion at all to be had. I look around online, and I do see that mindset in a lot of places. It’s the inflexibility and the unyielding nature of thinking you have all the answers that’s being criticized here.

That’s doubtless true. Whether it’s a new phenomenon, or whether it’s because atheists (of which, incidentally, Lewis is one) are looking to replace the void of religion are separate matters.

Isabel: What are the best criticisms of this argument that you’ve heard since the article was published?

Helen: The piece had a big response, both positive and negative. Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times said I knew nothing about religion, which will be sad news to my dad, the Reverend Mr. Lewis. He also argued, “To say that some social phenomenon in the United States has [American] Evangelical aspect to it is kind of just to say that it is American.” It’s an interesting point: This is a phenomenon I’m observing in Britain too, but we do tend to import our culture wars from America. Bouie also said I was just describing an “ideology,” but I’m not sure that captures what I was trying to say, which is that this type of politics involves ideas of morality, of the saved and unsaved—and also that, in a positive way, it offers moments of transcendence and “unselfing.”

One of the most common negative responses was to assume that I was being pejorative in making the comparison between social-justice politics and religion. But religion is a force for good in many people’s lives, including those of my parents, whom I interview in the BBC documentary.

Honestly, I think the reaction to it in America is that we simply see it from a different vantage point. Lewis reads as a conservative Evangelical scold when she’s neither conservative nor religious.

Her answer here is better than the close of the column, too:

Isabel: Where do social-justice movements go forward from here, in your opinion?

Helen: I think if we want people to genuinely own their mistakes, then you have to offer the possibility of redemption. Otherwise, all the incentives point toward denial and carrying on regardless. I think what we have now with social-justice movements is a range of sins, but we don’t yet have a good idea of what the mechanism is for confessing, repenting, and being absolved.

To a large extent, I think, this is just a function of the immediacy and anonymity of the online world. While contrary to conventional wisdom, it’s very much real life for many, it’s hardly the totality of our reality. There’s every incentive in the world for performative dunking on strangers who dare to tweet something offensive. But most of us manage in our everyday lives to treat actual people with whom we disagree civilly and with some degree of charity.

Obviously, abortion rights and equitable treatment for trans and nonbinary people are deeply personal and existential for some people and it’s probably too much to expect a lot of forbearance on their part. But, for most of us, it’s really not hard to understand why people of a certain age or who’ve spent their whole lives steeped in a different culture are really resistant to change.

It seems obvious to me that these changes in attitudes are happening and will be the overwhelming public view rather soon—much faster than the acceptance of Blacks as equal citizens or even of gay rights. But, again, I understand why those more directly affected than me aren’t in the mood to wait.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Religion, Society, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Stormy Dragon says:

    As much as most of the OTB commentariat hates the idea, the overwhelming portion of Trump voters—yes, even those who voted to re-elect him after the horrendous shitshow of his first term—aren’t white supremacists and QAnon kooks.

    52% of Republicans believe that “Top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings”:

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/shock-poll-most-republicans-believe-qanon-lie-that-top-democrats-are-involved-in-elite-child-sex-trafficking-rings/ar-AAWMMBa

    14
  2. wr says:

    Wow. An attack on liberalism disguised as a pseudo-intellectual analysis of a disturbing social trend which cherry-picks and bothsides-es “evidence” to drum up a non-existent problem of the left which is actually a major problem on the right. Can you get more The Atlantic than that without being Megan McArdle?

    21
  3. Modulo Myself says:

    As much as most of the OTB commentariat hates the idea, the overwhelming portion of Trump voters—yes, even those who voted to re-elect him after the horrendous shitshow of his first term—aren’t white supremacists and QAnon kooks.

    Racism is part of America. I don’t know if the overwhelming of Trump supporters are racists, but there’s degree of eager animosity towards black people that’s hard not to miss, and I suspect that most white Trump voters (and many non-Trump voters) believe that black people are poorer and lack power in this country because of a combination of cultural dysfunction and genetics, and not much that I’ve read from anybody who is not on the side of social justice has led me to believe otherwise.

    10
  4. Tim D. says:

    Social justice is also the old religion (e.g Matthew 25:31-46). Religions of all types have always been concerned about the social aspects of justice (for both good and ill I think), and it shouldn’t be surprising that activists pushing for social change do so from a base of moral argument. That’s almost by definition!

    What’s interesting to me is how (religious) conservatives make this into a pejorative argument. They’ve done this with environmentalism for decades. “Oh, you care about pollution? Do you worship trees?”

    Are we supposed to be surprised that a young liberal who doesn’t go to church nonetheless has moral commitments about society? There’s definitely a whiff of (religious) sectarianism in these arguments. Perhaps some people are more mad that young liberals have turned away from the “true religion.” They don’t like the competition.

    Same as it ever was, I suppose.

    9
  5. Chip Daniels says:

    I’ve seen this “Wokeness as new religion” thesis before, and one of the things I notice is how they studiously avoid talking about what the actual tenets of the “new religion” actually are.

    For instance, they compare a social justice proponent to lets say, a fundamentalist Baptist as if they are both moral scolds wanting to impose their views on sinners.

    Which sounds plausible until you insert their actual tenets. The Baptist wants the siner to stop drinking, or having consensual sex before marriage. The social justice activist wants the sinner to stop hating LGBTQ people.

    These are very different things!

    Its mostly true that traditional moral scolds wanted to restrict the individual, personal choices people make about their own lives- Sex, abortion, drinking or drug use are the most common.

    Whereas most social justice scolds want to liberate marginalized minorities, and demand only that the sinners accept them as equals.

    Think of it this way: Imagine the social justice forces gain total power. What would they force you to do? In your wildest imaginings, what would a Reign of Terror by woke activists prevent you from doing, or force you to do?

    Now compare that to the Gilead being enacted right now in our actual timeline.

    22
  6. gVOR08 says:

    With my usual warning that reacting to silly stuff you read could become an all-consuming hobby, thank you for reading this. I set out to read Lewis’ piece yesterday and quickly lost interest. And apparently was justified in doing so.

    Lewis says,

    In the 20th century, divisions in politics broadly were economic. We had class politics, in Britain at least. That’s no longer how those divides are best thought of. They’re much better thought of as age, education, and identity divides. Values divides.

    joining the myriads of writers who note politics seems to have sorted by psychology, or worldview, or “values”, or something. On the long shelf of books on the topic there is a good OK book called Prius or Pickup It has a take on the dichotomy, but stresses it doesn’t have to be, and historically hasn’t been this way. There used to be open, nurturant family, socially liberal, whatever Republicans and closed, strict father, socially conservative Democrats.

    The usual, and largely true, explanation is the loss of Dixiecrats. But I think there’s another big factor. Lewis says it’s no longer about economics, which is not true: inflation, Inflation Reduction Act (which is not actually redundant), student loan relief, taxation, infrastructure, perceived job losses to immigration, etc. But Republicans ended up with an economic platform they can’t discuss in public, much less run on. So they’ve had to rely on this faux populist thing for votes. Much of the sorting Lewis notes has been driven by FOXGOP propaganda. Case in point, how many conservatives could even spell CRT three years ago?

    2
  7. Stormy Dragon says:

    Even if we, for sake of argument, accept the premise that wokeness is a new religion, so what? Is the argument that public displays of faith are bad now?

    7
  8. Beth says:

    I’m gonna go ahead and say this is an absolute unmitigated lie:

    Young, a nonbinary minister in the United Reformed Church, whether their faith or their gender was more surprising to Generation Z acquaintances. “I think probably being religious,” Clare-Young responded. “I know a lot of LGBTQ+ young people who say it’s harder to come out as Christian in an LGBT space than LGBT in a Christian space.”

    This is the diarrhea of bullshit.

    14
  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    In your wildest imaginings, what would a Reign of Terror by woke activists prevent you from doing, or force you to do?

    Were it in my power, a hundred up votes. I am once again reminded of the classic message from Unitarian Jihad.

    We are Unitarian Jihad. We will appear in public places and require people to shake hands with each other. (Sister Hand Grenade of Love suggested that we institute a terror regime of mandatory hugging, but her motion was not formally introduced because of lack of a quorum.) We will require all lobbyists, spokesmen and campaign managers to dress like trout in public. Televangelists will be forced to take jobs as Xerox repair specialists. Demagogues of all stripes will be required to read Proust out loud in prisons.

    Anti-woke is PC outrage writ large. “Be polite to people not like me!? Outrageous!” I misquote Churchill, “Never in the course of human history have so many been so pissed about so little.” We’re dealing with people who force women to give birth and regard not being allowed to do so as horrible oppression. Lakoff taught us that for conservatives freedom means being able to do their duty, as they see it, and that part of their duty, as they see it, is to force you to do your duty, as they see it.

    14
  10. Scott F. says:

    @Chip Daniels:
    Yes. Consider that one of the tenets of traditional religion regarding faith is drawn from Hebrews 11:1:

    Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

    Ergo, the sign of true piety is to Believe in the absence of proof.

    So, when Lewis writes –

    So what initially intrigued me was the idea that people who would self-describe as rationalists were nonetheless acting in these very faith-based ways.

    – she is really using faith-based in a sense that is perverted from its etymology.

    2
  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @wr: Maybe they’re following the mold of The New Republic of the Martin Peretz era: “Rethink liberalism, and get paid for it.” After all, it worked so really really well the last time. I’m not clear on one thing though. How much farther to the right does American liberalism need to move? And why? (Well, that’s two things. My bad. 🙁 )

  12. Modulo Myself says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    The argument is that the woke are trying to change the ways things are in an unnatural way, much like any utopians will do. None of these people will say it because they are cowards. Racism, bigotry, sexism, and hierarchy are expressions of a human goodness, even if flawed, and in America, it’s supposed to take forever for Uncle Jethro to accept in silence gay marriage. Anything else would be judgement on Uncle Jethro.

    3
  13. Scott says:

    I thought environmentalism was the new religion. I need to catch up.

    6
  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Post-enlightenment (I suppose), public displays of faith have ALWAYS been bad. Your religion is supposed to be private, and you’re supposed to do your part to keep it that way. I’m not going to be able to ignore your moral argument if you keep throwing it in my face all the time.

    I will note that the above idea finally triggered what I had wanted to say about Chip Daniels:’s comment. I think my comment is enough different from what gVOR08 has said for me to go on. The difference between the woke activists and the Gilleadites is that we expect our enemies to say terrible things about us and demand that we do stuff we aren’t willing to do. When OUR ALLIES do that, a distasteful moral imperative is created.

    Our allies need to learn to STFU!

    1
  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Scott: Hmmm… I was taught that environmentalism was the old heresy: “worshiping the creation instead of the creator.” (Romans 1:25) God put us in charge of subduing the earth. How we go about it is our own business.

    2
  16. DK says:

    Very nice post. Too bad the main article relies so much on anecdotes on not much data. A signal maybe the thesis is weak.

    As much as most of the OTB commentariat hates the idea, the overwhelming portion of Trump voters—yes, even those who voted to re-elect him after the horrendous shitshow of his first term—aren’t white supremacists and QAnon kooks.

    This is still a strawman argument. Unfortunate, it’s being repeated as if true.

    The actual argument is that it is moot whether Trump voters are white supremacists or QAnon kooks: 100% of Trump voters are enablers of white supremacy and QAnon. 100% of Trump voters voted to empower a president who tweeted a White Power video on 28 June 2020, who praised as “very fine people” those who marched alongside tiki torch anti-Semites in defense of monuments to pro-slavery Confederate traitors.

    This argument is misrepresented, to falsely portray as unreasonable those who criticize conservatives’ complicity with fascism.

    What’s actual unreasonable is for Trump voters to keep making an affirmative choice to make common cause with white supremacists and QAnon nuts, then expect to be believed when they insist they abhor racism and extremism.

    Even giving them benefit of doubt for 2016, we are now post Jan 6 and 7+ years post Trump launching his toxic scampaign with racist lies about Mexican immigrants…after having raised his political profile with a racist birther campaign.

    It’s 2022. In 2022, if there’s a known Nazi at a dinner table, and nine people who do not have to be there sitting down having dinner with the Nazi, it is perfectly reasonable for decent people to see ten Nazis at the table.

    People who want to make excuses for Trump voters won’t like that kind of moral clarity, but patriots should not give them a single inch.

    19
  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    Wokeness isn’t religion per se – the theology is too vague and confused for that. What it is is a version of Evangelical ‘witnessing.’ Performative religion meant to earn an approving nod – from God in the case of Evangelicals, and Twitter in the case of the uber-woke.

    The problem is not religion per se, whether Evangelical or Church of the Eternally Offended. The problem is performative religion. Look at me! Look how much better I am than you! I see the mote in your eye!

    The essential difference is that the Woke are only dangerous to their allies, while the Evangelicals are dangerous to everyone but their allies. The Woke are on a hunt for heretics and have no impact on their actual enemies, their destructiveness is turned inward. The Evangelicals use law to obliterate liberty and ruin people’s lives. One is motivated by self-importance, smugness and an inability to do anything more useful than seek out new things to be offended by. The other revels in cruelty and sadistically enjoys hurting people.

    There’s no moral parity here. The Evangelical/MAGA people are fucking assholes who make a mockery of their Christ every time they open their mouths. The Woke are tiresome children who won’t shut up and let the adults have an adult conversation.

    11
  18. Gustopher says:

    Lewis blathers:

    Politics has now crept into every aspect of our lives. In countries where racial and religious intermarriage have become commonplace, dating across political lines is the new taboo. The young British writer Tomiwa Owolade told me he often saw dating profiles that insisted on “no conservatives.”

    I often wonder if the people who complain about this are the same people who find the whole “I hate my wife/husband” genre of humor funny.

    5
  19. Andy says:

    One way I like to look at this stuff is by imagining a race of aliens coming down to earth and looking only at human behavior absent any historical bias or other context. I think they would conclude that the behavior of religious humans is found in many places that aren’t about a diety. Any domain where faith and self-righteousness are prominent tends to adopt religious trappings.

    Politics is certainly one of them, but I think social and cultural views fit the pattern even better – the “anti-racism” movement is a good recent example IMO.

    One of the more unusual (IMO) trends that I also think is an illustration of this is the increasing number of people on the right who identify as “evangelical” but do not attend or participate in a church. For those who are religious and do go to church, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. This shift suggests that “evangelical” now has two meanings – a religious meaning and a secular political meaning. If someone on the right self identifies as an “evangelical” voter, what does that mean exactly? To me it represents just one example of the atomization and hyper-individualization of society.

    5
  20. wr says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: The Atlantic seems to specialize in a handful of articles they keep rerunning in slightly different forms: “Gee, I used to think that feminism was good but now I realize that women will only be happy if they know longer have to aspire to being anything more than a housewife, except for me, who has hustled a gig getting paid big bucks to keep writing this article,” “Gosh, isn’t it horrible the Palestinians keep forcing Israel to commit war crimes just because Israeli settlers want to build suburbs on land that doesn’t belong to them” and “Shocking statistics prove that something liberals believe in absolutely is entirely wrong, and no you can’t see my data and hey, wait, don’t look at those papers and how dare you check my numbers.” That last we call the John Lott special.

    6
  21. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: The other difference is that if the Woke annoy you, you can simply ignore them. (Really, you can.) They tend not to respond to that by shooting up a grocery store or middle school.

    7
  22. Andy says:

    David French’s piece today is, I think, a good companion to this post:

    https://frenchpress.thedispatch.com/p/christian-political-ethics-are-upside

  23. gawaine says:

    On the note on coming out as Christian vs. LGBT… I’d say it’s location and specific culture base. Working for tech companies in the DC area, I saw resumes that had religious schools or volunteering thrown out starting in the late 90s. Openly being a Republican was enough to hurt your career by the early 2000s. By now, there are pride flags on doors and desks, but nothing even vaguely religious at workplaces I end up at. That’s anecdotal, not data, but it rang true to me.

    5
  24. Michael Reynolds says:

    @wr:
    No, you can’t just ignore the woke, that is nonsense, they ruin people’s careers. Let’s say Movie X comes out. It may be attacked by Evangelicals. It may be attacked by Woke activists. Which will be more likely to shut the movie down? No one GAF what the right has to say.

    That said, the power of Woke activism is clearly in decline, while the power of the far rights is rising. Partly this is the disorganized, random ‘thinking’ behind Wokeness. Leftie organizations are apparently finding themselves paralyzed by their own wokeness.

    That the institute [Guttmacher] has spent the course of the Biden administration paralyzed makes it typical of not just the abortion rights community — Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and other reproductive health organizations had similarly been locked in knock-down, drag-out fights between competing factions of their organizations, most often breaking down along staff-versus-management lines. It’s also true of the progressive advocacy space across the board, which has, more or less, effectively ceased to function. The Sierra Club, Demos, the American Civil Liberties Union, Color of Change, the Movement for Black Lives, Human Rights Campaign, Time’s Up, the Sunrise Movement, and many other organizations have seen wrenching and debilitating turmoil in the past couple years.

    In fact, it’s hard to find a Washington-based progressive organization that hasn’t been in tumult, or isn’t currently in tumult. It even reached the National Audubon Society, as Politico reported in August 2021:

    Following a botched diversity meeting, a highly critical employee survey and the resignations of two top diversity and inclusion officials, the 600,000-member National Audubon Society is confronting allegations that it maintains a culture of retaliation, fear and antagonism toward women and people of color, according to interviews with 13 current and former staff members.

    The uber-woke are eating their young which is, gosh, such a huge surprise. And of course as a result being utterly useless in a real fight.

    5
  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    The thing shared by extremists of both Right and Left, maybe their defining characteristic, is a lack of a sense of humor. Zero percent of the human race will admit to being humorless, but my guess is that about a third of people have no sense of humor at all, and another third are able to recognize if not participate in humor – they learn the places where they’re supposed to laugh.

    We live in a time when the humorless are dictating to the rest of us. Everyone is angry? Yeah, guess what the antidote to anger is? If you can’t laugh you just have to go around with a constant head of steam.

    3
  26. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Let’s say Movie X comes out. It may be attacked by Evangelicals. It may be attacked by Woke activists. Which will be more likely to shut the movie down?

    Has there been an example of a movie that was shut down by the Wokie hoard?

    The only movie that was shut down recently that I can think of is Batgirl, and that was because they wanted to use it as a tax write off. (If anything, a superhero portrayed as a woman of color was likely to be pretty woke)

    1
  27. MarkedMan says:

    @DK:

    100% of Trump voters are enablers of white supremacy and QAnon

    Totally agree.

    it is moot whether Trump voters are white supremacists or QAnon kooks

    whether or not this is true depends on your objective. If it is to express frustration that huge numbers of people don’t believe as you do, and as strongly as you do, then it’s correct. But if your objective is to make a more just society then the fact that most people don’t really get all that riled up about these things is actually very important and useful. I’m with Hillary Clinton on this. To paraphrase her, “F*ck hearts and minds. Changing laws is what changes lives.”

    1
  28. Andy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Don’t you realize the revolution can’t continue until the trotskyite menace is purged?

    3
  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:
    Will TV do? Transparent had to die because Jeffrey Tambor was not himself trans. Tina Fey asked for four episodes of 30 Rock to be disappeared because of racial insensitivity. Episodes of Scrubs and Community have been disappeared. Others that I’m too lazy to look up.

    Hollywood has learned to confess their ideological heresies, whip themselves and promise to enter re-education camps. But I do think the woke left has lost traction. The most recent attempt to go after James Franco playing Castro seems to have petered out. And it’s easy to see from the word ‘woke’ itself, which was once bandied about quite happily by the woke, but has now been effectively weaponized by the un-woke while the woke now deny they ever even heard the word before.

    3
  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Andy:
    Icepicks are on sale at Wal-Mart.

    2
  31. Beth says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Wait? What? Transparent died cause Tambor was a sex pest not because he isn’t Trans. No one would cancel a successful show because Trans people whine. See, Netflix & Chappell.

    6
  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Beth:
    You are correct. Tambor was accused of being seually inappropriate with two trans actors. Amazon investigated, Tambor quit pre-emptively and issued an apology that wasn’t quite, and Amazon gave out no details. The show was heavily criticized by trans activists, but that’s not what killed the show.

  33. JKB says:

    I’ve found this general case description of what is religion to be useful. Quite insightful given the culture when it was published in 1908. To many get hung up on the idea that religion and ideology are not the same. As I saw quoted, “People don’t have ideas, ideas have people”. And many people desperately need an idea to devote themselves to.

    Whenever a man knows enough to distinguish the outside world from himself, and tries to act in accordance with this knowledge, he begins to be religious.

    The first element, therefore, in religion is the recognition of the existence of a power not ourselves pervading the universe. And another is the endeavor to put ourselves in harmonious relation with this power. Of course the feeling or affective element is presupposed as coming in between the other two. For without it the endeavor would lack a motive, and could therefore have no existence whatsoever. Every sane man believes, at least, that he is only a fraction of the sum-total of things. He also feels some dependence upon this sum-total, and he is obliged to put himself in some sort of accord with it. This is what [Edward] Caird has condensed into the statement, “A man’s religion is the expression of his ultimate attitude to the universe” (“Evolution of Religion,” Vol. I, p.30).

    What Is Religion?
    Author(s): Frank Sargent Hoffman
    Source: The North American Review, Vol. 187, No. 627 (Feb., 1908), pp. 231-239

  34. Chip Daniels says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Its true that writers and performers can’t offend woke people, for the same reason they can’t offend entire swaths of society.

    Writing and performance art are collaborative enterprises, where many people need to participate and give a greenlight, and the entire success or failure depends on the production being well liked and popular.

    The woke people would fail utterly, if the non-woke were more popular.

    1
  35. JKB says:

    …not religion on the whole that should be compared with some social-justice movements, but rather religious fundamentalism.

    Well, the modern Progressives have the same 19th century roots as the Evangelical (fundamentalist) Christians. Namely, the radical pietists of the mid-19th century, who were the driving force behind Civil War via their radical abolition views. The real Damn Yankees from west of Boston across the upper midwest. The “fire-breathing” preacher popular in Hollywood movies are from the radical pietists. The slaves had to be freed for their soul’s sake

    “Briefly, the pietist tends to hold that to be truly religious, a person must experience an emotional conversion; the convert, in what has been called “the baptism of the Holy Spirit,” has a direct relationship to God or to Jesus. “

    But by the nineteenth century, unfortunately, such was not the case. Most pietists took the following view: since we can’t gauge an individual’s morality by his following rituals or even by his professed adherence to creed, we must watch his actions and see if he is really moral.

    From there the pietists concluded that it was everyone’s moral duty to his own salvation to see to it that his fellow men as well as himself are kept out of temptation’s path. That is, it was supposed to be the State’s business to enforce compulsory morality, to create the proper moral climate for maximizing salvation. In short, instead of an individualist, the pietist now tended to become a pest, a busybody, a moral watchdog for his fellow man, and a compulsory moralist using the State to outlaw “vice” as well as crime.

    –Rothbard, Murray

    These radical pietists became the late 19th century Progressives. In the early 1920s, there was a split in the movement with Evangelical continuing with Christian doctrine while the “Progressives” took up Marxism which in the intervening century threw off almost all Christianity in the movement and beat back Judeo-Christian values in the wider society. But both keep the idea of using the state to enforce morality on the populace.

    1
  36. al Ameda says:

    @gVOR08:

    We’re dealing with people who force women to give birth and regard not being allowed to do so as horrible oppression. Lakoff taught us that for conservatives freedom means being able to do their duty, as they see it, and that part of their duty, as they see it, is to force you to do your duty, as they see it.

    To me this is just another in a long line of false equivalency narratives, one that seeks to equate the effect of ‘wokeness’ on the left with the effect of the various woke-nesses of the Right (White nationalism, Christian theocratic objectives, American Gilead, anti Science, etc.)

    Basically, the Right is very good at defining the Left.

    2
  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Chip Daniels:

    The woke people would fail utterly, if the non-woke were more popular.

    It looks to me like the woke people are failing, possibly because they made non-woke people more popular.

    As always my beef with the woke Left is that they are self-defeating. Their hubris, their humorlessness and their utter inability to think tactically, mean they end up sputtering out. As per the Intercept piece I quoted above, the net result is a Left which is impotent when something actually important and politically exploitable happens, like Dobbs.

    Politics takes work. It requires compromise. It means gathering people together instead of finding ways to split them apart. It requires tolerance, which used to be a thing on the Left. Politics is hard, Twitter is easy. Having re-defined the Democratic Party from the Big Tent Party to the Party of Unending Grievance, what good are they now? What progressive issue is about to catch fire? What have they accomplished? The bad guys are rolling back rights in state after state, and our woke friends have re-named some schools.

    There’s a long piece in either WaPo or NYT about Beto O’Rourke doing town halls in every shitty little redneck town in Texas. He’s talking about the power grid, about teacher pay, choice and gun control – core Democrat issues. He’s not walking into the room and announcing his pronouns.

    6
  38. Michael Reynolds says:

    @al Ameda:

    Basically, the Right is very good at defining the Left.

    No. Sorry, that’s not gonna fly. We OWN television, movies, popular music, publishing, the education establishment, customer-facing corporations and Silicon Valley but somehow we can’t manage to define ourselves? Because of Fox News? Not our fault?

    I’ll say it again. The job of the Democratic Party is to feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the sick and defend those who cannot defend themselves. Our power is in doing and we’ve abandoned that in favor of being. Service has given way to narcissism. Narcissism has no message.

    5
  39. DK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And it’s easy to see from the word ‘woke’ itself, which was once bandied about quite happily by the woke, but has now been effectively weaponized by the un-woke while the woke now deny they ever even heard the word before.

    Hehe. This is funny. The word woke was invented by black youth for our own empowerment, and we are still proudly and unapologetically woke and using the word woke despite the gross attempt by America’s white male establishmemt to steal, bastardize, and destroy our culture, per usual.

    Wokeness will outlast Boomer regressiveness just by young folks living as others die off, and that’s the simplest reason (among others) why we will win.

    Conservatives are blaming teachers and Hollywood etc for indoctrinating their kids into liberalism, as if kids have ever listened to teachers. The reason why so many white kids of right wing households are abandoning those ideologies is not because of schools. It’s because these young people have observed with their own eyes and ears the hypocrisy, the dishonesty, the bigotry, and the general awfulness. Railing against wokeness and CRT etc etc is not going to stop that, nor stop the passage of time.

    If Republicans want their kids back, and any chance of having a future, they should just abandon Trumpism go back to being decent people. But they won’t. #StayWoke

    9
  40. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “Tambor quit pre-emptively and issued an apology that wasn’t quite, and Amazon gave out no details. The show was heavily criticized by trans activists, but that’s not what killed the show.”

    I could be wrong — I never watched past the pilot, but my memory is that the show still went on after Tambor left, but shockingly people stopped watching when the whole point of the show was gone…

  41. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “It looks to me like the woke people are failing, possibly because they made non-woke people more popular.”

    Gosh, it’s almost like the people who’ve been telling you to calm down, this will all die out soon have been right all along.

    You’re welcome.

    6
  42. wr says:

    @JKB: I’m trying to find a way to read this in which you are not actually saying that the “radical abolitionists” were wrong and that keeping slavery was better than giving into that period’s woke mob, but I’m damned if I can figure out how.

    4
  43. DK says:

    @wr: Too bad. Transparent was a good show.

  44. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    And of course as a result being utterly useless in a real fight.

    Honestly, this is the crux. The scolds and purity police are about policing their own and have little to no interest in actually accomplishing anything. Given the choice between actually doing the real work change requires or giving someone, anyone, a piece of their mind they will inevitably pick “B”. Self righteousness is an addiction.

    But they are self appointed scolds. As more and more people are learning, they only have the power others give them.

    1
  45. MarkedMan says:

    @JKB: Interesting. Although I would argue there is nothing particularly liberal or progressive about such behavior. It exists in all groups, whether social, political or religious.

    In fact, you could gage the “religious scale” of someone by whether they are more concerned with the purity of someone’s beliefs than their actions in pursuit of a common cause. Put another way, do they define an ally as someone who believes as they do, or as someone who works with them towards a common cause?

  46. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: a few episodes, pulled by the ip owners to protect the rest of the ip? various Warner Brothers cartoons have been sent away because they were racist too.

    And let’s not forget Song of the South — if it wasn’t for those darn woke kids, it would be on Disney+ now!

    That’s not a very convincing argument for the power of the Wokies.

    Fat Albert and the Cosby Show get almost no reruns now that we know of Bill Cosby drugging and raping women! Oh noes! How woke!

    And Louis CK has fallen from grace once people learned he would masturbate in front of women who weren’t there for that.

    4
  47. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Modulo Myself:

    Racism, bigotry, sexism, and hierarchy are expressions of a human goodness, even if flawed

    No. Just no. Maybe yes to the second part (human flaw/fraility), but a hard no to the first. Of course, YMMV, and I am but a simple Luddite.

    1
  48. steve says:

    I dont live in California or NYC so the stuff the author writes about sounds mostly foreign to me. Woke isn’t much of an issue and we dont have lots of SJWs running around. We do still have churches going door to door. Public prayer is perfectly acceptable. Trans? OK in most circles but clearly not OK in others.

    Andy- I also read French a lot. I think he has been doing yeoman’s work with his critique of evangelicals but to be honest think he is largely being ignored. At this point for most evangelicals adhering to the correct political beliefs is far more important than behaving like Christians.

    Steve

    2
  49. Just nutha says:

    @wr: Good catch!