Religious Fervor Among the Woke

The “woke” haven’t only adopted the ideology of “social justice” and “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) and assertions such as “diversity is our strength” (Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), but they adhere to these ideas not so much as preferred guidelines or scientific hypotheses, but as religious truths that aren’t to be questioned.

Any misguided or malevolent soul who does question these “unchallengeable truths” is considered to be a heretic who must be smote with extreme prejudice, what today we call “canceled”: censored, marginalized, silenced, fired, prosecuted at law, and erased from society.

What’s unquestionable for the woke isn’t the spiritual beings of traditional religions. Rather, it’s identity—the subjective adherence of an individual to a category of humanity, usually a category defined by sex or gender, race, sexual preference and practice, ethnicity, or ability or disability. But the woke are discriminating; not all identities are equal or justify respect or defense. Just as in traditional religions, not all spiritual beings are regarded as worthy of belief: Christians don’t recognize the spiritual authority of Shiva, Vishnu, or Ganesh. Orthodox Jews, while they might recognize Jesus as a Hebrew historical figure, don’t grant him spiritual authority. Muslims reject the trinity of the Catholic deity.

Woke discrimination focuses on the identities of categories of people; some categories are seen as negative, not worth defending, and often require attacking. Whites are regarded as evil, Asians are “white adjacent,” and Jews are “hyperwhite” and share in white evil. Zionists are hyper-evil, males are “toxic,” and Christians are knuckle-dragging fascists.

Wokeness is being aware of these enemies of virtue and coming to the defense of females (as long as they aren’t trans-exclusionary radical feminists), all BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color), all LGBT, the disabled, the poor, and the homeless. Then, of course, there are those who are woke to the “existential threat” of climate change and the need to return to foraging, as long as one remains vegetarian.

You may wonder about the designation “religious” granted to wokeness. It’s worth remembering that definitions of terms such as “religion” aren’t empirical facts, but are conventions of arbitrary use. Definitions can be judged in terms of degrees of helpfulness or unhelpfulness in understanding, and it’s often useful to find the definition most suited to the purpose. It’s conventional to use the term “religion” for the worship of certain spiritual beings. But there’s also a functional type of definition that may be useful in elucidating some belief systems.

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Anthropologist Clifford Geertz has provided such a definition:

“A religion is (1) a system of symbols which acts to (2) establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations in men [and women and non-binary individuals] by (3) formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”

Many ideologies that we would label secular, i.e., not about supernatural figures, are well described by this definition. National Socialism (Nazism) and communism have exclusivist ideologies with founding human deities, “holy” books, required ceremonies, visions of historical destiny, and severe penalties for heretics. Many people have had such faith in these ideologies that they committed the most horrid mass crimes with the belief that they were doing good.

Woke ideologies fulfill Geertz’s definition of religion by drawing on what might be a natural tendency of human beings to feel comfortable with people who are like themselves compared to people who are unlike them by emphasizing primordial identity characteristics such as sex and race and deeply embedded characteristics such as ethnicity and sexual orientation. The woke formulate “conceptions of a general order of existence” by defining society in the Marxist fashion as distinct classes of oppressors and oppressed and by applying that model to redefine relations between females and males, BIPOC and whites (and Asians and Jews), LGBT and heterosexuals, Muslims and Christians (and Jews and Zionists), and disabled and abled, the former in each pair a victim of the other who oppresses them.

The woke, in drawing their class conflict picture, also draw on the human tendency to envy others who have more of what’s regarded as valuable and to believe that the advantage of the other has been unfairly gained and that that other is “privileged.” The “aura of factuality” is encoded in the concept of “equity,” which identifies statistical disparities in educational achievement, health outcomes, income, etc., and attributes them to the malevolence of the “other.”

The evidence-free explanations of disparities are the by now rote accusations of “sexism,” “racism,” “homophobia,” “transphobia,” “Islamophobia,” and the like. This all seems, as Geertz puts it, “uniquely realistic” to the woke.

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Religious devotion to DEI principles has engendered an atmosphere in which no criticism is allowed. Anyone who objects, for whatever reason, is a heretic that must be silenced and canceled, thus the infamous “cancel culture” that stains our public life. But the woke haven’t limited themselves to attacking critics of identity politics pieties; they’ve energetically vilified the values and principles of liberal democracy.

“Colorblind” policies and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s plea to judge people by their characters rather than by the color of their skin are rejected by the woke as “racist.” The basic principles of meritocracy and economic mobility—merit, achievement, and potential—are now condemned as “white supremacy.” Other principles presumably beneficial for negotiating the real world—high expectations of performance, courtesy, logic and evidence, objectivity, and promptness—are denounced as features of “whiteness” that should be rejected.

The entirety of Western Civilization is rejected by the woke because it’s largely the product of white men and is thus seen as white male supremacy.

The religious fervor of the woke has been highly effective, as demonstrated by the woke takeover of almost every major institution in North America and the West generally: schools and universities, research-granting agencies, the media, the legal profession, the medical profession, many business organizations, the Democratic Party in the United States and the Liberal Party in Canada, and the U.S. and Canadian governments, which use their power to impose woke policies. Our totally corrupted schools and universities have disregarded their respective mandates of educating pupils in basic knowledge, seeking truth, and advancing knowledge, in favor of woke “social justice” and its preferred categories of people.

Only the Republican Party in the United States and the People’s Party of Canada, some state and provincial governments, some courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court have so far resisted the tentacles of the woke.

Religious fervor, whether manifested in theology or secular politics, has throughout history led to countless atrocities and widespread misery. Woke fervor has made great strides in destroying the United States, Canada, and much of the West. History may be written by the woke winners (see “The 1619 Project”), but the reality isn’t progress, but retrogression.


Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Epoch Times on July 8, 2022 and is crossposted here with permission.

Image: Chris Liverani, Public Domain

Philip Carl Salzman

Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

5 thoughts on “Religious Fervor Among the Woke

  1. Salzman writes: “Only the Republican Party in the United States and the People’s Party of Canada, some state and provincial governments, some courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court have so far resisted the tentacles of the woke.”

    Really? The Republican Party in the US has resisted the “tentacles of the woke”. That’s a laugh! Salzman knows better. All political parties, including the People’s Party of Canada (nice Marxist name BTW), pander to whoever they need to in order to secure votes.

    It’s hard to take anyone seriously that suggests otherwise.

  2. Professor Salzman can only speak of ‘Wokeness’ as a religion by using a definition of religion which is very broad. The weakness of this definition is apparent– it fails to distinguish between religion, philosophy, political movements, or even deeply held personal beliefs.

    While the US legal system does not define religion is a precise manner, but it clearly recognizes the need for clarification. From the Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Wisconsin vs. Yoder (1970):

    “[I]f the Amish asserted their claims because of their subjective evaluation and rejection of the contemporary secular values accepted by the majority, much as Thoreau rejected the social values of his time and isolated himself at Walden Pond, their claims would not rest on a religious basis. Thoreau’s choice was philosophical and personal rather than religious, and such belief does not rise to the demands of the Religion Clauses.”

    The Supreme Court stated a more common view of religion is stated in Davis v. Beason (1890):

    “[T]he term ‘religion’ has reference to one’s views of his relations to his Creator, and to the obligations they impose of reverence for his being and character, and of obedience to his will.”

    While this view is too limited (it doesn’t encompass Buddhism, for example), it does suggest at the heart of the matter: religions posit alternate realities. Wokeism fails to meet this– an alternate view of reality is not an alternate reality.

    When Salzman speaks of religious fervor, we can agree with this metaphor. But it is important to note that some major religions require their followers to show humility, be longsuffering, and act with temperance.

  3. I’m not sure why Mr. Salzman is so much against religion. In any case, I doubt that a campaign against religious fervor is going to get him many allies anywhere.

  4. What I don’t understand is why the concept of separation of church & state doesn’t apply — at least at US public IHEs.

    Sixty years ago, every US high school started the day with the Lord’s Prayer and the teacher reading a Biblical passage. That was ruled unConstitutional.

    So how can US public IHEs preach about DEI but not God?!?

    Two decades before that, SCOTUS ruled that the US Consthtution prohibited mandating orthodoxy of thought:
    https://www.oyez.org/cases/1940-1955/319us624

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