New Religions of Wokeness, Nationalism Filling Faith Vacuum?

James Diddams on October 12, 2021

Western Europe and America have abandoned Christianity for “woke” religious fervor according to a leading theologian.

“The social justice crusade is a kind of Christian heresy… because on the one hand the social justice warrior has certainly got the moral ire of the Old Testament prophet… But what they lack is a Christian sense of compassion for weak, feeble humanity, [that] we’re all crooked and this sense that the line between good and evil runs right down the middle of every one of us,” described University of Oxford professor Dr. Nigel Biggar, who’s a Christian ethicist and Church of England cleric.

Biggar and James Orr, a Cambridge theology professor, joined Jordan Peterson, renowned Canadian psychologist, on a recent podcast to discuss the intersection of God, Psychology and Politics.

In the time since Brexit and U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election there has been much hand-wringing in the West over the transnational liberal-democratic project disintegrating before our eyes. The problem, according to the panelists and other academics, is that the dominant culture embraces rootless cosmopolitanism detached from particular places or cultures in favor of globalized homogeneity. While national identity may have seemed unimportant a few years ago, as churches empty those who previously might have found meaning through God are now finding it in nationalism.

But what does “identity” even mean? “I think the fact that we’re all talking about identity now in a way that we simply weren’t before is not a sign that we all know what it means. but actually a sign that there’s a kind of dislocation,” argued Orr. “Particularly now,” said the Cambridge professor, “that we’ve slipped a lot of our moorings that used to anchor us in a stable normative universe; we [were] told certain stories about where we’d come from, where we’re going. Broadly speaking they were not believed by everybody, but broadly speaking [these stories] gave us the kinds of parameters, the kinds of guardrails, the kind of coordination mechanisms, even the kinds of stigmas that helped us to pursue the common good together for all of our different disagreements.”

But now that identity and the moral values, the do’s and don’ts that gave life structure, have become fleeting, people are turning elsewhere for their values. Peterson noted that in Quebec, those who identified as lapsed Roman Catholics were ten times more likely to favor Quebecois independence from Canada. This implies that the malformed religious disposition of the voters can be particularly amenable to more immediate and earthly appeals to nationalism. Biggar noted in concurrence that he had observed the decline of the Church of Scotland in conjunction with rising Scottish nationalism.

Biggar recounted his own connection with Scottish national identity, noting that he felt a sense of “moral accountability” to the set of stories, heroes and values that characterize Scottishness. However, as Peterson noted, his sense of Scottish identity was not “truncated” into a divinized version of nationalism; Biggar’s sense of being Scottish is not “totalizing,” enabling him to hold that identity in conjunction with other sources of meaning. But for those without a theology to contextualize their various identities, such as lapsed Catholic Quebecois, ethno-national identity can become totalizing. As the Canadian psychologist explained: “There’s a hierarchy of identities and the hierarchy has to be structured properly or the parts start to contain the whole in a way that’s pathological.”

Peterson also argued that atheists are too confident in “universal human rights” being an invention of the Enlightenment and secularism. Instead, Peterson stated our modern liberal ethical paradigm, which privileges individual liberty far more than its antecedents, is really the rearticulation of thousands of years of Judeo-Christian theology.

“I don’t believe that our notion of rights is an Enlightenment product,” said Peterson. “I think the Enlightenment articulated an implicit Judeo-Christian view of man and expressed it brilliantly in many political documents, but that the roots of that explicit construction were mythological and ritual… I actually don’t think that’s debatable, I think the idea that the dignity of the Human Being and the Rights of Man emerged in the Renaissance or let’s say in the Enlightenment and out of nothing is a completely absurd proposition.”

While on the right side of the political spectrum we see calls to nationalism as religion fades, on the left we see ever more fervent appeals to the religion of “wokeness.” Though, as Biggar noted, wokeness also comes to resemble a form of heretical Christianity itself, and so we’re left with a doubly undesirable dichotomy in the wake of declining organized religion.

  1. Comment by Star Tripper on October 17, 2021 at 5:41 pm

    Christianity was watered down over the last 200 years. Nationalism was always present but the Western Superpower, the USA, pretended they had transcended such things. That America was an idea country and not a blood and soil country like all the others. As the post-1965 immigrant tide has shown that transcendence is a lie and the USA is headed for the same fate as the USSR. We will see what rises from the ashes.

  2. Comment by Theodore Miner on October 17, 2021 at 6:07 pm

    “… as churches empty those who previously might have found meaning through God are now finding it in nationalism.”

    Is this assertion true? This sounds speculative. Indeed the fastest declining churches are the mainline churches. Are people leaving the mainlines and becoming nationalistic?

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