Cultural Politics

Thought-Deranging Tyranny: The New Religion of Woke

Man is not only the rational animal (animal rationale), but—uniquely also—the animal that worships, the religious animal (animal religiosum). It appears that there is an essential element in the human being that seeks religious experience, and the historical studies of the multitude of these kinds of experiences would fill many libraries. One remembers the seminal work of the psychologist William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), with the telling subtitle: “A Study in Human Nature”. He identifies a two-part common characteristic of the religious sensibility: (1) an uneasiness (“a sense that there is something wrong about us as we naturally stand”) and (2) a solution (“a sense that we are saved from the wrongness by making proper connection with the higher powers”). The “higher powers” begs definition.

The poet and literary critic Matthew Arnold, discarding orthodox Christianity in the familiar mid-nineteenth-century way, spoke of “the Eternal not ourselves that makes for righteousness”, a vague formulation later lampooned, with reference to soap, as the Eternal not ourselves that makes for cleanliness. In “The Study of Poetry” (1880), Arnold argued that, in an age of increasing rejection of Christian faith, poetry would take the place of religion: it would instruct, uplift and comfort us, as religion was no longer capable of doing:

More and more mankind will discover that we have to turn to poetry to interpret life for us, to console us, to sustain us. Without poetry, our science will appear incomplete; and most of what now passes with us for religion and philosophy will be replaced by poetry. Science, I say, will appear incomplete without it.

His prophecy, obviously, has not come true. Poetry today, alas, is little read and even less taken to heart.

This essay appeared in a recent Quadrant.
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In the wake of the Victorians’ crisis of faith and their invention of agnosticism (the term was coined by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1869), in the twentieth century, after two millennia of the Christian religion (with its formidable range of belief systems and institutions), a post-Christian era was identified by many significant thinkers, including Christians themselves. This was variously sourced, from the Victorian age and even further back, to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, or indeed—counter-intuitively, it would seem—to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century with its emphasis on individuals’ personal apprehensions and interpretations of the divine.

“Post-Christian” had become a familiar formula by the 1960s, to define contemporary Western culture, and the death of God was confidently reported. The mid-twentieth-century American poet Wallace Stevens spoke of an age “in which disbelief is so profoundly prevalent or, if not disbelief, indifference to questions of belief”, that there had emerged, in the midst of “a profound poverty of spirit”, a desire of human beings, nonetheless, to “enlarge” the spiritual life, “in a search for a supreme fiction they could believe in”.

How, then, can animal religiosum have this essential, primal desire for religious experience satisfied in what remains of a Western civilisation from which Christianity has been all-but-totally evacuated from the mainstream culture and from any specifically discernible influence on personal behaviour that would indicate informed knowledge and active practice of the faith? Across local communities in Western societies, the churches that have not been closed, are emptying. As the British essayist Jan Morris observed in 2020, “much of western Europe … is now almost impenetrably secular. Few of us go to church or chapel, most of us are probably agnostic if not decidedly atheistic, and the rest are split into infinite sectarian divisions of faith”. It was reported, last year, that every week in the United States, some ten churches were closing. And Archbishop Anthony Fisher, of Sydney, has written of “the rising anti-life, anti-truth and anti-religious tide of our age”. But as G.K. Chesterton warned: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”

We have seen this clearly, in recent history, in godless Soviet communism, Nazi fascism and the Maoist Cultural Revolution, all promising a heaven on earth for true believers and, in each case, delivering a hell on earth for tens of millions of human beings who, failing to comply with the propaganda of these religion-substitutes, were the victims of their inhuman savagery. The British double agent George Blake, of Dutch Calvinist upbringing before he began spying for the KGB, recognised the similarity between religion and such regimes:

Religion promises people, let’s say, Communism after their death. Because in heaven we are all equal and we live in wonderful circumstances. And Communism promises people a wonderful life here on earth—and nothing came of that either.

Now, in our day—as another example of the old adage that those who are ignorant of history are bound to repeat it—we are witnessing and many are increasingly bowing the knee before a new form of totalitarian tyranny, which promises a utopian world of perfected social justice to its adherents, and casts into outer darkness (in what has come to be known as “cancel culture”) those who will not comply. It is the recent arrival, pervasive imposition and staggering success of the new religion of Woke, the contemporary variety of Stevens’s “supreme fiction”. Mark Bauerlein, in The Dumbest Generation Grows Up: From Stupefied Adolescents to Dangerous Adults (2022), remarks that “the intellectual fall from the ’60s militant to the utopian Millennial is one of the great cultural catastrophes of our time”.

Wokery replicates numerous age-old characteristics of adherence to and practice of religion, but in degraded ways. It revels in all the worst elements of the religious mentality, at its most vicious and fanatical, but without any of the redeeming features of the religious sensibility, or of its virtues. The sense of humility and unworthiness, for example, an essential component of the Christian’s vocation, is beyond the ken of the woke, who make an exhibition of their worthiness (and, by contrast, everyone else’s lamentable shortcomings) at every opportunity. Forgiveness, the most appealing and humane of Christianity’s teachings, is utterly unknown to the Church of Woke. In the redemptive action of forgiving, the sinner is healed, and the weight of guilt is lifted; someone who has done wrong is restored. The compassionate implications of the parable of the Prodigal Son, for instance, with its unforgettable climax of reward and rejoicing, lavished not upon a virtue-signalling individual, but upon a wrongdoer, celebrate the triumph of forgiveness; as does the story of Jesus’s encounter with the woman taken in adultery, with the Pharisees preparing to stone her. Christ rebukes them: “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone”, and says to the woman herself: “Go and sin no more” (John 8:7, 11).

For today’s woke community of dogmatic belief, perpetual stone-casting at the perceived less virtuous than themselves is their relished raison d’être. Their targets are made prisoners of the consequences—even of mere mis-spoken words—for the rest of their lives. All are impoverished by such an inhumane regime: the accused and the accusers.

The persecution of George Pell, detailed by Keith Windschuttle in his book with that title, revealed the woke at their worst. Cardinal Pell was a prime target, as a white, male, Christian conservative—his ultimate exoneration in a unanimous decision by the full bench of the High Court notwithstanding, after one of the most scandalous trials-by-media and lynch-mob in Australian history. As Paul Kelly notes: “more than 120 journalists and commentators … engaged over many years in the pile-on against Pell. For years the ABC led the charge in a campaign that was relentless, biased and prejudiced”. Pell was a multi-faceted gift which just kept on giving to the woke incitement of hatred, even beyond his life. When the cardinal died, in January this year, the ABC’s Louise Milligan (one of his principal antagonists) wasted no time getting onto Twitter to express her concern for the “triggering” which the mentioning of the late cardinal’s name would cause to his supposed victims, triggering herself an immediate anti-social media pile-on. This consisted of thousands of comments of this kind: “May the arsehole rot in hell”. Christopher Akehurst has described social media such as Twitter as “that seething Babel of amplified ignorance” where “the truth will be beaten to death”, as Kierkegaard said of Socrates and Jesus. Hate speech is a principal target of woke fury, yet their own hate speech is beyond reproach or censure.

Where is the woke commentary on the widespread and continuing sexual abuse of children in indigenous communities or, closer to Milligan’s patch, in the Victorian public school system, where a victim, Glen Fearnett, recently reported: “No one wants to talk to us”? Fearnett references three teachers at Beaumaris Primary School who were abusing children. But there are no brownie points in the Church of Woke’s Treasury of Merits for going after Aboriginal abusers or public school teachers. That would fail to fit “the narrative”. But a cardinal (even if he never sexually abused anyone) is a heaven-sent target for years of excoriation.

Wokery, Windschuttle writes:

takes the great Christian virtue, compassion, and turns it inside out, creating an authoritarian moral vanity … Its evangelical fervour persuades its acolytes that their opponents are not just sinners who can be redeemed but agents of evil who must be punished and destroyed. The great social benefits of the Christian religion, charity, mercy and forgiveness, are replaced by moral outrage, vengeance and intolerance of dissent, all topped by an insufferable narcissism.

The old saying, “Christians aren’t perfect, but they are forgiven”, with its humble recognition, plain as day to any sane and humane person, of human imperfection, and the reassuring acknowledgment that each and every sin may be pardoned, is anathema to the hectoring self-righteousness and everlasting punitive zealotry of the Church of Woke. The woke see themselves as uniquely exempt from the white supremacy, misogyny, nationalism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, heteronormativity, classism, toxic masculinity (and so on) of reprehensible European history and of present-day Western societies, and, therefore, as veritable pearls of virtue. As the late Pope Benedict observed: in the course of this new crusade, a “peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological” has been generated. The woke elect establish themselves (as the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, put it in a Holy Week address in 2022) “in a state of everlasting righteousness at the expense of everybody else”.

Aldous Huxley anticipated the religio-fundamentalist characteristics of the Church of Woke more than seventy years ago, in Ape and Essence (1948, the same year in which George Orwell was similarly predicting its horror in Nineteen Eighty-Four). Huxley foresaw it in terms of progress towards a social-justice heaven-on-earth. It is:

the theory that you alone can understand the meaning of history; the theory that you know what’s going to happen fifty years from now; the theory that, in the teeth of all experience, you can foresee all the consequences of your present actions; the theory that Utopia lies just ahead and that, since ideal ends justify the abominable means, it is your privilege and duty to rob, swindle, torture, enslave and murder all those who, in your opinion (which is, by definition, infallible), obstruct the onward march to the earthly paradise.

The groupthink of the mandated woke gospel is now pervasive in educational establishments, from kindergarten through to the universities. Describing the “march of the cultural left through the institutions”, which is very successfully setting up generations to come as evangelists of mind-numbing, reason-cancelling dogma, Professor Eric Kaufmann (Politics, Birkbeck College, London) defines wokeness succinctly as “the sacralising of race, gender and cultural identities”, as minority groups have “sacred” status conferred upon them, and anyone who questions this or them, let alone states some negative home truths about them—even just in casual conversation, or in private (harming nobody, and breaking no law)—is committing “blasphemy” and, when discovered in their mis-thinking and mis-speaking, must be silenced, becoming a non-person, like a deletion from the Soviet encyclopaedia.

With regard to the meltdown of the universities, numerous cases of the triumph of wokery present themselves, here and overseas. The Princeton classics professor Joshua Katz—who dared to challenge that university’s determination to empower faculty committees “to police scholarly work for ‘racism’”—arguing that it would lead to a “star chamber with a low bar for cancellation, punishment, suspension, even dismissal”—has, on cue, had his own career and personal reputation trashed by the authorities, and is described in a recent Newsweek article by Paul de Quenoy (“Defamed Professor Joshua Katz Should Sue Princeton University”) as being guilty of “assorted sins”. Unusually, in Katz’s case, a few of his colleagues spoke up in his defence. Customarily, as in some well-known Australian university examples, the “colleagues” fall over one another to join in the lynching frenzy. Distinguished mathematician Sergiu Klainerman, also of Princeton, writing a lengthy article in the Tablet, argues that the professor was “punished as an example to us all not to interfere with the university’s plans to remake itself as an ideological factory for the production of ‘anti-racist social justice’”.

“Sacralising”, “blasphemy”, “sins”—this is the religious vocabulary aptly characterising the practices and procedures of this grotesque Clayton’s religion, its holier-than-thou apostles, and their malignant influence throughout society, but especially—and most poisonously, with regard to what is in store for us in the future—in the schools and universities. When the political philosopher Hannah Arendt went to university in the 1920s, she was delighted to realise that she would have her mind opened up and would “learn to think”, not have it shut down by instruction in what to believe and what is unsayable and forbidden from discussion and debate. The corruption of the institutions, to which N.S. Lyons refers (“The Woke Revolution is Far from Over”, Quadrant, January-February 2023), is destined to worsen. “In just a decade, the wokest generations will almost completely occupy controlling positions of power across the institutional landscape”: “The widespread assumption that wokeness and its many contradictions would collapse as soon as it collided with reality (whether in the workplace or the White House) … has proven to be horribly wrongheaded.”

Given what Lyons and Kaufmann (and many others, such as Douglas Murray, in several books) have revealed and argued, it is clear that only an equally thoroughgoing revolution in thought will have the capacity to eradicate this plague. And where do people imagine that that will come from?

We should look more closely at the articles of the Church of Woke.

Prideful assurance of election. This is a familiar phenomenon from the least attractive manifestations of Christian history, as in the beliefs and practices of the Puritan Calvinists of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and in fundamentalist cults, to this day, worldwide. A conviction of superior righteousness is grounded in the blessed assurance of the Elect that they are set apart from the far more numerous and repulsive massa peccati of the rest of humanity who are predestined for everlasting punishment in hell. At the opposite end of the ecclesiastical spectrum from Calvinism, a view with the same eternal consequences used to be taught (one hears much less of it these days) by Roman Catholicism: that extra ecclesiam nulla salus—outside that Church, there could be no salvation, and hellfire (again) was the inevitable destination for the non-believer. The mindset and polemic of the secular, neo-puritan Church of Woke of our time recalls this black-and-white absolutism. Like the 144,000 right-thinking and believing Jehovah’s Witnesses who will be resurrected to heaven to spend eternity with Christ, the Woke Elect will be preserved in their earthly paradise of virtue.

Damnation of non-believers. Anyone who is not prepared to adhere to wokery’s articles of faith—the clauses of its creed, such as manmade climate change or non-binary gender fluidity—and who might query, want to discuss or debate or, most damn-worthy of all, outrightly reject any of its teachings, is to be cast into the outer darkness of the Siberia of cancel culture, today’s infernal region. “Scarely a week goes by,” Carl Trueman has written in his new book, Strange New World, without someone “being harangued into silence on social media for the articulation of a view that was considered unexceptionable until very recently”. And unlike the formulated, finite Christian creeds, from the early centuries and councils of the Church, or such as the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion of Elizabethan Anglicanism, the woke agenda is an ever-expanding index of affirmations and prohibitions. Just when you think you have grasped the fullness of topics that you must adhere to or—on the other hand—opinions and ideas that you cannot so much as express, yet another article of faith emerges, to catch you out in heresy. Then, when that’s discovered by the Thought Gestapo (who have no compunction in using criminal means, such as the hacking of people’s email accounts, in the pursuit of their righteous cause), it’s off to the Gulag with you.

One recent example is the new sin of fatphobia, a particular species of the broader error of damnable sizeism. Until recently, it was considered the reasonable and responsible attitude to regard obesity as a medically dangerous condition to be avoided, in the interests of the physical and mental wellbeing of all. Not any more! So much as to express these opinions—based on medical research and the knowledge that even the ordinary layperson assumes to be fact: that being overweight can seriously endanger your heart, lead to diabetes and so on—is now verboten. It is “body-shaming” and that is prohibited. Even doctors, we have been told, are to be discouraged, in the course of a general health check, from drawing attention to a patient’s gross fatness and prescribing a weight loss regime. Disturbing increases in childhood obesity and early-onset diabetes are now ensuring that this generation will be the first in history to have shorter life spans than its parents.

Express the idea, in the face of these plain facts, that fatness is a bad thing, then you are not only wrong (such is the craziness to which society is daily submitting), but a “fatphobe”, engaging in hate speech against fat people, one of the ever-enlarging (literally and metaphorically, in this case) community of victim groups.

In her last collection of essays, Allegorizings (2021), Jan Morris lamented the typical British tourist crowd of “the obese, the yobbish and the raucous”, critically lumping fatties with yobbos and loudmouths. This regrettable lapse into the gross heresy of sizeist fatphobia (and there are several other instances of it in the book: Jan did not like fat people) would surely incite the gimlet-eyed halo-polishers of woke to issue some edifying hate speech of their own (acceptable, if you have the “right” opinions) against Jan. But a problem arises. Jan Morris, formerly James Humphry Morris, was one of the world’s best-known transsexuals (she died in 2020). Criticise her, and you would be a transphobe, denouncing a conspicuous member of one of the sacrosanct minority groups most beloved of the virtue-signallers. How to honour her for her pioneering trans role, and yet excoriate a fatphobe? Negotiating the minefield of woke correctitude—the orthodox and the heretical—is reminiscent of the theological niceties of ecclesiastical argument of ages past.

Similar to the affirming of morbid obesity as a good, in July 2022 the Northern Territory Attorney-General announced that the ban on alcohol in remote communities (which had suffered terribly from the demon drink) would be lifted, after fifteen years, not because medical research had suddenly found that alcohol was harmless, but because the “Intervention” that had brought in the ban was “racist”. That this was not the reason for the ban matters not at all in a world that has lost its mind and daily congratulates itself on that mindlessness. The reason for the ban on alcohol was to try to stem the serious problems of its abuse (and the other related abuses—of sexual assault of children, for example) in indigenous communities. But no acknowledgment of these positive medical and social motivations for the ban was made—it was racist, and so it was virtue-signalling anti-racism to lift the ban, and anyone having any reservations about this move would be, ipso facto, a racist. Once again, informed debate and free discussion are shut down, as the race card is played for the umpteenth time. Now, however, the ban has been reinstated (its lifting having quickly proved to be disastrous, as anybody in their right mind, not addled by woke craziness, could have predicted), the most strident calls for its reinstatement coming from wise indigenous residents of Alice Springs. Does that mean that they are “racist” too?

So we see, in these cases, a phenomenon familiar as one of the most disreputable aspects of religious history: how articles of faith trump obvious facts. Faith, that is to say, becomes a matter of believing (and you had better believe it!) what you know to be untrue. It is an example of the demented mob madness that Douglas Murray has identified as the essential woke characteristic and which, extraordinarily, the contemporary world has swallowed whole. The very same woke preachers who would be incandescently outraged, this time from a well-founded health perspective, by the prohibition by the Catholic Church (the patriarchy!) of the use of condoms for protection against AIDS in places such as Africa (homophobic and racist!), where the disease is rampant, would be quick to condemn you if you spoke out about the dangers of obesity and indigenous alcoholism. But hypocritical cherry-picking—as in the matter of biblical texts and their interpretations in the history of Christian apologetics—is another typical element of religious practice at its least admirable, and which the woke have appropriated to their demented mission.

Public proselytising. Next, there is the phenomenon of public proselytising (“go and make disciples of all nations”, as Matthew’s Gospel has it, 28:19). Older readers will remember the popularity of “roadside pulpits” outside evangelically-inclined churches. These were sometimes witty (St Barnabas’s in Broadway in Sydney was famous for its billboard repartee with the pub opposite). But more often these messages were seriously monitory: “Repent ye, and believe the gospel”, and so on, with a biblical textual reference appended.

Now such biblical signalling has been replaced by such as “Racism NOT welcome” signs, proliferating throughout our suburbs—eyesores adding to the already visually-polluted streetscapes of Australian cities (by anti-racist activists who would be the first to condemn pollution in other contexts). This is literal virtue-signalling on the part of local councils. As the roadside pulpits were admonitions of the righteous to the un-redeemed, so these signs proceed from the prior assumption, of the metropolitan elites, that the communities they are addressing are seething with racist bigotry and need to be smartly called to account, the calling out of other people’s terrible sins being a favourite pastime of the holier-than-thou from time immemorial.

Most of the seething that is, in fact, occurring is on the part of many citizens, without a racist bone in their bodies, who find themselves unavoidably confronted with this reprimanding slogan every time they go out, being given a ticking-off that implies that they might be—overtly and, if not that, almost certainly covertly—guilty of this most serious sin in the woke catalogue. Essential to the woke mentality is automatically to assume the very worst of human beings, which, again, resonates with the Puritan mindset.

The Inner West council in Sydney declares of the signs that “Locations are chosen based on high-traffic areas and placing an equal amount of signs in each ward. The location of the sign does not mean that a specific street has increased racism.”

Please read that second sentence again, if you can bear it. Who, remotely remaining in their right mind—in these mind-numbing, reason-destroying days—would even have imagined this concept in order for it to be deprecated? This is ratepayer-funded craziness. “My street is less racist than yours!” Real estate agents could add a clause, to this effect, to their familiar jargon about desirable locations of properties for sale: “The house is located in a street which is close to the shops, transport and schools, and is renowned for its reduced racism.”

Then we are told: “The signs are intended to allow difficult conversations and strengthen a sense of community.” Inner West citizens are given permission by their council (oh, thank you), through the agency of these signs, to have “difficult conversations”. And what is the likelihood that the judgmental implication that a citizenry is deeply flawed (and the judgment is clearly there, otherwise why is the signage necessary?) will “strengthen a sense of community”? It is much more likely to set people’s teeth on edge than bring them together.

The organisation responsible for this campaign declares, in explaining the signs’ purpose:

The Inner West Multicultural Network decided that more needed to be done to provide a safe platform for people to speak out, to normalise discussion about racism at a community level and to help communities fight racism together.

How on earth could these signs have the capacity to achieve this? They have been in place for many months. Where is the evidence that they have accomplished anything, apart from signalling their woke creators’ virtue? Where is (what is) the “safe platform” that we are supposed to be benefiting from, standing on? What does “normalising” a discussion about racism mean? Who will be adjudicating, discriminating between the normal and the deviant, for example? Where is the evidence that these signs have helped any community “to fight racism together”?

Nonetheless, in the July 2022 Inner West News, the council’s propaganda rag, there is the proud declaration of “the successful Racism Not Welcome campaign”, accompanied by a photo of one of the ugly objects. Where is—what is—the evidence of this “success”? Nowhere to be found, or identified, or quantified. But in the La-La Land of Woke, like Disney’s Fantasyland, saying so makes it so.

In the same fantasy world, a white man of Celtic origin cannot only proclaim that he “feels Aboriginal”, but be turned (with just a BEd to his credit) into an “Enterprise Professor in Indigenous Agriculture”, based on “research” that has been thoroughly discredited (see, for example, Peter O’Brien’s Bitter Harvest), by Melbourne University which regards itself as Australia’s best (which, given the state of Australian universities today, is saying very little) and of world standing. “How can anyone take this charlatan seriously?” asks Tony Thomas, of Professor Bruce Pascoe, in a recent article. The answer is simple, if threefold: anyone can “identify” as Aboriginal (because “my truth” is the truth, and if you contradict it, you are guilty of hate speech); anyone identifying as Aboriginal is, by virtue of that, beyond criticism (sacrosanctity having been conferred on indigenous peoples, worldwide, by the woke), and, so, anyone who does criticise one of them is a “racist”—the unpardonable sin.

It is vital to concentrate, in this way, on the weasel-word gibberish of woke proselytising, pervasive today, and as meaningful as Pentecostal glossalia. The cartoonist and satirist Leunig notes it in “Bilingual”:

I’m learning the new dialect
That’s very politically correct.
So I will never cause offence
And sit politely on the fence
Amending every word I think
So I won’t cause a nasty stink;
Repressed, compliant and precise,
Insincere and very nice:
A most insipid little spook
Speaking fluent gobbledygook

George Orwell warned that once language is degraded into meaningless gibberish, then thought is perverted, and the people are made ready for tyranny.

Personal testimony. In Christian Evangelical worship, this can take the form of a redeemed sinner testifying publicly—often in the course of a service—to how the Lord Jesus has transformed his or her life. In other varieties of Christianity, more measured confessions of faith, often describing a protracted experience of growth in the knowledge of God, are recorded, in such as memoirs. The woke are more fond of the outspoken, emotive and immediate evangelical kind of self-revealing redemptive experience, whether of conversion itself or examples of the subsequent, ongoing grace-filled moments in their journey of faith.

When the matter of care for disabled children was being discussed during the 2022 federal election campaign, the then Prime Minister Scott Morrison volunteered the remark that he and wife Jenny were “blessed” that both their daughters were healthy. Immediately, this was denounced as hate speech against disabled children. It was the kind of prized “gotcha moment” which the woke regard as a godsend. It mattered not that not an iota of hate motivated Morrison in making this remark. The only criticism that could be levelled at it would be that it would probably have been wiser, given that the woke, like the devil, are relentlessly patrolling the society, seeking whom they might devour, for the Prime Minister not to have made this statement of genuine thankfulness at all. It was bound to be latched onto with delight (posing, as usual, as outrage), and wilfully misinterpreted—the stock in trade of the shaming (and shameful) media of today, enabling the woke agenda, twenty-four hours a day.

But that caution is precisely where the problem lies for all of us, and especially those in the public eye, with the reptiles of the press salivating at the opportunity to catch out the un-woke. We have reached the point, in a society riddled with conformity to “right” thinking and speaking, where people have to second-guess anything and everything that they might say that could, in no matter how demented the subsequent commentary, be unanswerably misconstrued as racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, fatphobic or whatever.

Morrison’s comment was grist to the personal testimony mill. Tara Moss, “a best-selling author and disability advocate”, in full woke outrage, jumped at the opportunity it presented to display an incandescent spectacle of her virtue, launching into her Twittering testimony: “It hurts my heart, and fills me with no small measure of rage, to see so many amazing disabled people and their parents work so hard to advocate and educate, only to have a PM with privilege and a huge public platform publicly say he’s ‘blessed’ to have kids without disabilities.” That this wasn’t remotely in the spirit of what he said, but—in the way so typical of wokery—putting the worst (and, thereby, only acceptable) possible interpretation on it, and on him (throwing in the fact that he is “privileged” to turn the screw further: one is only surprised Moss didn’t add “white”). Morrison’s sentence was a perfectly reasonable giving-of-thanks for healthy offspring—a statement which, prior to the tyranny of the woke, anybody could say without the remotest fear of denunciation. For Moss, this presented a golden opportunity for testimony—in purple prose, moreover (it “fills me with no small measure of rage” and so on)—to publicly buff up her virtue and polish her halo for the edification of her congregation of the Twitterati. One recalls the sanctimonious individuals described contemptuously by Hannah Arendt, who wear their virtue like a uniform, displaying their good deeds, “as though they were gemstones”.

The Fairfax press managed two gotcha moments in two successive days—some kind of miserable record? Hard on the heels of revealing the truly shameful and “sinful” (as it was described in both the news item and the accompanying opinion piece) story that New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet had worn a Nazi uniform at his twenty-first-birthday party (this being revealed a matter of weeks before the state election: what a coincidence!)—the press excelled even itself with a gotcha moment beyond the grave: Cardinal Pell, just three days dead, was “outed as the anonymous author of a memo criticising Pope Francis”. It doesn’t get much better than this for the woke mentality: two white men, two conservatives and two Catholics gotcha-ed in two days. And the vomitorium of anti-social media, taking the cue, responded in its vilest mode. Yet when Canadian Prime Minister and woke icon Justin Trudeau was revealed, some months ago, having slapped on the detestable blackface in his salad days when he was green in judgment, this was dismissed for what it was, as a silly prank: no one suggested, as they did for Perrottet, that Trudeau deserved to lose his job. For in the world of woke, as on the Stalinist Animal Farm, some animals are decidedly more equal than others.

Quasi-liturgical mantras. Many other aspects from the history of religious belief and practice could be adduced, in their appropriated, degraded form, to characterise the spam-religion-substitute of woke in today’s Western societies. Just one other is the use of quasi-liturgical mantras, repeated endlessly and mindlessly, like the turning of a prayer wheel (“Say anything a thousand times,” that master of propaganda, Josef Goebbels, argued, “and people will believe it”). Typically, these parroted words are outright lies. For example, the oft-repeated, self-congratulatory terms to describe an event, a business or an institution as being “inclusive”, affirming “diversity”, cultivating “empathy” (one of the major buzzwords of wokery) and being “safe”. But is there anything less diverse, inclusive, empathetic and safe than (for instance) today’s school and university classroom, for—let us say—the Christian student who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, and refuses to use non-binary pronouns; or for a feminist professor of philosophy, such as Kathleen Stock, hounded out of the inclusive and diverse University of Sussex in 2021, merely for expressing the opinion, to initiate discussion (which she foolishly imagined was the reason for a university’s existence), that men-to-women transsexuals were not real women? She was pursued by a mob brandishing flares, to set her on fire. “Diverse, inclusive, empathetic and safe”?

The world, at large, is taking a very long time to wake up to—and speak out against—the thought-deranging tyranny of the new religion of woke, and the longer it takes for this to happen, the more life-denying strangleholds will be placed on our once-cherished freedoms of thought and speech. For evil to thrive, all that is necessary is for good people to remain silent.

Barry Spurr was Australia’s first Professor of Poetry and is Literary Editor of Quadrant

14 thoughts on “Thought-Deranging Tyranny: The New Religion of Woke

  • MaxQMcGraw says:

    Barry, your arguments are too well-reasoned for the woke to absorb them. ‘Four legs good, two legs bad’ is a bit easier for the wokers to grasp, not that they would notice the irony.

  • Paul W says:

    And how exactly can the world speak up? You can’t. The serpent gets ever larger and has done so for decades. Speaking up now won’t change anything, certainly not without significant political and financial backing. This is the result of a generation or more of conservative impotence. You don’t need to update the product, but you must update the message and the marketing.

  • Tim Humphries says:

    Interesting points.

  • leabrae says:

    If anything is “repeated endlessly and mindlessly” it is that today’s frankly unintelligent imperatives whether to do with “climate change” or other matters resulting mostly from boredom receive the absurd entitlement from critics as “religion”. There may be an ideological element throughout the “woke”, a use of language but that is all; ideological here referring to a set of ideas possessing a “capacity to activate its adherents and to change the world” (as Michael Walzer wrote many years ago in “The Revolution of the Saints”). But the term “religion” is not applicable. The author here speaks (I suspect) in error regarding the so-called crisis of faith of the Victorians. A similar error has occurred in Australian historiography over the past 30 years regarding a “decline” of religious adherence that took in the 1910s and so historians feel free either to ignore religion or dismiss it as irrelevant in that period, not least does this apply to the Great War. Again wrong and false.

    • Citizen Kane says:

      Perhaps, the point is not that this ideology is a religion but it is analogous to a religion or to the many aspects of religion outined in the article. Just like a two-way radio is not a phone, both devices end up serving more or less the same purpose, to greater or lesser degree and with their own inherent limitations.

    • Sindri says:

      Not absurd at all. Barry is only making an obvious analogy. We seem to be, to put it much more banally than William James, hard-wired with a religious sensibility: a sense of sin and a need for redemption. Trying to rid oneself of it is bit like trying to stuff an octopus into a box. It inevitably manifests itself in new and frequently grotesque ways, such as the absurd ‘sacralising’ of certtain things as beyond reason or debate, hysterical mass-condemnation for those who transgress, and the complete absence of any notion of forgiveness and charity. All the worst features, in other words, of the darkest moments of religion.

      • leabrae says:

        Sindri, nothing is obvious. And I m not convinced the analogy is there. What’s required is a set of terms, probably beginning with ideology, albeit already a busy word, that describe both sets of behaviours, religious and secular. I’m sure it exists (Hans Joas would know) but I wonder what Eric Voegelin would say.

  • Sindri says:

    This nonsense isn’t virtue, of course, but the smug pretence of it. Two of the the defining features of the supposedly progressive mindset on display: moral vanity, and infinitely elastic double standards.

  • Citizen Kane says:

    An excellent analysis of the social dyscrasia of our age. I continue to maintain that wokeism is a symptom (albeit a preponderance of stinking, festering pustules) and not the underlying disease, the etiology of which lies in the abandonment of the enlightenment values of the universal journey to the approximation of objective truth, no matter how ephemeral. Like religion, the enlightenment-modernist project provided a central scaffold around which societies at large could coalesce to share a unifying world view that was built on uplifting the human experience to pre-eminence. and ultimately arrive at the institutions and laws that has had the greatest influence to deliver social cohesion and ‘equality’. The very same institutions and laws that the woke use to seek to dismantle civilizations’ foundations all in a fever of restless, spoilt affluenza marked by a distinct lack of gratitude for the world that has been gifted to them by the sacrifices of almost all before them. Alas, our post truth world now lays waste to a unified social methodology and epistemological tradition to the approximation of objective truth and has replaced it with the ‘my’ truth of subjective relativism. This is the central intellectual and moral cancer that – once wedded to the recently homeless Marxist idealogy that wandered the streets of a sclerotic academia at the end of the cold war looking for a new home – has metastasized into all things ‘woke’. What a bastard child postmodernism and neo-marxism has given birth to.

  • lbloveday says:

    Quote: “..anyone can “identify” as Aboriginal (because “my truth” is the truth, and if you contradict it, you are guilty of hate speech); anyone identifying as Aboriginal is, by virtue of that, beyond criticism (sacrosanctity having been conferred on indigenous peoples, worldwide, by the woke), and, so, anyone who does criticise one of them is a “racist”—the unpardonable sin.

    Short extract from The Australian:
    An Indigenous-made film about a white person who identifies as Aboriginal has been banned by the bodies that funded and commissioned it, over fears it could spark litigation and is “harmful”.
    The short film, My Journey, by Tasmanian Indigenous newcomer filmmakers Nathan Maynard and Adam Thompson, was to be screened as part of a GRIT film festival in Hobart last weekend. Their “mockumentary” was pulled because of concerns held by the funding body, the Tasmanian Community Fund, and the commissioning body, Wide Angle Tasmania, that it could be defamatory and may cause community “harm”.
    This may get you through the paywall:

  • lbloveday says:

    Quote: “..anyone can “identify” as Aboriginal (because “my truth” is the truth, and if you contradict it, you are guilty of hate speech); anyone identifying as Aboriginal is, by virtue of that, beyond criticism (sacrosanctity having been conferred on indigenous peoples, worldwide, by the woke), and, so, anyone who does criticise one of them is a “racist”—the unpardonable sin.
    Short extract from The Australian: . An Indigenous-made film about a white person who identifies as Aboriginal has been banned by the bodies that funded and commissioned it, over fears it could spark litigation and is “harmful”.
    The short film, My Journey, by Tasmanian Indigenous newcomer filmmakers Nathan Maynard and Adam Thompson, was to be screened as part of a GRIT film festival in Hobart last weekend. Their “mockumentary” was pulled because of concerns held by the funding body, the Tasmanian Community Fund, and the commissioning body, Wide Angle Tasmania, that it could be defamatory and may cause community “harm”.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    Personally, I have never been attracted to religion, not because I have found an alternative, but because of concepts that clash with reality, like virgin birth, resurrection, a heaven in the skies after death, Papal
    infallibility etc. There might be value in other aspects of religion, like group thought comfort and learning, but I suspect that some of your own good points about religion have commonality with other historic social organisation like warfare. Organise the masses for better control by elites.
    Only you know what sustains you. I am not attempting to put words in your mouth.
    I suspect that the argument should be framed around whether a new or another existing social system should expand to fill the loss of religion – or whether there is already a replacement under way. If the latter, then one could have a hobby discussing if it is better or worse, while being unable to influence the change significantly.
    Geoff S
    p.s. On proof reading this, I found auto-correct had converted Papal to PayPal. Or was that the Devil at work?

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