by John McWhorter, 2021
This book is not religious in the traditional sense. The author is not a Christian, nor an old-fashioned conservative from a moral or political standpoint. Yet, he is more incisive and polemical about the errors of Wokeism, including the demands for class justice, enforced diversity, and unequal equity, than most Christians. The author is a linguistics professor at Columbia University. Despite a few impolite word choices, McWhorter is exceptionally clear and lucid in his writing, and in his diagnosis of the mentality and ideology of this new mental virus that has converted many in our day—some in the name of promoting Christ.
The book’s subtitle reveals his thesis: “this new ideology is actually a religion in all but name” (ix). This radical antiracism which became “mainstream in the 2010’s, teaches that because racism is baked into the structure of society, whites’ ‘complicity’ in living in it constitutes racism itself, while for black people, grappling with the racism around them is the totality of experience and must condition exquisite sensitivity toward them, including a suspension of achievement and conduct” (5). Due to the prevalence of critical academic theory, widespread social media evangelism, and media-led group-think, this relatively new Marxist-inspired thought has spread among the young, vocal, and liberal demographic rapidly.
As a university professor, McWhorter is quite concerned with the snuffing out of academic freedom on college campuses worshipping at the altar of modern racial inclusiveness, equity, and diversity. This has become also an issue in the LCMS, highlighted by Dr. Gregory Schulz’ suspension from Concordia Wisconsin for speaking out on precisely these issues from a scriptural viewpoint. Concordia, Texas has now published online regarding its secular values of “Diversity, Equity & Inclusion”: “we believe that a commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity is a key component of becoming the premier university where the adventure of faith, learning and life-changing experiences leads to meaningful work.” The so-called “adventure of faith” comes after and flows from these absolute values in its statement. But these nice-sounding words—“diversity, equity, and inclusion”—have become all-encompassing religious ideology and unrelenting in their demands—directly in competition with traditional color-blind racial thought, Christian forgiveness, and divine pronouncements against partiality.
To not agree with this oppressive antiracist social justice, no matter how careful and nuanced the dissent, is to be a hateful racist—a true heretic to be burned alive without due process and rational argument. In popular parlance this is to ‘cancel’ a person, with no hope of redemption. The contradictions of social justice are many. The only way to make sense of them, according to this book, is to not think of them as forming a logical, coherent philosophy, but a radical religion, with its own catechism (See table “Catechism of Contraditions”).
The illogical nature of such opposing stances is obvious. “The revelation of racism is, itself and alone, the point, the intention of this curriculum” (10). The goal of showing people to be racist is the ‘holy’ and ‘blessed’ end of this catechism of contradictions. Citing an anti-racist “homily,” this holy war of battling power differentials, based on reducing humanity to competing classes, “must be the central focus of all human endeavor” (11). Of course, this foundational tenet contradicts with Christianity’s claims, since Scripture has much to say about personal—not racial or class—guilt, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
It is not a conclusion or data-based initiative; it is an all-encompassing heavenly purpose—an over-arching religion. Notice that the first point in the catechism has to do with forgiveness. It rules out the desirability of human forgiveness, despite Christ’s explicit teaching: “if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:15). As such, it also rules out divine forgiveness—making it incompatible with the Gospel of Christ. ‘Justice,’ after all, implies punishment, not reconciliation or grace.
The implications of social justice are directly incompatible with Christianity—they are more religious than social. After all, what good in society has social justice tangibly done besides stoking the fires of division and anger? If entire groups are indiscriminately labeled racist and unknown strangers are condemned because of their supposed ancestry, reconciliation is not the goal. After all, “being called a racist is all but equivalent to being called a pedophile.” But according to antiracist thinking, “to deny it, is to confirm it,” conveniently for the masters of racial thought (13). No one escapes this original sin—if they are of an obvious skin tone. Unlike God’s impartial and holy justice, social justice is mob-rule without nuance or rational dialogue.
In the end, it is all about class warfare and forcing others to submit to raw power—not equity or justice on a personal level. There is no grand goal to move past injustice, unfair treatment, and relational harm—to wallow in sins, unfair privilege, and all-pervasive racism is the point—because that is precisely the source of power and supposed moral authority to dominate others, in this virulent explanation of human existence.
Absolving a certain class of people from the need to forgive, due to their past—is to deny the power of the Gospel to reach them. It limits Christ’s atonement practically by making human social guilt bigger and more powerful than God the Father’s divine pardon in Jesus’ resurrection. It is not merely a danger to Christianity—it is rather a direct replacement—one where peace and forgiveness and reconciliation are outlawed from the start. “It will feel unwelcome to the [antiracist] Elect to be deemed a religion, because they do not bill themselves as such and often associate devout religiosity with backwardness. It also implies they are not thinking for themselves” (24). Like devotees to a cult, they are convinced they are right, possessing the highest ‘Truth,’ and everyone else is wrong. This elevated religion is about false worship of unchristian theory—a man-made idol.
McWhorter’s term for the adherents of the social justice religion is quite genius and equitable. They are not all militant warriors, nor angry footmen fitted for battle, they are the “Elect.” They consider themselves chosen and enlightened, “superior,” though reluctant to define themselves as the true-believers and born-again (woke)—focusing on the problematic non-chosen instead (19). This explains their irrational drive to punish and attack innocent bystanders who do not immediately agree with them. They “are persecuting people for not adhering to their religion” (20). The social justice Elect are more fundamentalist than the Christian five-point fundamentalist, but not consciously so. All the world is filtered through their version of the truth. That makes it ‘inclusive’ and ‘equitable’ to tar and feather people verbally, essentially making non-supporters heretics. They wail emotionally that such ‘sinners’ should have no public life at all. McWhorter provides examples of several public figures being castigated as heretics for alarmingly simple and undeniable statements—like daring to say that “all lives matter,” regardless of skin tone. Punishment and banishment, not persuasion or peace, is the method of this religion. It is suggested that this new absolute religion has more in common with Islam than Christianity, since it knows has no Gospel of forgiveness, just submission and raw power.
This anti-racist way of thinking is actually “racist,” in traditional thinking, painting a black “persona of eternally victimized souls, ever carrying and defined by the memories and injuries of our people across four centuries behind us, ever ‘unrecognized,’ ever ‘misunderstood,’ ever in assorted senses unpaid” (xii). This victimhood is ridiculous on its face. The scars of slavery are said to be the burden black people carry today in America. But impatience in waiting to buy expensive gourmet coffee is more likely be a bigger burden on black individuals in affluent American society today than some sort of ancestral legacy of spiritual baggage. It is wrong to even ask how long-ago slavery affects particular individuals in modern society—especially the ones essentially becoming wealthy preachers and celebrities of racial injustice.
Theoretically, it seems especially tricky to deal with people of mixed races—presumably having both a nature of oppressor and oppressed—somewhat like being a sinner and saint simultaneously. It is not actually about color or individuals—it is holds to an original guilt and victimhood. Color stands opposed to whiteness—code for guilt, which is truly a religious conviction. Color is an idea and spiritual weapon—not a skin pigmentation. “Adoring their kids, poaching their salmon, strumming their ukuleles barefoot, savoring their Stones and Coldplay and Adele they seem unlike what we think of as religious” (60). Otherwise, nice, liberal children of the enlightenment have become medieval executioners, because that is what their religion demands. It is not about skin tones—but a bold ploy for dominating hearts and minds. This is why dissenting people of darker skin can be called ‘white’ in their thinking and not authentically black. It is a moral and spiritual crusade.
The foundational antiracist thought that “America is against me” is motivating, but not rooted in reality. Truthfully, this claim of injustice, allows them to perpetuate more injustice, domineering the conversation and setting racist moral standards for public discourse. It is unlikely that a non-black man could have written and published such a book. This topic is considered off-limits for most of America, who is told to be silent and only be catechized on its sins. But having new (thought) masters does not fix the past unfairness of physical masters. Any form of slavery should be resisted as the ideal solution—even the ‘white’ people of today enslaving themselves willingly and gladly to atone for their assumed guilt of the past. Christ the Lord frees the person from past injustice and makes them new—this new religion dwells entirely and perpetually in past injustice. There are no “new creations”—just guilty ones living in sins from centuries ago, unable to change their skin pigmentation.
Certain questions are not allowed in Elect thinking. The outrage at injustice is the end point, not observation or problem-solving. “Why are black people so upset about one white cop killing a black man when black men are at much more danger of being killed by one another?” (25). It will be proclaimed that the heathen unbelievers on racial justice miss point—that is not the conversation at this time. It is not about facts—but religious tenants which must not be contradicted. “Think of this type, asserting ‘Oh, I know I’m privileged!’ while holding their hand up, palm out, like a Pentecostal” (27). McWhorter points out this is pure religious submission—a precondition to being a woke Elect, not a rational take. It is morally wrong to contradict the catechism (of contradictions). “Superstition, clergy, sinfulness, a proselytizing impulse, a revulsion against the impure—it’s all there. They think of it as logic incarnate” (60). We are preached to that this is not the time for debate—it is too serious for that. Repent! Injustice is at hand!
The ruling clergy of the Elect are select black public figures and writers who are given special priestly status. They preach and teach, but emotionally and rhetorically, not with facts and reason. They do not want agreement or mere assent; they demand penance and conversion. “White privilege” is the original sin (30). It is not up for debate. It is to be ritually acknowledged—you can’t deny it or make up for it.
But there is no redemption in this religion, only the inerasable stain of guilt. And if we get rid of racist structure—we lose society and civilized culture. As taught in Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility, “if whites venture any statement on the topic other than that they harbor white privilege, it only proves they are racists, too ‘fragile’ to admit it” (31). Claiming to not be racist only illustrates their rank injustice and unbelief. Just as the Law of God always accuses the sinner, the charge of racist privilege is inescapable. Denying the charge of racial sin is the greater sin, while admitting it offers no hope of absolution.
Unfortunately, the Elect of earthly justice are more “evangelical” than Christians seeking worldly acceptance. We are said to be hurling toward the impeding event of racial reckoning—the fervor is revivalist in nature, all about calling the un-woke to judgment. But the Elect operate in fear, not freedom—because they are in bondage within a scheme that offers no salvation or release from personal guilt. We are all sinners, not just in race, but in all things before God. Yet, the extremely race-conscious must walk on egg-shells—afraid of his own shadow, his sin always before Him. He is like Luther before understanding the righteousness of God offered in the Gospel. It is a religion solely built upon the Law—guilt is all there is.
Those who do not speak in the approved way about race are not just wrong, they are heretics. “The reality is that what the Elect call problematic is what a Christian means by blasphemous. … they consider it a higher wisdom to burn witches” (44). This explains the zealous drive to ban and ruin people that disagree with them. It is really not a matter up for debate. To not confess the orthodoxy is heinous! Silence, let alone disagreement, is violence to them—a religious denial threatening their belief system. In the same way we do not try to logically prove our religious faith to an unbeliever without the Spirit. It is a different god they serve, a demon concerned about political activism and good works of earthly justice, not personal salvation. “Elect ideology stipulates that one’s central moral duty is to battle racism and the racist” (48). Believers in Christ are soldiers also, but not against flesh and blood. “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses (1 Tim. 6:12).
The speech police tried to enforce the trite statement “Black lives matter.” But the implication in outlawing and castigating those who spoke other, more inclusive, versions was that “Black lives matter more” (3). To widen the scope was deemed racist, despite the fact the slogan itself is quite weak and doesn’t say much—or even how black lives matter. It became a confessional creed. “You are in Russia under Stalin. You can no more question the KenDiAngelonian [Ibram X. Kendi (How To Be An Antiracist), Robin DiAngelo (White Fragility)], gospel than you question Romans or Corinthians (137).
Most significantly for Christians is that this new cultural religion, like Communism, will not allow other religions to compete with it. It is exclusive and universal in its claims. “Antiracism’s progress from its First [i.e., slavery] to its Third Waves (structure injustice) has taken it from the concrete political activism of Martin Luther King to the faith-based commitments of a Martin Luther” (50). Surely woke Lutherans would recoil at the analogy, but what are the fundamental principles underlying the call to wake up from our “racial” slumber? The lack of doctrinal understanding and integrity has led to a brand-new religion—something socially meaningful to fill the gap of dismissed traditional religion. Like with the absolute doctrines of Communism, “victims of this mental virus can be recognized by their calls to ‘dismantle our white supremacy culture’ ” (52). Destruction is its only end. It has nothing positive to offer.
“The elect are our Pharisees. In fostering anti-racist ideas that actually harm black people, they are obsessed with the letter of the law rather than its spirit, and their persecution of sinners contrasts with Jesus’ embrace of them” (171). Christians are not to be afraid of persecution—we are told in Scripture to expect it. It is not enough to battle this thinking on an intellectual level—the truth of Christ is at stake. McWhorter warns you will be called racist just for intellectually engaging this topic. But only God who created all is the true judge—not the opinions of sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Don’t apologize for Christ’s truth—which is about invisible faith, not race. The true doctrines have nothing to fear from an imitation religion of intimidation. The public bully pulpit of this fleeting moment is not the judgment we are to fear most.
Will the social justice religion fizzle out—like revival attendees when they must go and live again in the mundane world? We are seeing some signs of that. Over the long-term, the advocates of this new religion will have to account for its outcomes. What has is done socially? Will having radical Marxist officials, no police, denigrating marriage and the family, and obvious discrimination—lead to peace or chaos? The answer is already clear for most. Christianity on the other hand, offers a new heaven and earth—not merely a social improvement of this world. It grants for personal forgiveness from God the Father and renews the believer to seek reconciliation, out of love, with one’s enemies and social oppressors (even slaves with slave owners, as in the case of Onesimus and Philemon). Divine pardon is greater than all earthly injustice and guilt.
McWhorter provides many concrete and news-worthy examples of this religion in practice and its harmful effects. He even offers up debatable straight-forward political solutions. He rightly emphasizes that this religious fervor legitimately hurts black people, by telling them the deck is so stacked against them that they might as well give up. There is no hope in this confession—just blackness, which is really the opposite of whiteness, we are catechized. It erases individuals as complex sinners before God. Yet, all people are His creations meant to be one in Christ—not divided. The Christian should be prepared to do battle on all fronts with this false impostor which sets itself up in the place of Christ as judge of all men. —ed.