Awake, Not Woke

by | Apr 22, 2024

What is the woke movement, and how we can counteract it? The movement harms people in various ways, so we need various approaches in our response. Some people are truly victims. They have been given some poison of ideology that has harmed and wounded them, and they need to be healed. Other people have been deceived by the ideology but were of goodwill and would have done anything to have known the harm being caused. And then there’s the people who are the source of the poison and need to be stopped. It can feel confusing because we can’t have the same approach to everyone caught up in this. Some people need to be befriended and listened to. Other people need to be woken up. And the people doing immediate harm need to be stopped. 

It started with a snake in the Garden cajoling the first woman and man that they might be as gods. It is a self-deification movement that corrodes the human person as well as friendships, families, and relationships. 

Hegel and Marx are more recent sources. Hegel views history as progressing toward perfection. Asking if someone is on the right side of history suggests history itself will look back on us and judge whether we have progressed sufficiently and to the right expediency. It creates an urgency to become the most enlightened. And Marx was taken by the idea of utopia and what Hegel would have called the dialectic, which is conflict theory that every status quo has internal contradictions that must be worked out and fought through until we create a new status quo that also will have contradictions. Once you’ve dismantled and destroyed enough, you reach some kind of utopia that often has a stack of corpses lined up with it. 

Marx identified every person either as an oppressor or the oppressed. He identified the biggest obstacles to a revolution as faith, family, and the father. Why? All three give us a particular identity and help us to feel named and known. They root us and give us purpose. They point us toward a future and moor us with our past. They also teach us to suffer well our circumstances and carry our cross—and no revolution is won by people knowing how to suffer well their circumstances. People must become enraged by their circumstances. Saul Alinsky, who influenced several modern politicians, famously said, “We need to rub raw the sores of discontent. Where there is a wound, we do not want to heal it, we want to exacerbate it and create a revolutionary culture.” 

The movement targets faith and family in a particular way. When Karl Marx’s anticipated revolution didn’t come to be, a group of neo-Marxists formed the Institute for Social Research to examine how they could seed a revolution in the West. They realized it needed to be on multiple fault lines throughout society. They asked, “How can we divide people?” There is a history of racial injustice, so they exacerbated that and seeded a revolutionary mindset not for the sake of universal human dignity but for the sake of universal human antagonism. They also saw some injustice between men and women and leaned into the feminist movement. Several key underground members became pivotal figures in teachers’ colleges, forming superintendents and teachers that would seed this revolutionary mindset into school districts. That’s not a disparagement of teachers in general, but there has been a politicization of the teachers’ union. They also determined that art should not be for the sake of reflecting what is real and beautiful but for the sake of political change. 

What is the poison that we want to grapple with here? It’s a redefining of what a human is. The woke movement has three dogmas—fundamental ways of newly identifying humanity instead of finding identity from family life, communities, and a relationship with our Lord. The first dogma emphasizes the group and sublimates the person. Group and person are supposed to be in harmony with one another, which you see in the ideal of a well-ordered family, where the good of your children and spouse become your good. Everyone in the family looks out for the good of each person, and that becomes the group good as well. 

The woke movement has sublimated the individual’s good to a political group good. For example, a group of pro-life feminists co-sponsored the first women’s march. When the organizers learned that they were pro-life, they said, “You can’t have an official affiliation with us.” The pro-life group was confused. They said, “We agree with you in many areas; we’re just pro-life. Is this a women’s march or an abortion march?” They didn’t realize the human person has been redefined. Traditionally, humans are defined by universal things: we are rational animals and, as Christians, we are defined by love Himself. We are children of a good God. The woke movement defines us by society’s hatred. Oppression defines the human person: to live out your fullness as a woman, you must fight the oppression at the core of the woman’s experience as the ideology defines it. And abortion is utterly at the core of the politicized understanding of woman as defined by oppression—even her very body oppresses her. 

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s battle cry for universal human dignity was, “I am a man.” He meant, “I am a human being. I deserve universal human dignity out of the sheer universality of the human experience.” This contrasts with what Nikole Hannah-Jones, an architect of the 1619 Project, said: “We all know there is a difference between being racially black and politically black.” It’s not enough to be a member of the oppressed group; you must be a politicized member with uniformity of thought. That’s why the Smithsonian Institute, in support of Black Lives Matter, had a display that read, “What are White Values? Being polite, objective thinking, being on time.” I have nieces and nephews whose father is from Kenya. If someone said they are less capable of being on time, polite, or of thinking objectively, I would say, “Please get away from this family, you racist!” This is the bizarre place the movement finds itself; it now discriminates based on skin color. You don’t empower people by infantilizing them, and that’s what the movement’s done. 

Ibram Kendy says any disparity of outcome in any group can be attributed to oppression. To someone in that group, that says, “Your life will not improve by anything you do, any responsibility you take, or any effort you make. Your successes and failures are attributable to systemic forces outside yourself.” It’s a message of despair. We as Christians need to understand that people are born into incredibly different circumstance. People need to be accompanied and aided; it’s not just a matter of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. But saying there is no meaning to their efforts is incredibly disempowering—something we would never do in any other context. If you wanted to mentor someone, you would never say, “Find out how the buck stops with everyone else and not with yourself.” You would say, “Take ownership over what’s in your control. Even if it’s a small, little window of what’s in your control, grab it, take ownership in it, and find great meaning in it.” 

Each of the three dogmas has a sinister consequence. For the first one, we find moral stature by claiming victim status and publicizing it. Therefore, we need a perpetrator; we need to become accusers. This creates a ferocious society incentivized to find ways other people are causing harm. 

The second dogma emphasizes our will and desire at the expense of our reason—things that should be in harmony. Every tyrannical, totalitarian ideology denies the stability of human nature. To re-engineer society, you must believe society has no fundamental nature and can be re-engineered through a social program. But this is not the human experience. Mark Rudd, a revolutionary from the sixties, tell stories about men who were his cohorts getting upset that they couldn’t overcome their intrinsic heterosexuality. They thought they should be able to go beyond those boundaries and be more transgressive. You see it today, when a small-but-increasingly-loud voice says, “If you are a woman who won’t be with a woman who identifies as a man, that’s discrimination, because that woman is now a man.” This second dogma is “expressive individualism”—the belief that the core definition of ourselves is our feelings and desires and that our liberation comes from identifying particularly transgressive identities buried within us, embracing them, and expressing them to the world. The first dogma says we are oppressed by groups outside ourselves. The second dogma says we are oppressed by our own internal repression based on a moral law that is a social construct and not actually real. In other words, the moral law is an oppressor, which means that the nature of God is an oppressor, since the moral law flows directly from Him. 

Because the second dogma normalizes transgression, innocence becomes a form of dominance. Consider transgender story hours. Woke moms bring their little kids and laugh as men in high heels with facial hair have children on their laps, read them stories, and then start dancing and teaching them how to twerk. It’s bizarre and disturbing. They justify it with two reasons, claiming the mantle of compassion. One, it’s an anti-bullying effort. Exposing children to it now may help them be compassionate later to people living alternative lifestyles. Two, a child in the room might identify in this manner, and this shows them a way to embrace this lifestyle. This redefines the human person by claiming, “I am defined by my transgressive identity inside.” 

A third reason is that the child laughing nervously, uncomfortable with the man twerking in front of him, perpetuates a dominant way of being in the world. His innocence points to an objective standard of goodness, that there is a way to be and it’s not a man sexually dancing in women’s clothing. It suggests that our sexuality points us to something special and sacred that shouldn’t be flaunted about. So, the child must be targeted. That’s one reason we must stop this. 

Chloe Cole shares a heartbreaking story of detransitioning. She was confused about her gender, depressed, online a lot, and had some abuse in her life. She needed to be cared for and told she was special and wonderful, but instead she was allowed to pursue an ideology that told her maybe she wasn’t a girl. She started taking hormone pills and has chronic joint pain now from the resulting bone density loss. At fifteen, she underwent a double mastectomy. Her parents were uncomfortable at first but were told, “Would you rather have a live son or a dead daughter?” This is always the threat—suicide. The stakes could not be higher; it’s an intimidation tactic. When Chloe took off the bandages and looked at her body, she felt more like a monster than a boy—but she shoved that down because she had staked so much on this decision. Eleven months later, she was watching a video in biology class that showed a mother animal nursing a baby and what that bond meant. Suddenly, the relationship she thought she never wanted became something she couldn’t believe she had said no to without even seriously considering. This reminds us that the stakes are high, the wounds are real, and the harm is severe. 

The last dogma emphasizes power over authority. When you see transgender story hours, where are the dads? Fathers are made to protect their children’s innocence, to shield them from this sort of adult sexuality. This is why every revolutionary from Marx to Marcuse spoke about the need to depose the father, to make him licentious. Doing so effectively targets every member of the family. Once a father is told not to be faithful—that there’s no great purpose and meaning in his fatherhood—he will find little purpose and meaning in himself, because he’s made to be a father, either spiritually or biologically. As women were made to be mothers, spiritually or biologically. Ask any woman who has had a baby—a woman is inherently vulnerable. You’re weak, you need to recover, you desperately rely on your husband. Women in emergency situations without the father are heroic. It’s extraordinarily difficult to go through that without your husband’s help. So, what happens to the woman? The vulnerable nature that is too valuable and vulnerable to endure the sexual revolution must self-protect, so she develops a callous, a hard shell that protects the tenderness inside. 

In the feminist movement, many women are hardened and enraged. Many hurts are underneath it. The child becomes rebellious, because the people upon whom it was most incumbent to be moral shepherds for him have abdicated their moral authority. Targeting the father implodes the human family. And the real target is our Lord. When a father has authority along with affection and love—when he communicates with his actions, presence, and fidelity that he believes the child is a treasure—he is a window into the nature of God. That relationship helps a child understand God’s laws as being avenues to freedom. Of course, some people without such healthy relationships become wonderful, devout, amazing people. I think they need God so much because they know they were deprived of something they ought to have had—not someone controlling them but someone truly loving them. 

Bishop Sheen says, “Beware anyone who seeks to lead who has not first learned how to obey.” True authority is granted from above; there’s a reverence intrinsic to it. When the “Me Too” scandal broke, I often heard toxic masculinity blamed. I wanted to say, “We have rampant fatherlessness, men who have been told for decades that they’re either buffoons, predators, or oppressors. This reveals a lack of masculinity, not true masculinity.” St. Thomas Aquinas defines effeminacy as an unwillingness to endure what is arduous for the sake of something good. The masculine man is the man of virtue who has mastered himself, the holy man. That is real masculinity, and we can’t get enough of it. 

I want to conclude with hope. Social re-engineers think human nature is putty that can be reengineered, but the human person longs for and is made to know, love, and serve God. That cannot be eradicated. It can be smothered, suffocated, thwarted, and misdirected into an ideology. In fact, we often see people denied true belonging and significance seek it in the ferociousness of an ideology because it feels like there’s a belonging there, but it doesn’t satisfy. Eventually, it abuts reality. If I jump from a cliff screaming that I’m a god who can fly, I’ll hit the ground. We’re seeing a lot of people in society hitting the ground. And there are real wounds and hurts that need to be addressed and healed. 

Many Christians don’t want to muddy their witness with politics. But it’s not a political movement, it’s a spiritual one. If we’re not answering these fundamental questions, the ideology will. The stakes are high, but we must see who our victor is and protect ourselves with the armor of God. I don’t mean that in a trite way. People sometimes ask, “Will being holier defeat the woke movement?” Kind of. We must reveal God in this world, and that happens through individuals. The woke movement prompts us to say, “Everything is systemically wrong around me.” Our faith tells us to say, “What is wrong with me? Mea culpa.” I self-accuse; I don’t accuse others. From there we can be brave and call out the lies that are harming people. 

We must offer a positive understanding of what a human is, of family life, of faith. There’s a reason the Catholic Church has built cathedrals and communist countries build things that look like the Department of Motor Vehicles. Beauty has meaning. It points us to something beyond the material world. We need to create positive visions in the culture—through friendships, neighborliness, hospitality, family witness, or coworkers. Everyone can find a way to present that positive vision. No one is satisfied by the thin veneer of ideology; every person wants to be named and known. 

Finally, it’s going to be far more effective the more humbly we do it. When talking about evangelism, Peter Kreeft says, “I’m just a beggar talking to another beggar and telling him, ‘There’s free food over there!’” What confidence that gives us! It’s not about us; it’s about that free food we know our neighbor wants.

This article is condensed from a talk given in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It originally appeared in Renewal Ministries April newsletter. Noelle also recently appeared as a guest on The Choices We Face. Her book Awake not Woke is available in our online store.

About the Author

<a href="" target="_self">Noelle Mering</a>

Noelle Mering

Noelle Mering is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center where she co-directs the Theology of Home Project. She is an editor for "Theology of Home," co-author of the "Theology of Home" book series, and the author of "Awake, Not Woke: A Christian Response to the Cult of Progressive Ideology." She studied philosophy and theatre at Westmont College in California and got her MA in philosophy at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Noelle and her husband live in Southern California with their six children.

1 Comment

  1. Linda Carr

    That was wonderful Noelle!! Thank you so much!! You made a confusing time in our culture easier to understand!! May God bless you and your work!!!


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