On his new Substack site, John McWhorter previews his upcoming book on antiracism as a religion

January 30, 2021 • 2:15 pm

A while back, when John McWhorter and Glenn Loury were chatting on “The Glenn Show” podcast, McWhorter mentioned that he was writing a book on wokeness and anti-racism as a religion. In fact, he’d already written most of the book. I really look forward to reading it.  But if you want an advance peek, you can subscribe to McWhorter’s new Substack site, “It Bears Mentioning” ($50 per year; click on screenshot below), where he’s just put up what seems to be the book’s preface and the first chapter (or summaries thereof). I am going to show only the preface because it’s a pay site for most posts (i.e., the first one below); but you can read the short bit of the preface here to see if you want to either subscribe or buy the upcoming book.

The second article, on black fragility, is free, and you can get it by clicking here.

Oy! Between Bari Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, and John McWhorter—three good writers disillusioned by wokeness—it could run into serious money to subscribe to them all!

Here’s the preface of McWhorter’s book as reproduced in the post above. The title is good. But Chapter 1 (or a summary) is there too, and it’s much longer. If you want to see that, subscribe here.





I’m not one for long introductions – I like to get to the point. However, before we begin I would like to give the reader a sense of the trajectory of these installments, and what kind of statement they are intended as making.

This book is not a call for people of a certain ideology to open up to the value of an open market of ideas, to understand the value of robust discussion, and to see the folly of defenestrating people for disagreeing with them. My assumption is that the people in question are largely unreachable by arguments of that kind.

Rather, I aim to illuminate where these people are coming from, how their ideology and behavior is quite coherent in itself, and what the rest of us can do to live with grace and honesty, as people concerned with the state of the world, who nevertheless must grapple with obstacles laid in our path by people who see their religion as an ultimate wisdom.

My main aims will be:

  1. to argue that this new ideology is actually a religion in all but name;
  2. to argue that to understand it as a religion is to see coherence in what may seem like a welter of “crazy” or overblown behaviors;
  3. to explore why this religion is so attractive to so many people;
  4. to show that this religion is actively harmful to black people despite being intended as unprecedentedly “antiracist”;
  5. to show that a pragmatic, effective, liberal and even Democratic-friendly agenda for rescuing black America need not be founded on the tenets of this new religion;
  6. to suggest ways to lessen the grip of this new religion on our public culture.

I hope my observations will serve as one of many contributions to our debate over what constitutes “social justice.” Thank you for your subscription. I will release this manuscript in ten segments, and I welcome your feedback.

18 thoughts on “On his new Substack site, John McWhorter previews his upcoming book on antiracism as a religion

  1. That substack is how McWhorter is releasing his wokeness-as-religion book. He’s got a book on profanity that is coming out this spring. His contract for that book forbids him from releasing another book within 9 months to a year within the release of the profanity book. Apparently his publisher wants to hold him to that. So, either he holds off on publishing the wokeness book, or…

    He decided that the wokeness book is timely and a year’s delay would hurt it. So he’s decided to release it chapter by chapter on substack. The paid posts on his substack are that book. The fee posts are his occasional thoughts on this and that.

  2. His “Black Fragility?” piece is the type of insightful, balanced, articulate analysis we’ve come to expect from Mr. McWhorter. He has (except, to my knowledge, for a single faux pas in giving undue credence to Intelligent Design on bloggingheads,tv) been really good for a long time, yet seems somehow to keep getting better.

  3. “Wokeness” is not a “religion.” People also say atheism is a “religion.” It is not a religion anymore than ESP skeptics are members of an “anti-ESP religion” no matter how strident they are in their conclusions.

    A religion is a belief in supernatural forces or entities. “Anti-racism” is not that. “Dogma” is perhaps the more proper description.

    1. A religion is a belief in supernatural forces or entities.

      Not necessarily, according to https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary :

      religion Def 2. a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.

      religious Def 1. relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity.

      Thus, religion is restricted to belief in the supernatural.

      I would add that McWhorter is a linguist. If he says that wokeness is “literally a religion,” you might want to consider that he might have a good reason for doing so.

  4. That is the common definition of “religion.” There is the euphemistic tertiary definition of “religion” such as “The Steelers are a religion to the citizens of Pittsburgh.” But that is a definition by analogy such as “The Steelers are the Gods of the AFC.” It is a definition inherently understood to not be taken literally.

    McWhorter’s use of “religion” in his supposed academic analysis trivializes the understood philosophical concept of the idea of “religion.”

    Yes, “anti-racism” usually is “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance” (e.g., “religion”), a pretty banal insight.

    Oxford Dictionary:

    1. “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.
    “ideas about the relationship between science and religion”

    2. a particular system of faith and worship “the world’s great religions”

    3. a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.”

    1. McWhorter describes the religious aspect of woke ideology by reference to the proselytizing behavior carried out by victims of religion.

      I’m not sure he specified Jehovah’s Witnesses but that’s a very clear example – they have “the Good News” <- McWhorter quote.

      1. Yes, it can be similar to religious thinking but it is not a “religion.” It is more akin to a “dogma” which can be religious or otherwise.

        Not all religions “proselytize” (e.g., Judaism) while many purely secular movements do “proselytize” (e.g., PETA). “Irrational certainty” and religion are NOT synonyms.

        Dogma: “A principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.'” [Oxford Dictionary]

        1. Woke ideology exhibits wish thinking, like changing names on buildings to end social ills – as well as an disproportional weight on evidence and data, like statistics and trends describing crime in cities, which McWhorter and Loury have discussed. Whether that wish thinking is supernatural or fantasy is a distinction without a difference.

  5. It seems to me that McWhorter is using ‘religion’ as an alternative locution for ‘faith’ as characterized by Bertrand Russell in ‘Human Society in Ethics and Politics’: ‘a firm belief in something for which there is no evidence.’ Wokies typically espouse a set of ideas whose empirical status is laughable—the claim that universities and colleges which have tied themselves into pretzels to accommodate and show support for various ethnic minorities are hotbeds of systemic racism, or that whiteness makes racial bigotry inevitable, regardless of actual behavior or manifestations of hostile attitude, and so on. In this sense, Russell’s dictum seems to strongly support the identification of Wokethink as a species of faith, and from ‘faith’ to ‘religion’ is only a very short step.

  6. Talking of Wokness as a ‘religion’ is a useful metaphor to encourage debate. But I worry that people will spend more time arguing about whether or not Wokeness is a Religion, rather than how to deal with it. In his introductory comments even McWhorter slides from ‘religion in all but name’ to ‘ways to lessen the grip of this new religion’.

    I don’t want to get into duelling dictionary entries, but I guess I would prefer ‘doctrinal thought’ because many people associate some good things arising from religion, but doctrine implies a wider scope – “A belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school”.

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