John McWhorter’s long-awaited new book, which I thought was going to be called The Elect, is actually going to be called Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, and you can already preorder it on Amazon. It’s scheduled to come out October 26, published by Portfolio, a division of my own publisher, Penguin Random House. He calls woke racism “electism”.
Given America’s love of religion, McWhorter is already anticipating the most likely objection to his book: “woke racism is not a religion“. (McWhorter maintains that this isn’t just an analogy, but that Woke Racism, known as “anti-racism” really is a religion.) And that criticism would be enough for many people to reject the book in its entirety, and without reading it. Comparing a godless movement to a religion isn’t on these days, even if the movement is one that liberals subscribe to.
Thus McWhorter’s Substack column this week (click on screenshot below) is devoted to defending in advance his claim that Woke Racism really is a religion, quoting some examples. I’m not sure how much purchase this simile will have on the acceptance of McWhorter’s thesis. I worry it may quash interest in some people, especially because I think that in today’s political climate, everyone should read this book, even those who reject its thesis from the outset. It’s not Mein Kampf, you know! From “excerpts” I’ve read, it’s a thoughtful and well written analysis about how “progressive” anti-racism is destructive to its own ends and will wind up being a falling tide that lowers all boats.
Click on the screenshot to read.
A few examples adduced by McWhorter to show that the ideology of “The Elect” really is a religion:
My point about The Elect is that its ideology involves – and actually is founded significantly upon – that type of religious thought. No devoted spectator of the emergence of this way of thinking could miss that it has morphed from a sociopolitical stance infused with religion (as in what I pointed out in 2015 here) into a straight-up religion.
The difference is that believers have actually started saying it outright.
Sometimes it’s where the people don’t think they’re being heard beyond their flock. A memo went around in one department at New York University last summer actually laying out “Our first guiding principle is that participation in political movements such as Black Lives Matter is analogous to a decision to attend a religious or spiritual gathering.”
One might picture this written by a black theologian. But it was an especially rich thing to see coming from a white statistician!!! This was a sign of a new era.
One case of the religious character of “woke” antiracism:
Another example is the status that Michael Brown, killed by white officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, has taken on among some people of this world. The issue is that difference between fact and “belief.”
The fact is that Michael Brown was not killed with his hands up by a marauding white bigot who couldn’t perceive his humanity. Brown tried to take Wilson’s gun, hit him, and then – for reasons we will likely never fully understand – repeatedly charged at Wilson until Wilson finally fired. This has been corroborated beyond any reasonable doubt by the forensic evidence as well as by neighborhood observers.
What, then, do we make of a theologian who thinks Michael Brown was a modern Jesus?
“As with Christ, the flesh of Michael Brown, Jr. made him imminently killable in the eyes of many and mitigated any claim of empathy on the hearts of too many others,” Stephen J. Ray informs us. “Michael Brown Jr. is and will be our shining Black Prince for from his death God has brought Life to us all and in his gaze we are enveloped in its power.”
Now, the Elect defense here is to say “Oh, this guy is just some ….” – but watch it! He’s “just some” black President of the Chicago Theological Seminary, penning a serious article called “Black Lives Matter as Enfleshed Theology” in this book.
And an audio, which speaks for itself:
Listen to this Elect white teacher at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School. Here’s another grand old academy being choked by CRT ideology, while smart media types stand by claiming nothing’s going on because legal theorists forty years ago had no such things in mind and thus it isn’t CRT and thus if you don’t like it, * you’re a racist and … (note that this is religious thought as well, in that sharp break with sequential logic at the point I marked with an asterisk).
Anyway, listen here to this person who openly likens white people to alcoholics, who need to meet and cleanse themselves:
The student continues, “These comments are particularly concerning. Comparing simply being white to an alcoholic is dehumanizing and just plain wrong. CGPS is definitely embracing critical race theory… “ pic.twitter.com/mQIqi5p9MB
— speakupcgps (@speakupcgps) May 31, 2021
The strong religious component in AA meetings needs no explanation, and this teacher is openly calling for him and his colleagues to, essentially, come together and pray, self-flagellate – complete with dismissing those in disagreement as not belonging in the setting, having no place among them. Just imagine this blithe, tribalist kind of dismissal coming from anyone you had as a teacher in your life, and yet now, zealots like this man are normal in institutions of instruction. This man likely doesn’t realize that he, despite likely happily guffawing at the thought of Jerry Falwell and looking upon Ultra-Orthodox Jewish people as curiosities, is on the vanguard of a religious faith himself.
I know McWhorter’s “hook” for his book involves indicting Kendi-an style antiracism as a religion (McWhorter is an atheist and says it openly), and the comparison goes pretty far, but for most people “religion” involves gods and the supernatural. The most relevant definition of “religion” in the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, is this one:
Action or conduct indicating belief in, obedience to, and reverence for a god, gods, or similar superhuman power; the performance of religious rites or observances.
Given that there are some godless religions, one could say that “electism” is like Buddhism, and the OED does have this definition as well:
A particular system of faith and worship.class, mystery, natural religion, etc.: see first element.
According to those lights, electism is a religion. And, I suppose, there is a point to the comparison, for McWhorter wants to convince readers that the emphasis on faith in unsubstantiated claims, accompanied by an irrationality that brooks no questioning or dissent, is characteristic of both electism and of religion. But then you’d have to be an atheist or antitheist for this comparison to have weight. So be it; I do look forward to McWhorter’s book.
He ends by telling us what kind of religion electism is:
What we have been seeing over the past year in terms of how serious people are comfortable presenting themselves and their thoughts is analogous to watching creationism taught alongside evolution. It’s scary, whether or not I’m an atheist and whether or not I’m up on my Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, and Niebuhr.
However, the this-universe version of The Elect [i.e., forging genuine social change] make a pretense of being about activism when what really gets them going is shaming people and virtue signalling, while exploiting black people they don’t truly respect as tools for the former – as actual black people join them unaware of the profound dismissal that pity entails.
So the problem is not that The Elect is a religion. It’s that it’s a shitty religion.