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Wokeness Comes For Dawkins

Not even arch-atheist Richard Dawkins can escape the Woke Inquisition (Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images)

Did you see that the Woke at Trinity College Dublin have no-platformed Richard Dawkins, of all people? They are afraid that his criticism of religion will offend, get this, Muslims. Had he come to trash Catholics, they would have been all for it, but we mustn’t cause any distress to Muslims. The Woke are also afraid that Dawkins’s past commentary on sexual harassment could trigger women.

MBD makes an excellent point:

People desperately need to understand that the fight with the Woke is ultimately a war of religion. In my new book Live Not By Lies, I talk about how the contemporary Woke, like the Bolshevik revolutionaries of over a century ago, are driven by an essentially religious fanaticism. They don’t believe in God, but they hold their beliefs with the same kind of zealotry, and they consider those beliefs to be unfalsifiable. Somebody like Dawkins must not even be given a platform to spread his error, you see.

In my book, I credit the work of James Lindsay. He’s not a religious believer, but secularists like him, his colleague Helen Pluckrose, Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, and others, are indispensable allies to we on the religious and cultural right who are trying to resist this cancerous ideological pseudo-religion.

With that in mind, here’s something really interesting. Sarah Haider, an ex-Muslim who is an activist for secularism, has started a letter exchange with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, another ex-Muslim.  She begins by saying that they aren’t going to be complaining about intolerant Muslims, but about the Woke. Haider says that she cannot even get her own people — liberals — to take her criticism of religion seriously because they don’t want to hear anything critical of Muslims. It’s not because they feel sympathetic to Islam; it’s because it is considered unwoke to criticize Muslims.

Haider writes:

Over the previous few decades, a new ideology had taken hold throughout liberal and progressive circles: writer and cultural critic Wesley Yang called it “the successor ideology,” but now it’s more usually called wokeism. At its core, this ideology is a delegitimization project—and it targets the very foundations of humanist, Enlightenment values. Wokeism is not the only movement to exploit the same programming that makes us vulnerable to religion. But it has achieved astounding success because it has also managed to neutralize liberals, who might otherwise stand against religious impulses, by hijacking our caring instinct, and by ruthlessly exploiting social dynamics to crush dissent.

Before we dive in too deeply, I would like to elaborate on a point I made in a private conversation prior to this exchange, which seemed to surprise you. I will repeat it here for the benefit of our audience: I believe that what we are witnessing is not the dawn of open war, but its conclusion. The woke have won, and decisively. But all is never truly lost, and this is not a prelude to submission. My approach is one of pragmatic optimism: In order to fight this—and we must fight it—we need to understand what lies ahead of us.

She goes on:

Wokeism has won because it has captured our cultural and sense-making institutions.

Nearly all our educational, media, and non-profit institutions (including major grant-making organizations) are advancing in one direction. Meanwhile, the hearts and minds of the global elite are almost uniformly supportive of this new secular faith.

Read it all. 

It’s really insightful, and important. In Live Not By Lies,I talk about how important it is for dissident Christians to ally themselves with non-believers who nevertheless recognize wokeness for the danger that it is to values we hold in common. Haider echoes a fundamental point of my book: that this fight is almost over before most people realize it has begun.

This is not a defeatist attitude, but a realistic one. If Haider didn’t think the fight was worth having, she wouldn’t be writing about it. What she’s trying to do is to convince her readers to understand the battlefield realities. Wokeness really has captured all the institutional high ground — and this is going to make fighting it much, much harder than most people think. From Live Not By Lies:

In our populist era, politicians and talk-radio polemicists can rile up a crowd by denouncing elites. Nevertheless, in most societies, intellectual and cultural elites determine its long-term direction. “[T]he key actor in history is not individual genius but rather the network and the new institutions that are created out of those networks,” writes sociologist James Davison Hunter.

Though a revolutionary idea might emerge from the masses, says Hunter, “it does not gain traction until it is embraced and propagated by elites” working through their “well-developed
networks and powerful institutions.”

This is why it is critically important to keep an eye on intellectual discourse. Those who do not will leave the gates unguarded. As the Polish dissident and émigré Czesław Miłosz put it, “It was only toward the middle of the twentieth century that the inhabitants of many European countries came, in general unpleasantly, to the realization that their fate could be influenced directly by intricate and abstruse books of philosophy.”

Arendt warns that the twentieth-century totalitarian experience shows how a determined and skillful minority can come to rule over an indifferent and disengaged majority. In our time, most people regard the politically correct insanity of campus radicals as not worthy of attention. They mock them as “snowflakes” and “social justice warriors.”

This is a serious mistake. In radicalizing the broader class of elites, social justice warriors (SJWs) are playing a similar historic role to the Bolsheviks in prerevolutionary Russia. SJW ranks are full of middle-class, secular, educated young people wracked by guilt and anxiety over their own privilege, alienated from their own traditions, and desperate to identify with something, or someone, to give them a sense of wholeness and purpose. For them, the ideology of social justice—as defined not by church teaching but by critical theorists in the academy— functions as a pseudo-religion. Far from being confined to campuses and dry intellectual journals, SJW ideals are
transforming elite institutions and networks of power and influence.

This, I think, is what Sarah Haider is pointing to: that these fanatics have gained control of institutions, and are creating a brave new world for us all.

I was on Ben Shapiro’s show today, and unfortunately the interview ended before I got around to talking about where our hope should come from. Live Not By Lies is full of stories and advice from men and women of the former Soviet bloc who tell us how to prepare for this reality. All resistance has to begin with recognizing the true nature of the enemy. Sarah Haider and I no doubt disagree about a lot of things, and I don’t want to downplay those differences too much. But we are on the same page when it comes to the Woke, and their threat to fundamental liberties like the right to free speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion (or, in some cases, freedom from religion). Wokeism is about delegitimizing not only the Enlightenment, but all that came before it too in the West: Christianity. It is about delegitimizing everything that is not itself. And as Haider says, it has control of many institutions and corporations.

This matters. Prepare to fight. Christopher Rufo is doing fantastic work exposing Critical Race Theory in the federal government, and convincing the president and his team to root it out. But this struggle is going to be very long and difficult, and winning it is going to require measures of faith, fellowship, and endurance that many of us have never faced.

UPDATE: This. A thousand million times this:

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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