The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) will convene again as part of yet another synod (a fancy Catholic way of saying “meeting”). This ironically seems to be the main function of bishops during the papacy of Francis, a man who once told his pastors to go out and be “living with the smell of the sheep.” There is nothing particularly noteworthy about this synod, a “synod on synodality.” Most Catholics have come to realize that aside from a small handful of rabble-rousers, most bishops don’t seem to do or say anything meaningful.
Suggestively, though, some innocuous tweets about the event triggered criticism among the American faithful. “Here are seven attitudes we can all adopt as we continue our synodal journey together. Which one inspires you the most? Let us know in the comments below,” the USCCB tweeted. As Shannon Mullen reported for the Catholic News Agency, the attitudes listed were: “innovative outlook, inclusivity, open-mindedness, listening, accompaniment, and co-responsibility.” Commenters took issue with the faceless corporate buzzwords. As one person put it, “We’re not a Fortune 500 company, we are literally the body of Christ.” It’s one thing to quietly recognize that Church leadership sees itself as little more than soulless administrators, but it’s quite another when they evidently take such pride in it.
In itself, this little episode signifies little—even Cardinal Cupich’s hecklers merit more attention. But in today’s context, it matters a great deal since it illustrates two important truths about the “woke” culture that has taken over bureaucracies everywhere: 1) it’s actually very boring, and 2) it’s hypocritical and destructive.
Although the idea of wokeness is popularly associated with scenes of impassioned young people trying to ditch their bourgeois veneer as they take to the streets to protest or shock the dull masses, a better way to think about it is to picture a conference room filled with humorless geriatrics talking about something completely irrelevant. The poster children who form angry mobs to shout at the sky, set up autonomous zones, and virtue signal on social media are a small minority compared to the great masses of the “woke” who mostly carry on with their day while watching what they and others say. They strive to create “safe environments” by policing speech, maintaining diversity quotas, and incorporating woke memes and symbols in their mission statements.
As some critics have observed, the point of identifying and criticizing all forms of supposed systemic bigotry is not actually to eliminate it, but to provide a pretext for commanding compliance. Corporate and political leaders love woke culture because it provides a basis for eliminating threats and rivals—for canceling. What better and easier way to deal with dissent than to call people bigots and ostracize them?
Without this option, if an organization wants to compete with a rival it has to make a better argument or a better product. To handle dissent, it has to actually listen to objections and respond to them competently and respectfully. But this kind of engagement and effort has been replaced by canceling. Consequently, woke culture has not reformed the current culture and built something more progressive, fair, and inclusive; it has simply made today’s culture ever more superficial and feckless.
Case in point: Catholic leaders are having a meeting about meetings in the hopes that their future meetings will be smoother, all while the Church is losing members by the millions each year. This would be funny—in the absurd Seinfeld sense—if it stopped there, but this problem of a hollowed out culture soon degenerates into a culture of abject hypocrisy. There’s often an inverse relationship between signaling woke values and actually abiding by those values. The more a person (e.g., Joe Biden) preaches tolerance, normalcy, and unity, the more intolerant, extreme, and divisive they will be.
It should surprise no one that the USCCB and other progressive leaders regularly prove to be the opposite of—pick your buzzwords—innovative, inclusive, open-minded, and responsible. And they are certainly not listening to or accompanying anyone. They have meetings (sorry, synods) for this very purpose: It prevents them from having to do anything or talk to anyone. Instead, these leaders scapegoat minorities. In the Catholic Church, this has been traditionalists who prefer the Latin Mass.
Archbishop Gomez of Los Angeles has called woke culture a kind of pseudo-religion. It replaces Christianity with a utilitarian utopianism, trading one set of dogmas and values for another. While Christianity stresses belief in the Gospel and living a godly life, wokeism stresses belief in progress and living a politically correct life. The former demands action and internal conversion while the latter demands verbal compliance and outward conformity. Woke culture seduces people by exploiting the deadly sins of sloth and envy. This is a universal temptation. Even Christians, those whom Jesus said are supposed to be judged by their fruit, would often prefer a community where people are judged by their dirt. It’s much easier to follow the crowds than to discipline oneself, confront adversity, and put trust in a loving God.
Besides boldly responding to woke culture, Christians and others of good will need to reinforce their own culture through a shared commitment to excellence and charity. In practical terms, this means more projects, more education and training, more physical community, and less slacktivism, fewer claims of victimhood, and far less time on the internet. It just so happens that all this can be summed up with answering the classic question, “What would Jesus do?” This may not square with the current zeitgeist, and it may even offend some people, but it will save souls, restore some humanity to the world, and help slowly reverse the current cultural decline.
Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area. He holds an MA in Humanities and an MEd in Educational Leadership. He is the senior editor of The Everyman and has written essays for the Federalist, the American Thinker, Crisis magazine, The American Conservative, and the Imaginative Conservative, as well as the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.