Over the last several essays I have worked to piece together a definition for Wokeness that is both accurate and fair. My intention is to give readers the proper categories by which to understand the Woke phenomenon so that they can see it for what it truly is. The definition at which I have arrived is: Wokeness is critical awareness of, political advocacy for, and social activism on behalf of certain Western identity groups as those groups come into conflict with existing power structures as defined by certain identity characteristics. This, of course, is a terrible definition as far as these things go, notwithstanding whatever accuracy has been achieved in the attempt to define Wokeness. It might be a true statement, but it is hardly memorable, much less of any use to anyone in the course of their daily lives. In this essay I will attempt to hone that definition and couch it in terms that more deeply resonate with ordinary people. To that end we must explore the religiosity of Wokeness in order to ascertain its true nature.
What Is Religion?
Before we turn to Wokeness, however, we must first seek to understand the nature of religion. What makes something a religion? Is there a difference between religion, ideology, and philosophy? We often hear people say things like, “His religion is football,” or, “She exercises with religious devotion.” What do we mean when we say things like this? The word “religion” communicates something deep and profound, which must mean that religion itself is a serious and weighty thing.
Various dictionaries define religion in different but related ways. The following is a brief survey of dictionaries available online:
“(1) A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. (2) A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects. …(6) Something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience.”
“The belief in and worship of a superhuman power or powers, especially a God or gods.”
“(1) A personalized set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. …(2.a.2) Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance. (3) A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”
Some of the common themes in these definitions are belief, practice, and devotion. The first two sources reference the supernatural while the third does not. Is it possible to have a religion without referencing the supernatural or a deity of some kind? Granted, dictionary definitions aren’t supposed to tell the whole story of large concepts like religion, but the summaries that they provide are useful for seeing how religion is perceived and understood in our modern culture. We can use the common themes they present to piece together a more robust definition of religion, particularly as we are able to draw out the themes that lie behind the words on the screen. Specifically, there are four themes of religion that can be explored in more detail: order, truth, meaning, and goodness.
The four themes of religion are order, truth, meaning, and goodness.
The first theme to which these definitions point is the order of the universe. Religion is not merely concerned with how supernatural forces, gods, or God has ordered the universe, by which we mean created it; indeed, religion is supremely concerned with the right ordering of the universe – how things should be. One of the primary responsibilities of religion is to properly organize and prioritize the lives of its disciples, bringing the nature of the universe, and the place of the individual within it, into sharp focus. Religion is a force for order in a world of chaos, and this is beyond the capability of personal philosophy or political ideology. The book of Proverbs in the Bible speaks over and over again about the importance of “fearing the Lord,” by which is meant to maintain a proper posture of humility before God. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” In other words, you don’t know anything until you understand and accept your rightful place in a universe which you did not create and which will persist long after you die. Therefore, respect the One who did create it and who will outlive it. This is how religion understands order.
The second vital theme of religion is truth. The definitions quoted above all refer to beliefs as a central aspect of religion. In this context, the word beliefs does not refer to opinions, to which it is often reduced in the wider cultural conversation. Instead, the word beliefs refers to truth claims, absolute statements about what is true and what is false. After all, no one actually believes something they know to be false. They may have doubts about their beliefs, but it is the most basic contradiction of terms to say that I believe something which I know to be untrue.
No one actually believes something they know to be false.
The type of truth with which religion is concerned is metaphysical, truths which transcend physical reality and illuminate the hidden meaning and mysterious nature of life. Only metaphysical truths can ultimately explain the human condition, the purpose of life, and the telos (the proper end) of creation. Religion has little use for a statement like “two and two is four” other than to affirm it, and perhaps these days, to defend the absolute truth of one of math’s most basic statements. On the contrary, religion’s task is to separate truth from deception, to elevate the former and condemn the latter, and to call society to follow this truth lest we all suffer dire consequences.
The third theme of religion is meaning, that is, the impartation of purpose and sense to life. Humans crave meaning. We need to know that the universe is more than a series of random collisions between tiny particles, that there is a purpose and end to existence. Religion gives humans a telos, a proper end or aim to their lives, which guides them through seasons of confusion and chaos. Religion provides the way and why of life, the enlightening journey of the present day and the comforting home that awaits us at the end. Far from being imaginary or invented out of thin air, it tethers us to the reality which transcends our circumstances. It links us to the past, anchors us in the present, and prepares us for the future.
The fourth theme of religion is goodness. How are humans to discern between good and evil? The answer is that good and evil can only be understood in a religious context. Science tells us what is; religion tells us what ought to be. In religion we discover the source of goodness, what we often call “God,” as well as the means by which we can please, or draw close to, this goodness. Through the revelation of truth we learn how to behave in a manner that is good and to reject the life characterized by evil. Religious doctrine and teaching must always lead adherents to the good life, the life that is properly ordered to the order of creation. The one who is good will reach his proper end, meaning that the meaning which he has sought will be fully realized at the end of his life. The one who is evil will be punished in a manner that is proper to the justice and truth of the God or gods who govern creation.
The implication of these four themes is that the religious adherent should live a life that is defined by worship and devotion. The religious person’s life should be pious in accordance with their religion, characterized by faithful practice of command and ordinance, undivided devotion to their God or gods, and continual worship of the same. The God or gods at the center of one’s religion ought to also be the center of one’s life, or else what is the point of the religion? To put it the other way round, practically speaking, the center of one’s life is really the God or gods of one’s religion. To put a fine point on it, one can have a religion without the supernatural, but one cannot have a religion without a God.
One can have a religion without the supernatural, but one cannot have a religion without a God.
When we consider all four of these themes – order, truth, meaning, and goodness – and their implications, we can come to a more robust definition of religion: Religion is the framework of beliefs about, the worship of, and the devotion to the God or gods who properly order the universe, reveal truth, bestow meaning, and define goodness. Religion need not involve the supernatural in order to comply with this definition, though most religions do. What cannot be denied, however, is that every religion has a God or gods from which that religion flows. The question is not whether or not such a God exists, but whether the God of your religion is worthy. Can your God infallibly provide order, truth, meaning, and goodness?
The Evolution of Religion from Polytheism to Egotheism
The myth of the evolution of human religion is that we generally transition from polytheism (there are many gods) to monotheism (there is one God). This conversion can happen suddenly or over the course of many generations. I call this a “myth” not because it isn’t true, but because it’s a story our culture tells in order to explain our history. This religious evolution hasn’t happened everywhere, but it has certainly transformed the West over the last 1500 years. (It has also happened in what has become the Muslim world over roughly the same time period.) The West has clearly evolved from pagan polytheisms, whether Greek, Roman, or barbarian, to the monotheistic religion of Christianity. Some would argue, and they can sometimes make a very compelling case, that this evolution has proceeded on toward atheism. I don’t agree, and I’ll explain why in a little bit. But first, we have to briefly consider the role of Christianity in this religious evolution.
In one sense, Christianity destroyed pagan polytheism by presenting a better, more coherent picture of all of reality, including the Deity. Christianity offered a better God than any of the petulant gods of the various pagan pantheons. In his book Destroyer of the gods, Larry Hurtado concludes, “Whether we align ourselves with any religious faith or not, we likely think and speak in terms of a single deity, ‘God.’ We may profess some kind of faith in ‘God’ or deny that ‘God’ exists. But we typically assume that there is one ‘God’ to consider. That this is so is largely due to the impact of Christianity.” The gods of the pagan world – Zeus, Molech, Marduk, etc. – placed significant demands on their followers but never loved them. Take a listen to The Bible Project’s podcast on Ancient Near Eastern cosmology to get a sense for how different YHWH, the God of the Bible, is from the gods of the nations around ancient Israel. YHWH is different. Radically different. And the worship of YHWH through Jesus Christ, His Son, provides a more just, more loving, and more hopeful vocation for humans than any of the pagan polytheisms. It’s no wonder that a third of the world converted to Christianity.
Christianity destroyed pagan polytheism by presenting a better, more coherent picture of reality.
Generally speaking, monotheism is the belief that there is a single, supreme, divine person who is the Creator and Sustainer of all that exists. While polytheism often has one god that rises above the rest (e.g. Zeus), monotheism says that there is one God who is fundamentally unlike any other being because this God is being itself. God is not a being; He is being. He is existence. He is cause. He is uncreated, eternal, and infinite. In Him is life and goodness and truth. He has created human beings in His image, and He will one day pronounce final judgment upon all living creatures, spiritual and material.
Christian monotheism is unique in that its fundamental assertion about God is that He eternally exists as three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – and yet He is one God. We call this the doctrine of the Trinity. Just as importantly, Christianity also teaches that God the Son became a human being, Jesus Christ the Jewish Messiah. Not only is there one God who eternally exists in three persons, but one of these persons, the Son, became incarnate and lived a fully human life, experiencing the trials, temptations, and hardships that are common to all people. In the end, God the Son was crucified under Roman rule, was buried in a Jewish tomb, and raised to life by the power of the Trinity. This is the Gospel message that sets Christianity apart from all other religions on earth, and the implication is that human beings now have the opportunity to unite themselves to God, join His family, and live with Him forever in His new creation, ruling the cosmos together with Jesus.
Speaking as a Christian, it is hard to imagine anything better than Christianity. Why would humans reject the God who loves them enough to give up everything in order to draw them into His eternal family? Yet this is precisely what has happened over the past several centuries. Since roughly the time of the Reformation, religion in the West has passed into a long phase of chaos called atheism. Atheism is not the next stage of religious development, as some might believe, but rather the struggle and storm out of which a new form of religion has sprouted. It has fertilized the cultural and intellectual ground, sapping the nutrients that allowed Christianity to flourish and providing a new concoction to cultivate the next phase of religious evolution. This is the phase in which we now live, as the world has finally passed completely from polytheism (there are many gods) to monotheism (there is one God) to egotheism (I am God).
Egotheism: Religion’s Final Form
When Nietzsche’s madman ran through the streets decrying the death of God and proclaiming dire warnings of what would come next, perhaps he saw the moment in which we now live when the Self has usurped the place of God. If God does not exist, as the atheists proclaim, that does not mean that we have no need for God. It means, rather, that we need a new God, one of whose existence we can be entirely certain. That leaves us no other option but the Self, for I am the only thing that I can be certain truly exists in this world. I am the only one upon whom I can depend. I am the only one whom I can trust. I am the only one looking out for me. Atheism, far from becoming the final form of religion, cleared the ground of all supposed superstition and threw mankind simultaneously back into himself and upon himself, making man the only thing upon which man might rely. Rather than seeing through a glass darkly, atheism has held a mirror to our faces and proclaimed, “Behold, your God.” And we have embraced the message. We are all egotheists now, stripped of the supernatural and transcendent, with nothing left to worship but ourselves, nothing left to trust but our own opinions, nothing left to obey but our raging desires.
Egotheism is the belief that I, the individual self, fulfill the various roles traditionally ascribed to God or the gods. It is the terminus of the evolution of religion: everything is God (pantheism) -> there are many gods (polytheism) -> there is one God (monotheism) -> I am God (egotheism). Like the other words used to describe the various forms of religion, egotheism is the combination of two Greek words, ego (which means I) and theos (which means God). Egotheism is not a specific religion, such as Christianity or Buddhism, but rather a category of religion to which many religions might belong. Of course, as religion has evolved from pantheism, the number of different religions that can fit into the current category has shrunk. There can be many pantheistic or polytheistic religions but far fewer monotheistic faiths. It remains to be seen just how many egotheistic religions can exist, but I suspect the answer is just one.
We are all egotheists now.
The doctrines of egotheism are centered on the Self in the same way that the doctrines of monotheism are centered on the One God. In monotheism, there is one Creator God who calls everything that exists into being. In egotheism, I create myself by defining my own future and discovering my identity within myself. I construct the universe with myself at the center, bending all that is around me (including my own body) to my desires and will. I call myself into existence by authentically living outwardly that which I discover inwardly. I am the Creator God of my own being.
In monotheism, the One True God is the source of truth, and he gives truth to the world through an act of grace known as divine revelation. God chooses one or more people to serve as his spokespeople to all humanity, speaking to them so that they can write down his words and pass them down through the generations. In egotheism, truth is discovered by looking within myself. I have my own truth. The world of which I am God and at the center of which I am found has its own unique truth that cannot be duplicated. Truth is not an objective thing that stands outside of and beyond myself. Truth is the subjective real which bursts forth from my inner being. It is not revealed to me; rather, it is discovered by me. The social roles once played by divine revelation – to define morality, to delineate ethics, to provide wisdom, to chart the course for the good life, to reveal the path to salvation – are now fulfilled by self-discovery. Everything I need to live the good life is within me, waiting to be unlocked and manifested to the world by my own uniquely creative genius. I am saved by living faithfully to the truth I contain within myself.
In monotheism, the meaning of life is found in conforming yourself to the will and character of the One God. Because he is the Creator and Sustainer of all that is, meaning and purpose can only be found in returning to him. To drift from God is to fall into chaos and meaninglessness. The world’s proper structure, and therefore my life’s proper purpose, can only be found in the God who made both the world and me. In egotheism, I create my own meaning. I blaze my own trail. Since I am the Creator God of my own universe and the author of my own truth, I can only find meaning and purpose when I look within myself. I must listen to my feelings, desires, and thoughts with an uncritical ear and let these be my guide. Only I can make any sense of my life. Only I can rightly interpret my lived experience. Meaning comes from within, a discovery of the Self’s brilliant unrepeatable glory.
In monotheism, the One God is good. He is the source of light and life, the highest good that can be sought. In him there is no darkness, no evil; nothing wrong or sinful is within him or comes from him. In egotheism, the Self is good by nature, the very source and definition of goodness in the universe centered upon its own brilliant being. I do not suffer under the weight of original sin, but rather from the oppressive forces of society and civilization which war against my inner righteousness. My only sin is not being my true, authentic Self – not manifesting my unique glory into the world because the world has made me less than myself through fear and oppression. Goodness and light enter the world through me as I courageously manifest my authentic nature to it. Through me is oppression overthrown and the world transformed from darkness to light.
Egotheism’s God is not YHWH, Allah, or the Trinity; it is the Self.
These are religious beliefs. These are faith statements. Creeds. Egotheism relies on the existence of God just as much as monotheism, the only difference is that egotheism’s God is not YHWH, Allah, or the Trinity; it is the Self. It is me. I am God. Egotheism is the religious aspect without the external transcendent; all that is supernatural is found within the Self. All that is divine is inside of me. Egotheism is religion turned inward.
Only the object of the religious impulse has changed. Atheism could not rid man of his religious affections; it could only turn those affections inward, bending them back into man as if he were both the source and destination of every religious impulse. Atheism could not make man any less of a worshiper than he was in the Middle Ages. It could only change the object of his worship from a transcendent deity to the deified Self. Religion’s true final form, discovered only in the aftermath of atheism’s reckless destruction of monotheism, is egotheism, the worship of the Self. Man is made to adore and attend to something greater than himself, but if he becomes convinced that such a thing does not exist he will not therefore cease adoring and attending. Rather, he will now adore and attend to himself.
Fundamentalism is a common word which, these days, is always used disparagingly. One of the worst things that a religious person can be called is a fundamentalist because it implies that the person is outdated, bigoted, close-minded, and stupid. Fundamentalists are backwards. They are the sort of people who have yet to see the light of reason, who live in a self-made dark age enslaved and stupefied by their superstition. They are not merely ignorant, they are dangerous. Their religion poses a threat to civilization because it is insufficiently tolerant and intelligible. Fundamentalism is both oppressive and regressive, a religious weapon against which all the armor of secularism and modernism seem helpless.
Fundamentalist religions have a broad range of non-negotiable beliefs. Every religion has its non-negotiables, of course, but fundamentalist versions of a religion draw their boundaries particularly wide, leaving little room for charitable disagreement. For example, one of the non-negotiables of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead. All of Christianity rests upon this belief, and to reject the resurrection of Christ is to reject Christianity. Fundamentalist Christianity, on the other hand, while affirming the resurrection, would also have a long list of non-negotiables on seemingly trivial things. When I was young, the list of non-negotiable beliefs outlawed playing cards (even when not gambling), drinking alcohol, and dancing. These activities are all sins, and they are always sinful, and therefore they are to be strictly avoided by Christians. It goes without saying that there is a great distance, doctrinally speaking, between the resurrection of Christ and the rejection of card playing. To be ardent on the former is the very definition of being a Christian; to be so on the latter makes one a fundamentalist.
Fundamentalism is also characterized by a deep sense of certainty about many things and is therefore wary of questions. To ask a question about one of the non-negotiables of a given fundamentalism is to risk expulsion from the community because, in every fundamentalism, it is a sin to doubt. It is impermissible to ask why one is not allowed to play cards, one must simply never play cards. The mere asking of the question risks exposing the faulty structure of the whole façade. Once certainty has been asserted (rarely proven, of course, only asserted) about a certain doctrine or sin, the religious adherent must prove his faithfulness publicly by making a big show about abstaining from the evil activity or rejecting the false belief. It is not enough to simply not play cards; one must burn cards wherever one finds them and subject the owner of those cards to a religious inquisition.
Which brings us back to Wokeness. Wokeness is fundamentalist egotheism. It is an egotheistic faith with a broad and ever-expanding range of non-negotiable beliefs and practices which also possesses a deep sense of certainty, and especially moral certainty, about nearly everything under the sun. The language of Wokeness is the language of fundamentalist religion, that set of self-contradictory paper-thin mantras that everyone dutifully repeats and no one has the courage to question. Love is love. My body, my choice. Trust the science. Black lives matter. Defund the police. Trans rights are human rights. Believe all women. To transgress the boundaries established by these dictates is to commit apostasy, the punishment for which is to be eternally condemned outside of the community.
Wokeness is fundamentalist egotheism.
Like all fundamentalisms, Wokeness draws a tight circle around acceptable behavior, speech, belief, and even thought, with the intention to firmly police the community (and even the whole world). All religions define right and wrong, but fundamentalisms define them to the extreme and leave little or no room for grace, mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. Wokeness follows precisely this pattern as indoctrinated adherents seek not simply to expel transgressors from their midst, but to ruin their lives forever by turning them into scapegoats. Woke apostates must become socially isolated and economically ruined. They must not be allowed to have friends. They must not be allowed to work. They must wear, as it were, a scarlet letter upon their chest for the rest of their lives because they were not sufficiently Woke at one particular moment.
There is much more to say about the fundamentalist nature of Wokeness, but we must leave it for the next essay. It is enough, for now, to simply state that Wokeness is fundamentalist egotheism, the extreme expression of the religious belief that I, the Self, am God. And if that is, indeed, what Wokeness is, then all who claim to worship another God, much less the God revealed in Jesus Christ, should take notice. We should be aware that Wokeness isn’t merely a new expression of our old faith, but rather a competing faith altogether, one that is both strident and stringent and will, in the end, not allow us to worship any other God but the Self.
 I was able to locate an old dictionary from the 19th century and the definition of religion provided there is vastly different from the definitions provided by today’s online dictionaries. It was much more centered around Christianity, and especially the pious exercise of Christian faith.
 What does it say that, after centuries of vicious assaults on religion, we now live in an age where “real intellectuals” argue that two and two does not, in fact, equal four? Did religion, particularly Christianity, have to be discarded before basic truths of the world – that humans are male and female – could themselves be set aside?
 Larry Hurtado, Destroyer of the gods, p. 187