The Great Awokening

America has had several waves of Awakening in its history, characterized by intense religious enthusiasm and social activism. These waves stemmed from American Protestantism, often accompanied by a profound sense of conviction and redemption. They tended to be evangelistic, with an increase in evangelistic church membership and the formation of new denominations. The Awakenings were led by charismatic preachers who imbued in followers a profound sense of personal guilt and a need for redemption through Christ. 

The original Awakening in the early 1700s was mostly an elite affair. The Second Awakening “The Great Awakening” took place in the late 1700s and lasted until the around 1850. It spread beyond New England elites and made its way to the Midwest. It also was a time when Black attendance at mainline white Protestant churches declined precipitously. At the same time dozens of free Black churches were formed and served Blacks who were abandoning white mainline churches. There is a case to be made that this resulted from white discrimination against Blacks, but it is not a settled matter. In any event, as many scholars have noted, there is no place in America that is more segregated than church on Sunday.   

It should be noted that the Great Awakening coincided with progressive reforms including abolitionism, temperance and women’s rights. Note that social reformers and the Awakened often came from the same ranks.

The Third Awakening was also a profoundly Christian affair.   It was characterized by missionary work, the Social Gospel and was instrumental in fostering revivals in American cities. Out of the Third Awakening came the YMCA, Christian and Sanitary Commissions that provided medical relief to Union Armies, and Freedmen’s Societies that provided educational services to freedmen in the South after the Civil War.  

Fast forward to 2020. We are in yet another Great Awakening, known as the #Resistance. After all, why do you suppose that the #Resistance refers to itself as “woke”? 

This one however is different from the others in that it is anti-religious.

The #Resistance has all the earmarks of an Awakening. Its adherents are profound believers in the cause (however poorly defined). It has charismatic leaders. It is a mass movement. It is not cerebral; it is dominated by feelings, emotion and a profound sense of alienation, resentment and guilt. The movement (like all movements) is remarkably intolerant of people who don’t toe the party line. They are the Other; they are “deniers”. Skeptics  are canceled over the least variation from orthodoxy. Ritualized confessions of guilt are increasingly common.

Most importantly it is a movement that tries to fill a hole in the search for meaning that is lost in the soul of secularized man. It is a cry for help. 

The irony is that the secularization of society began with a quest for pluralism and equal justice, associated with the 1960s. It quickly turned into an attack on the basic institutions of a free society, including the traditional family, the rule of law, property rights and most importantly, religion. 

Why the attack on religion? It is the most important facet of the Gramscian long march through the institutions because religious authority stands above State authority. (That is why in the U.S. a priest can not be legally compelled to break the seal of confession.)

Religion ultimately succeeds by persuasion rather than by force (a principle honored in the breech). And it holds a privileged position in the U.S. legal system. Religious belief enjoys the protection of the free exercise clause of the First amendment. The U.S. Declaration is crystal clear that we have natural rights that are unalienable, endowed by the Creator. Rights are pre-political; they do not come from government, and government has no authority to take them away. Every individual is a unique being possessing intrinsic worth and dignity. That doctrine is a dagger pointed at the heart of collectivism. 

Woke citizens (as opposed to their leaders) are searching for justice and dignity in a world without the Creator and without Redemption. They want to, need to, create a world without sin. It is a fool’s errand; it requires the perfectibility of man, which is to say it requires the creation of  a “New Man.”  In turn that requires a great man, an extraordinary man, for whom the rules, which are mere social conventions, don’t apply. There are no rules; just the will to power. 

In Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the attorney Petrovich Porfiry refers to an academic article written by the protagonist Rodion Raskolnikov when he was a student.

Porfiry provides a summation of the article:

“In his article all men are divided into ‘ordinary’ and ‘extraordinary’. Ordinary men have to live in submission, have no right to transgress the law, because, don’t you see, they are ordinary. But extraordinary men have a right to commit any crime and to transgress the law in any way, just because they are extraordinary.”

Rodion Raskolnikov replies by adding nuance:

“[An]…extraordinary man has the right…that is not an official right, but an inner right to decide in his own conscience to overstep…certain obstacles, and only in case it is essential for the practical fulfillment of his idea {sometimes, perhaps, of benefit to the whole of humanity}.”

In making his argument Raskolnikov makes the case for the nihilism that would shortly engulf the 20th century. The brutal ideologies of that century, communism and fascism, resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions of people at the hands of Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Fidel, Ho Chi Minh. Atheists all. Long after the facts were clear they were still supported by Walter Duranty, Jean-Paul Sartre, Earnest Hemingway and Theodore Dreiser among others. 

When man’s yearning for meaning and dignity is divorced from faith in the Creator, the ultimate law-giver, what is left is nihilism. There is no truth; only “my truth”. There is no justice; only “my justice”. Decency is simply a matter of convenience. Who is to say that one system or action is superior to another? There are no facts, only interpretations. Which implies that all questions are then reducible to power and decided by the exercise of that power. And all power comes, according to Mao, from the barrel of a gun. 

We have gone down this road before, many, many times. The result is always the same, and it isn’t pretty. It would be nice to avoid another go around.  But that would require that liberals defend liberalism, and it doesn’t look like that is going to happen any time soon. 

JFB

Don’t Know Much about History…

Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Jean-Jacque Rousseau

Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Edmund Burke. 

There is a great philosophical divide between classical liberalism and utopian socialism. It is this divide that drives modern politics and has done so since the time of the French and American Revolutions. The intellectual poison served up by Rousseau, eagerly consumed by the ignorati, has wrought tremendous cultural damage. The damage is evident in the smoking ruins on literal display in America’s cities and figuratively in its cultural institutions. 

For some historical perspective on todays politics and culture, it is well worth watching the discussion  below with the David Starkey (no relation to Ringo), a Cambridge educated and very controversial British constitutional historian.

JFB

Dr. David Starkey