“The Great Awokening”

A critical glimpse inside the latest viral (and counterfeit) religious movement

John Monaco

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Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona on Unsplash

As you may remember from your high school U.S. History course, the “Great Awakening” was a period of revival within American Christianity, beginning in the 1730’s. At the time, the Enlightenment’s influence on religion started to wear out its welcome. Congregationalist and Episcopalian religious leaders noticed how their congregants were turning to atheism or a general deism, as the Enlightenment’s focus on hyper-rationalization and empiricism drained much of their community’s spirit. With the arrival of George Whitefield (a well-known preacher in England) and the emergence of the fiery Jonathan Edwards, America became over-swept by evangelical fervor. Emotion and experience usurped logic and doctrine. People turned out in droves to listen to these religious leaders preach about the fires of hell and blame natural disasters on humanity’s waywardness. These preachers emphasized the sinfulness of their audience, who needed to convict themselves of their crimes against God, and only then could they experience redemption. Preachers chose their words carefully, knowing how to bend language in order to evoke an emotional response in the audience members. The Great Awakening’s “anti-authoritarian” principles and reaction against traditional Christian structures would later play a part in fermenting the American Revolution.

Fast-forward nearly 300 years, and America is on the brink of another revolution, one catalyzed by what some pundits call the “Great Awokening”. No, that is not a typo. For some years now, the word “woke” has entered popular parlance, denoting a sense of awareness at perceived injustices, whether that be those of gender, race, sexual orientation. A person who is “woke” is oftentimes a left-leaning progressive activist, fighting for “equality”, “freedom”, “representation”, and other celebrated causes. Social justice becomes wedded to identity politics, and certain identities and views are considered to be good a priori. Questioning the goodness, validity, or rationality of such identities & views automatically incurs a penalty — whether that be termination from a job, leaking of address and phone number, or as most recently reported, physical violence. Such is the Way of the Woke.

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John Monaco

Doctoral student in theology, seeking the true, good, and beautiful.