The Catholic Archbishop of Los Angeles, José Gomez, is also president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. This is an address he gave by video to a conference in Madrid about a Christian response to wokeness. (edited) (MercatorNet)
America’s new political religions
Here is my thesis. I believe the best way for the Church to understand the new social justice movements is to understand them as pseudo-religions, and even replacements and rivals to traditional Christian beliefs.
With the breakdown of the Judeo-Christian worldview and the rise of secularism, political belief systems based on social justice or personal identity have come to fill the space that Christian belief and practice once occupied.
Whatever we call these movements — “social justice,” “wokeness,” “identity politics,” “intersectionality,” “successor ideology” — they claim to offer what religion provides.
They provide people with an explanation for events and conditions in the world. They offer a sense of meaning, a purpose for living, and the feeling of belonging to a community. Even more than that, like Christianity, these new movements tell their own “story of salvation.”
To explain what I mean, let me try to briefly compare the Christian story with what we might call the “woke” story or the “social justice” story. The Christian story, in its simplest form, goes something like this: We are created in the image of God and called to a blessed life in union with him and with our neighbours. Human life has a God-given “telos,” an intention and direction. Through our sin, we are alienated from God and from one another, and we live in the shadow of our own death.
Mercy of God
By the mercy of God and his love for each of us, we are saved through the dying and rising of Jesus Christ. Jesus reconciles us to God and our neighbours, gives us the grace to be transformed in his image, and calls us to follow him in faith, loving God and our neighbour, working to build his Kingdom on earth, all in confident hope that we will have eternal life with him in the world to come.
That’s the Christian story. And now more than ever, the Church and every Catholic needs to know this story and proclaim it in all its beauty and truth. We need to do that, because there is another story out there today — a rival “salvation” narrative that we hear being told in the media and in our institutions by the new social justice movements. What we might call the “woke” story goes something like this:
We cannot know where we came from, but we are aware that we have interests in common with those who share our skin colour or our position in society. We are also painfully aware that our group is suffering and alienated, through no fault of our own. The cause of our unhappiness is that we are victims of oppression by other groups in society. We are liberated and find redemption through our constant struggle against our oppressors, by waging a battle for political and cultural power in the name of creating a society of equity.
The new ‘salvation’
Clearly, this is a powerful and attractive narrative for millions of people in American society and in societies across the West. In fact, many of America’s leading corporations, universities, and even public schools are actively promoting and teaching this vision. This story draws its strength from the simplicity of its explanations — the world is divided into innocents and victims, allies and adversaries.
But this narrative is also attractive because, as I said earlier, it responds to real human needs and suffering. People are hurting, they do feel discriminated against and excluded from opportunities in society. We should never forget this. Many of those who subscribe to these new movements and belief systems are motivated by noble intentions. They want to change conditions in society that deny men and women their rights and opportunities for a good life.
Of course, we all want to build a society that provides equality, freedom, and dignity for every person. But we can only build a just society on the foundation of the truth about God and human nature. This has been the constant teaching of our Church and her Popes for nearly two centuries, now.
Benedict XVI warned that the eclipse of God leads to the eclipse of the human person. Again and again he told us: when we forget God, we no longer see the image of God in our neighbour. Pope Francis makes the same point powerfully in Fratelli Tutti: unless we believe that God is our Father, there is no reason for us to treat others as our brothers and sisters. That is precisely the problem here.
This series is borrowed with thanks from Australian online Catholic magazine Mercatornet. Section headings have been amended by Christian Comment.