No longer judging the acts of men, we have morphed into people who can only judge the hearts of men.
The shallower we become in our religion, the more religious we become in our politics. This shallowness has left Christians susceptible to co-option by the merciless fundamentalism of the new Woke religion.
Before everyone on the Right was deemed a bigot, the bromidic pejorative of the day was accusing cultural conservatives of being “judgmental.” This epithet was deployed in the culture wars early and often to great effect on a weakening and waning mainstream Christianity.
Many were understandably fazed by it—after all Christianity preaches mercy, and the image of a finger-wagging Christian scold is unattractive. Most of us can easily imagine this Church Lady-type of person either because we’ve seen those SNL skits and a thousand other examples of that archetype in movies, or because we have encountered such a person to some degree in real life.
But there is a too-quickly dismissed distinction as old as Christendom that says we can judge an act, but not the heart of the actor. A spiritual discipline promulgated for centuries, the idea was that so seriously should we take the prohibition against judging the heart of another that, even if persons have clearly done something very wrong, and their actions cannot be excused, we should, to the extent we can, excuse their intent.
Perhaps they were reacting to a deep wound, or they were misled or confused or suffering in some way that mitigates their culpability. We cannot know the exact state of another’s soul at any given time, and that state often changes over time. Nor is it often our business to know who they are now, or what they became after the act.
But somewhere along the road of thinning theology and increasingly demagogic secularism, modern Christianity absorbed and internalized the message that “do not judge” in particular is synonymous with “do not acknowledge that acts can be right or wrong” in general. So successful has been the effort to brand morally normative statements as judgmental that many shepherds have become cowardly and their flock apathetic.
The effect has been exactly the opposite of what we might have supposed. By no longer judging the acts of men we have morphed into people who can only judge the hearts of men. We love the sin and hate the sinner—which is a much more insidiously judgmental posture. Both the beneficiary and originator of this campaign to brand proponents of an objective morality as judgmental is identity politics in its most current incarnation: The Woke.
Woke culture bears many resemblances to fundamentalist religions: unquestioned dogmas, avoidance of opposing ideas, us-versus-them mentality, and an instinct to be censorious.
Maybe the most eerie similarity is the way in which woke culture divides people into two camps: saved and unsaved, the latter without hope of redemption. The reaches of woke religion do not extend into the afterlife; Utopia is for this life, not the next. So too must it be with damnation, and so we distribute justice for heretics in the here and now. Their judge sentencing people to hell on earth is not a benevolent all-knowing God but an all-knowing woke mob able to cancel anyone with “omniscience” powered by old twitter feeds, obscure podcast missteps, or 30-year-old hearsay.
Recently, JK Rowling was roundly deemed a bigot for questioning the firing of Maya Forstater, whose sin was speaking the obvious truth that a man who thinks he is a woman is still, in fact, a man. As any charlatan will tell you, maintaining a pervasive deception is an uneasy business. A ruse requires persistent public affirmation, and dissent is an existential threat: Woke religion needs believers. To question its orthodoxy is an intolerable transgression, and examples must be made of the transgressors.
This repeated uncovering and ritualistic condemnation of the wrong set of words, even within a single tweet, quite effectively keeps people from seeing one another as nuanced individuals with faults and feebleness, vulnerability and promise. Instead, they think,“he is in this group…he is one of them.” Now and forever, amen.
What cannot make sense in this framework is something like the video that went viral of Brandt Jean extending mercy and forgiveness to ex-police office Amber Guyger after Guyger was convicted of killing Jean’s brother. In the depth of grief, he saw her personhood: “I love you just like anyone else…I want the best for you…the best would be give your life to Christ. Again I love you as a person and I don’t wish anything bad on you.”
Tellingly, the backlash to the sharing of this video—the objection that focusing on Jean’s message ignores the injustice at the core of the story—reveals how difficult a concept mercy is to the collectivist mind. The mercy the brother shows is powerful because of the depth of injustice, not in spite of it.
The siren call to collectivize guilt and dismantle cultural norms is nothing new. It is the same warmed-over and repackaged ideology that ended in millions of corpses in the last century. That so many Christians are faint-hearted in the face of this demagoguery is a sign of a weakness in virtue—weakness in both their intellectual and spiritual formation.
It takes courage to be free. The marriage of faith and reason in traditional Christian theology rejects both fundamentalism and Marxism. It is a comprehensive call to redemptive love—a love that contains with necessity both an objective moral order and radical mercy in a way that the depersonalization of collectivization cannot.
The way to combat the chaos and severity of woke culture is not by diluting the faith, but by deepening it.