The phrase “being woke” has become synonymous with radical progressive ideologies including transgender activism, Critical Race Theory, and often neo-Marxist policies. Those not viewed as woke often become targets of the so-called “cancel culture,” wherein unfavorable views are rejected, marginalized, and silenced.
The enemy of the woke is the faith and the family, according to Noelle Mering, author of Awake, Not Woke: A Christian Response to the Cult of Progressive Ideology. Mering joins host Traci DeVette Griggs on this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters to discuss her new book, and why this woke movement is so dangerous.
Mering argues that these progressive ideologies and “woke-ness” are actually far more like a cult than a political movement. “It closely mimics a more fundamentalist, kind of almost extreme, cult-type of religion, where there is silencing, shaming, and it’s very dogmatic and unreasonable.”
Unfortunately, Mering argues that many people seeking to do good are drawn into the woke movement because they see it as an area to fight very real injustices in our nation. “But if you read the literature,” says Mering, “the goal is really far more radical […] It’s more or less a Marxist principle: that we can engineer society so that we have this certain result without any reference to human freedom or human agency.”
This is why Christians have to make sure to press into these areas of division and disagreement, argues Mering. “We are called as Christians to walk with the marginalized, walk with the oppressed […] Those are true and right precepts.” So, in order to fight corruption of these truths, “we have to be really careful that we are not dismissing issues of injustice because we see it being the territory of the woke.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Noelle Mering share more about the “cult” of the woke, and how Christians can navigate these difficult times, in Part 1 of a 2-part show.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Many of us look around our society today and become discouraged by the far-reaching tentacles of radical progressive ideologies that are so pervasive in everything from schools to legislatures to communities and even some churches. So how should Christians respond?
Well Noelle Mering, a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, editor of the Theology of Home website, and wife and mother of six children, joins us today to discuss that and her newest book. That book is entitled Awake, Not Woke: A Christian Response to the Cult of Progressive Ideology.
Noelle Mering, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
NOELLE MERING: Thank you so much. Great to be here.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay, so first of all, you call this a cult. So that’s pretty strong language. Why do you think that’s the case?
NOELLE MERING: I picked the word cult because I do think that this is more than a political movement. I think that it really is aiming to ultimately replace Christianity, not necessarily in the minds of its adherents, who are oftentimes motivated by goodwill and justice and compassion and rightfully so. But the ideology itself takes those good motivations and introduces all sorts of conclusions that are really contradictory to the faith. It really sort of mimics the faith, though, in it’s being ritualistic, but more closely mimics a more fundamentalist, kind of almost extreme, cult-type of religion, where there is silencing, shaming, very dogmatic, unreasonable, which is very different, obviously, from what Christianity is meant to be, which is united with reason, open to the truth, open to other people, not censorious. So it mimics a cult in those ways. I go into it more deeply in the book, but that was sort of the outline of the reason for that word.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So just to back up and talk about the fact that you’re not trying to say that there aren’t injustices in the world that need to be fixed, right? It’s just the manner by which these people are going about trying to fix the injustices.
NOELLE MERING: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So I think it really operates on Christian precepts initially, and that’s in part why it is so confusing. Why I wanted to write the book is kind of to sift through what’s actually happening, because we are called as Christians to walk with the marginalized, walk with the oppressed, and walk with the suffering. Those are true and right precepts, but it takes those good premises and then inserts ideological conclusions that ultimately kind of—in a very dogmatic way—interpret what love looks like and how we help the oppressed, how we help the suffering in a way that is antithetical to the Christian method of doing that. Ultimately that doesn’t even help the people that it fundamentally claims to help, and so I think it does far more harm than good in that way. That was really my motivation for writing this.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Speaking of doing harm, do you think that some Christians even may shy away from some of these very important issues because of the way that it’s being presented by this woke crowd?
NOELLE MERING: Yeah, I think that’s true. I think that there’s a tendency to be reactionary, especially in today’s world where things are so polarized and so divided. So I think as Christians, we have to be really careful that we are not dismissing issues of injustice because we see it being the territory of the woke; that’s actually completely untrue and historically inaccurate. The church has always advocated against injustice and walked with the suffering, so I don’t think that we can have that response. But we do have to be very careful because so much that’s done in the name of justice these days is actually social justice; it’s this woke ideology that fundamentally kind of reduces people down to being totems of a group and also rejects natural law and embodied reality in ways that are very harm harmful to our culture.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: We’ve mentioned this word woke. Do you know where that came from? And is it as radical as we often hear?
NOELLE MERING: Yeah, so the word “woke” initially arose in reference to racial injustice and the idea of just being awake and attuned to the layers of oppression in society. But it’s since expanded to include areas of all the sort of hot button and justice issues: feminism, gender issues, sexuality, transgender issues. It really has become an umbrella for what I go into the book is sort of a neo-Marxist and neo-Freudian and postmodern kind of stew that, all combined, creates this sort of woke movement, which is really aiming to destabilize us from embodied nature and also from one another. I think fundamentally it’s a movement of rupture; it grows through creating this right consciousness, where we become aware of how much we’re hated or how much hatred we have in our hearts, and then try to agitate for a revolution, for social change. But it’s not a social change that’s built on a common humanity or common narratives or shared brotherhood and sisterhood as we would want it as Christians, but rather as a revolution that’s based on division.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So what do you think the ultimate goal is of this revolution then? What’s your conclusion on that, or do you have one?
NOELLE MERING: Well, I think it probably depends on who you’re talking to. I kind of intimated earlier that I think you might have a friend who is woke or a neighbor or an Aunt Susan, and they generally just want truly to alleviate the injustice in the world. But if you read the literature, the goal really is far more radical. It’s oftentimes equity, equity of outcome, which is more or less a Marxist principle—that we can engineer society so that we have this certain result without any reference to human freedom or human agency. In order to do that, you really have to kind of break down what a human person is. This was in Maoist China, Stalinist Russia; the idea that human nature can be fundamentally deconstructed and then rebuilt according to this utopian vision. That’s what I see happening with the woke movement, and this is why gender ideology is so big because the best, most effective tool for breaking down a person’s understanding of what he or she is is to confuse them about what they are so fundamentally in their embodied reality. To distance themselves even from their body ultimately means their body is meaningless, which we know as a bodied people that that means then, therefore, we are meaningless. It’s really underneath it a very despairing, nihilistic ideal.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: I’m sure we have some young people who are listening, and I’m often surprised when I talk about Marxism or socialism, that they don’t necessarily see what the problem is with that. So can you talk just very briefly about why you think that’s a danger, if we’re going in that direction?
NOELLE MERING: I agree with you; I see that problem too. Truly, other people have said this before, communism should be understood to be as much of a pejorative as Nazism. There’s no reason to think that communism is any better. In fact, the body count is higher. So, I think it’s dangerous because we see every time it’s been implemented the same pattern. Because it’s an ideology that’s based on a totalizing, one filter the way we see each other—and in this case, the lens of power, that we’re supposed to see all human relationships, all human dynamics through the lens of power—it creates this opportunity for this endless power struggle where people are suspicious of each other, where they are … being hurt by someone else. So it prompts you to look for ways in which you’re harmed and to find virtue and moral stature in that. It creates a culture of accusation, and every time it’s been implemented, it’s the same thing. Because it is built on so many fundamental lies, it has to maintain power by coercion, silencing, propaganda, because it’s not fundamentally oriented towards the truth. The truth is the thing that frees us to pursue; we’re free to pursue the truth if we have truth as our goal. If we have power as our goal, then it becomes far more coercive, far more quickly.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Okay, well, you’ve been talking about the harm that this ideology can do. Are there certain areas of our culture and society that you find have been the most hurt so far because of this?
NOELLE MERING: Oh gosh. I mean, so many! I think that one of the things I see that’s been the most harmful is that it creates a whole host of social pathologies. So, in the literature, over and over again, what you see from Marxism to the woke, is that the enemy to social justice is the faith and the family. You see that there’s been a real goal to break down society by and through the avenue of breaking down the family. What that does is it creates a whole host of wounds, creates a whole population of wounded people because you encourage licentiousness in men; that creates a lot of distrust and hardening, callousing of women, and then children who are rebellious. It hurts every person in society to reduce the family in this way for the sake of revolution.
So I think the people who are most hurt by it are probably the most vulnerable: children. Children not having that fundamental stability that can equip them to walk into the world with a competence and a safety, knowing that they are known and loved at the first, most fundamental level as children. Those are wounds that don’t heal easily, but they also further the cause of the ideology, because it’s far easier to radicalize someone who is deeply wounded because you play into those wounds. It’s much easier to see the world as being this oppressive place when you have been deeply hurt. So then you lock into, you become like this reed blowing in the wind; you’re not rooted, you’re not grounded, and it’s very easy to get swept up into these things. But it’s not helpful and it doesn’t lead to happiness. So, you know, I think that we have to, as Christians, find some way to speak into those wounds with love, but also with truth. I think people are hungry for the true truth and for purpose, and that’s what we have to offer.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you have six children, right?
NOELLE MERING: I do.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: What is the oldest of your children?
NOELLE MERING: 22; our oldest daughter is 22, down to 9.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So you’re dealing with this, I’m sure, every day. I mean, your children aren’t immune from this. So how do you suggest as parents, what do we do? What are some strategies that we could employ?
NOELLE MERING: That’s a great question. We were very fortunate by having a great school where they have been kind of buffered from a lot of this stuff, but it’s impossible to be totally buffered. I think that social media should be severely restricted. I don’t let my kids do any social media until they’re 18, then at that point, they’re adults and they can. But I think that one of the most important things we have to do is we have to be presenting a positive vision. So we cannot be families that are constantly defensive or afraid of the world or in sort of a crouch of fear. We need to be confident in what we have to offer, and teach our kids a really positive message, even just through the way we lead our daily lives. It should be one that’s cheerful and positive and bright and encouraging a family culture where we do fun things together; we have interesting conversations, we’re honest with each other, we talk about these types of things. We’ve always talked with our kids about all of the sorts of cultural issues from the time it was age appropriate. But I think that that sort of positive understanding, where it’s a lived understanding of the beauty of family life, carries far more weight than just a propositional understanding of what the importance of family is. We have to actually live it, embody it in our own family.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You mentioned presenting a positive vision, and then you also said you’ve talked a lot about a cultural issue. So how do you do that? How do you present difficult and ugly parts of our history in our country, while also showing, say, the brilliance of our Founding Fathers? How do we go about finding that balance, do you think?
NOELLE MERING: Yeah, that’s a great question. A lot of it would just be prompted by something they’re reading in school or something that was happening on the news, so just sort of natural conversations as they came up. We would try to pay attention to those, what they were kind of thinking about and interested in, and then see how we could have a productive conversation about that. My husband loves reading American history, and so he would talk with the kids a lot about just the formation of the country, Founding Fathers, and their school was great about that too. But I just think organically, naturally, as they might come across something just floating around the ether in our society about whatever’s happening in politics, or just inquiring about what they’re reading at school—that prompts a lot of great discussion.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You’ve mentioned education and your children’s school several times. I know that my kids were in public schools when they were coming up. I’m a grandmother now, and I start to look at her parents sending her to public schools, and I don’t even want her in elementary schools now, public elementary schools. Is that overstating the case or is it seeping down to even the levels of kindergarten and first grade, do you think?
NOELLE MERING: I do think so, and I don’t think that’s overstating the case. It’s hard in a way to have the conversation because it feels reactionary, even hearing myself speak about it. But I do feel like it’s gotten to a point where it’s escalated so quickly. I grew up going to public schools too; I think it’s very, very different now. So I think that we have to be really not complacent and really aware and involved if we are sending our kids to a public school. There’s going to have to be a lot of parental involvement as far as they’ll let that happen, and if not, I would pull my kids. If it seems to be a school where the parent involvement is not welcomed, then I think we have to look for alternatives, because it has become so agendized so often at school. It’s not in all schools and there’s great teachers in different places, and so there’s all sorts of nuances and qualifiers there. But if I’m going to speak about it generally, I would say that I would be pretty wary at this point.
– END PART ONE-