The Church of the New American Awakening

Escaping the graceless moral scapegoating of identity politics

Editor’s Note: The following is the text of a lecture delivered at Bethlehem College and Seminary on March 31st, 2022.

§1. I come to you this evening not as a theologian, but as a political theorist who, after four decades of studying, teaching, and writing about the history of Western political philosophy, has concluded that the political crisis we face in America today takes the form of the spilling over into politics of half-living fragments of Christianity dissevered from the living body that once gave them abundant life and coherence; and that there will be no healthy politics in America without the religious renewal of America.

§2. Heirs of the Reformation understand themselves to have retrieved from the early Church an understanding of the catastrophe of sin and of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, which no Church can mediate. Our dates for this retrieval are 1517, the year Luther published his 95 Thesis, and 1536, the year Calvin published his Institutes of Christian Religion. This second great division of Christianity wrought by the Reformation, which divided Europe in two, after the first great division that severed the Eastern and Western Churches in 1054, was so devasting in its scope that thereafter the realm once called “Christendom” could only be referred to by its geographical location, “the West.” This wound has not healed. In America, a workable alliance between Reformation Christians and Roman Catholics has developed on any number of issues; but we would be deceiving ourselves if we did not acknowledge that each position themselves as the authoritative moral voice within America. My own view is that we are all now citizens together within our nation, but that if Reformation Christians do not pull themselves together, that Reformation deformation called identity politics—which I will here refer to the New American Awakening—will run roughshod over everything, and God’s long-patience with us will come to an end. You do not respond to a deformation of Christianity with secularism; you respond to it with an undeformed Christianity.

§3. But let us return for a moment to Europe. Several centuries after the split between Reformers and Roman Catholics, two deep wounds further weakened the West. To these wounds, Reformers seldom attend—but must, if they are to understand the current moment: the first was the French Revolution in 1789; the second was the Marxist Revolution, which we can date to the publication of “The Communist Manifesto” in 1848. On the face of it, each was a political event. This would be a superficial reading of their nature and animating force. The great nineteenth-century thinker, Alexis de Tocqueville, who gave us the classic work, Democracy in America (1835), rightly called the French Revolution, an “incomplete religion,” by which he meant that it less destroyed Christianity than replaced it with fragments of Christianity. “Liberty, equality, fraternity”—were these not the promise of a post-lapsarian order, complete with a new calendar, and without the social stratification that human societies always produce? The French Revolution: the communion of saints, without God. Marxists, no less contemptuous of Christianity than the French Revolutionaries, also promulgated an incomplete religion. Man, cast out of the Edenic splendor of primitive communism, stands now, because of the productivity unleashed by cruel capitalism, on the threshold of ending the penury of laboring amidst the thorns of creation for his daily bread. In the twentieth century, National Socialism and Fascism also ravaged Europe. These, however, were unlike the French Revolution and Marxism: they were not incomplete versions of Christianity; they were deliberately anti-Christian movements, which sought to reenchant the world by rekindling pagan tropes—the Volkseele, in the German case; and pagan Rome, in the case of Italy. They have faded. Reverberations of the first and second incomplete religions have not.

§4. Heirs to the Reformation have not paid enough attention to these two catastrophic incomplete religions. Many conservatives in America have focused inordinately on them. Indeed, the conservative movement of the twentieth century cannot be understood without reference to a stringent defense of “tradition” against the equalizing tendencies of French Revolution and Progressivism, that American movement also dedicated to the destruction of mediating institutions; and their unwavering hostility to the communist threat abroad. Today, America faces a far greater challenge, its gravest to date. Conservatives who have battled the first two incomplete religions of the French Revolution and Marxism have little understanding of what is now upon them, which is nothing less than the emergence of a third incomplete religion, namely, identity politics. They employ their old weapons. But they are useless against this new enemy. This new enemy has captivated one portion of America by its promise of a spiritually purified world. Another portion, knowing that such a world is not possible this side of heaven, is repelled by the hellish dystopian path we are now forced to walk to get there. Over these differing visions, neighbor is set against neighbor, wife against husband, sister against brother. Civil War a century-and-a-half ago saw one in forty-five Americans perish. So deep was its wound that no successive generation found cause to resume its carnage. What was unthinkable yesterday is today quietly whispered. Defenders of the new spiritual menace declare that the world is divided into irreconcilable tribes, more or less guilty depending on where they are positioned in relation to “Whiteness.” Your intersectional scorecard tells you, as not even your birth certificate can, who you really are. The truth is otherwise: Americans are now two distinct species, each an amalgamation of individuals with differing group affiliations, resolved-unto-death to live in different regimes, each toxic to the other, whispering the unthinkable. 

§5. What is the grave threat we now face? The most succinct formulation, easy to understand once the larger framework in which it achieves coherence is grasped, is this: we are living amidst a New Great American Awakening, this time without God and without forgiveness. The central feature of this third incomplete religion, which distinguishes it most clearly from its predecessors is that it immanentizes the scapegoat—a Christianity heresy—while at the same time affirmed that a scapegoat is necessary to take away the sins of the world—an article of Christian faith. What does this mean?

§6. Consider the First Great Awakening, and its emblematic 1741 Jonathan Edwards sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Man, tainted by sin, can only be saved by Christ, “the [sacrificial] lamb who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). Moral cleanliness and purity are unachievable by mortal effort alone. Everything this side of heaven is impure. Because uncleanliness cannot cleanse itself, only Christ, the divine irruption who is “without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19) can atone for man’s uncleanliness, and save him from the eternal fires of hell to which his uncleanliness condemned him. Man deserves neither fairness nor just compensation; what he deserves is death. If you have breath in you, anything less than thankfulness for every moment you live is monstrous pride.

§7. The contemporary iteration of that sermon, variants of which are preached daily across America by The New Elect, might be entitled “Irredeemables in the Hands of an Angry Mob.” This sermon is a ghastly distortion of the version Edwards preached in 1741. Then in Puritan America as now, man’s stain is the consuming issue. In the contemporary sermon, moral cleanliness and purity are not purchased by the scapegoating of Christ at Calvary, but rather by scapegoating another person or human group said to be responsible for the sins of the world. “Not all of mankind is unclean,” declare the New Elect, “just the White race. All the others gathered under the categories of People-of-Color, non-heteronormative, etc. are, in fact, clean. The one must pay; the other is to receive just compensation. Let us purge the unclean ones from our midst. And if you happen to be White, you must convince yourself and everyone else that not you, but rather those other White people, are filthy and irredeemably stained. They must pay, eternally, so that your White ledger balance carries no debt.” In the New Awakening, cathartic rage is directed toward Whiteness and all that it has wrought in human history. Through the cleansing that cathartic rage towards Whiteness achieves, America can be purified, its toxin purged from the body social. Cast one group into the eternal fires of hell so that other groups can be saved. “If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off” (Matt. 5:30). The New Elect are deeply offended. 

§8. How do the two Awakenings differ with respect to how they understand debt and payment? In the first Great Awakening, God’s grace and forgiveness heal man, cover over his filth, and cancel the debt owed to God that man could not pay. A divine gift alone cleanses the world and pays off man’s debt, so that tomorrow might be lived with a clean ledger. The audacious wager of the New American Awakening is that the gift of Christ’s blood sacrifice is meaningless, indeed, an embarrassment no one in good company need talk about. There are no gifts for which we should be thankful, no payment made on our behalf, no mercy that we must extend to others because it has been divinely extended to us, no promissory note, say, of the sort Abraham Lincoln or Rev. Martin Luther King had in mind, which can be paid in full in the future, if we live and act in good faith. Hope, faith, and charity are foolishness; “equity,” by which is really meant retribution, is the order of the day. Equity is the never-ending reminder to the irredeemables that their tomorrow will never be lived with a clean ledger. In the Church of the New American Awakening, justice involves the calculation of what one group permanently owes another, not the thankfulness man should show God every minute of every day that he has life and breath, which is beyond price.

§9. We must understand clearly where culpability lies in these two strangely related frameworks. For the Christian, for Jonathan Edwards, the convenient lie man tells himself is that he is innocent. The very first words uttered by Adam in Genesis (Gen. 3:12) reveal a creature who hides from his culpability. In the beginning, we might say, was the narcissist. “Look not to me, I am innocent; fault lies elsewhere. Do not disturb my good image of myself.” Catastrophe then follows upon catastrophe. The Bible is its chronicle. God brings the Law (for Jews) and the Gospel (for Christians) to rescue the heirs of Adam from the death-spiraling narcissism evident in the very first words Adam utters. The Law and the Gospel are irrelevant in the New American Awakening, however, and we must understand why. Like the First Great Awakening, the point of departure for the New American Awakening is Adam’s declaration, “I am innocent.” Instead of seeing through this ruse, and attributing culpability to everyone, without exception, its parishioners divide the world along racial and sexual lines, into those who are innocent and those who are not. During the First Great Awakening, the systemic problem of man was not “systemic racism,” but rather man’s universal uncleanliness and culpability, for which the Gospel Good News was the only antidote, and without which “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). The Adam and Eve of today’s New Great Awakening believe otherwise. They claim that they are innocent and without spot, that they are righteous, that the poisonous serpents all around them are culpable, and that the oppressive world created by Whiteness is the source of the anxiousness that assaults them like a hostile force they cannot appease. If only Whiteness can be purged, then they can get back to the business of living in their Edenic, innocent, world. In the Church of the New American Awakening, you do not wait for a legal system committed to the rule of law, however imperfect, to make determinations of guilt and innocence, because you know already that guilt has only one source, namely Whiteness. Every injustice has that as its cause. Legal justice is not enough, because legal justice is White justice. The New American Awakening demands a higher form of atonement than the rule of law can provide. If you have any doubt that this happening, peruse the websites of the top twenty law schools in America. The next generation of lawyers and judges is being taught the Law of Tribes. Destroy the Christian idea that we are all descendants of Adam, and you do not get a secular world of equality, you get the claim that we are all descendants of different tribes, each of whom deserves a different kind of justice.

§10. To see the ghastly coherence of identity politics, we must catalogue the scattered array of phenomena that we today witness, even if we cannot yet integrate them into a comprehensive framework. Critics of this New American Awakening have names for the many of its ritual enactments, some in jest, some serious—cancel culture, CRT, transgenderism, the New Green Deal, etc. This has provided Conservative Inc. with the slogans it needs to raise vast sums of money that now fills the coffers of its war chest and satisfy its donors. This enterprise cannot succeed. Of what use is money if its holders have no understanding of the war to be waged and the weapons needed to fight the twenty-first century enemy? What we first need is an account of the terminology of identity politics that reveals the larger whole to which each part contributes. Only then will we be able to see the real nature of the threat the New American Awakening poses, and arm ourselves against it.

§11. First, ponder the purge words invoked daily to mark and shame the irredeemables: “racist,” “hater,” “denier,” “fascist,” “Nazi,” “Islamophobe,” “transphobe,” “misogynist,” “homophobe,” “authoritarian,” and more recently, “insurrectionist.” These words carry with them the power to banish and to exile. That is their intended effect. Once they have been uttered, the comportment of both the accuser and the accused visibly changes. The accuser beams with the iridescent light of discharged rage; the accused slinks into the darkness, shamed by the leprosy of his irredeemable stain. An unbridgeable chasm between the two has opened up; they now stand on opposite sides of the impenetrable border wall within a community of which they were both members a few short minutes ago: on the one side, the purity; on the other, stain. What shall we make of this mortal effort to resolve the problem of man’s uncleanliness? Augustine long ago recognized that this uncleanliness admitted of no mortal resolution. In City of God, Bk. IX, Ch. 15, he wrote that only the God-man, Christ, could qua man, take on the poison of mortal life and, qua God, be an antidote to it. In The Trinity, Bk. IV, Ch. 4, §24, he wrote, “health is the opposite pole from sickness, but the cure should be half-way between the two, and unless it has some affinity with sickness it will not lead to health.” And in another place (Bk. VIII, Ch. 3, §7):

this indeed it is useful for us to believe and to hold firm and unshaken in our hearts, that the humility thanks to which God was born of a woman, and led through such abuse at the hands of mortal men to his death, is a medicine to heal the tumor of our pride and a high sacrament to break the chains of our sin.

Identity politics parishioners know that man has poisons within him that must be purged. Let us credit them that. Their manner of discharging them, however, falls short. Calling someone a “racist,” “hater,” “denier,” “fascist,” “Nazi,” “Islamophobe,” “transphobe,” “misogynist,” “homophobe,” “authoritarian,” or “insurrectionist” accomplishes nothing in the end—but does set up a temporary mortal electrical potential that discharges and gives the appearance of a clean separation between purity and stain. “You are dirty; I am clean.” The Christian knows better—and must now make a stand or capitulate to the madness of identity politics purge words. Purge words are cheap and ineffective ways to speak about man’s filth. Christians know, or should know, that a far more powerful cure, a Divine Cure, in fact, is needed. But these days, Christian fastidiousness reigns throughout America. No one wants to talk about man’s uncleanliness anymore. It is just this embarrassment within the churches that makes them impotent to speak out against identity politics, to declare that the purge words that are the currency of identity politics is cheap paper next to the gold standard of original sin that Christians can bank on, if only they could find the key to their lock box.

§12. Not unrelated to the phenomenon of purge words is the phenomenon of “cancel culture.” One day you are a citizen, the next day—having said or written something declared heretical by the Church of the New American Awakening—you become, as Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “a stranger among us.” The sum total of your contributions to society, the wealth of competence you have demonstrated—these suddenly count for nothing. In the ledger book of cancel culture, your assets cannot possibly pay off your transgression. Nor can you buy your way back into society with an apology and a promise to repent. As with original sin in Christianity, you now are burdened with a debt that is beyond measure, which you yourself can never repay, no matter how substantial your assets. The New American Awakening rules out the Gospel good news the First American Awakening offered, namely, that Christ will pay off your unpayable debt. There is no Gospel good news for the cancelled in the New American Awakening. However far it has defected from its original purpose, the aptly named penitentiary system was an organized attempt to provide prisoners with more than just an opportunity to pay off their debt to society. Through Christian faith, their stain would be removed. In the New American Awakening, those who are canceled are banished from society no less than are today’s prisoners, though without any chance of removing the stain that now blots their reputation. In the mixed-up world of the New American Awakening, the New Elect wish to grant instant clemency to existing prisoners and deny bail or parole to legally free citizens who have committed no crime. The New Elect are quick to invoke the God of Love when their attention turns to existing prisoners and, say, illegal aliens, who in their mind are but innocent victims. They are quicker to call down the wrath of the God of Judgement on those who refuse to abide by their fraud of feigned mercy. Cancel culture is the dark interior of the New American Awakening, which claims to be guided solely by the God of Love—until its all-loving parishioners call forth the God of Judgement to purge the irredeemables.

§13. Next, consider “virtue signaling.” The phenomenon is badly misnamed, which precludes us from understanding it. Virtue is of Greek philosophical origin. Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics is its most noble formulation. What we witness today in the New American Awakening is not feigned virtue, it is a frantic attempt to convey innocence in a world suffused with guilt, in the hope that death—here understood as social death—will pass over. This phenomenon is of biblical rather than Greek philosophical origin, and Christians need to shake themselves out of their slumber and declare that identity politics provides its parishioners with a cheapened account of our redemption from death. For the Christian, the pass over event is Easter. The somber Good Friday of sacrifice, in which Christ’s innocent blood is “shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28), is followed on Easter Sunday by the resurrected Christ, whose victory over death is imputed to man, so that the curse of death, occasioned by his sin, no longer befalls him. There is no mortal solution to the problem of death; innocence signaling will not save you, though tens of millions of Americans today are desperately looking for just this form of salvation. This cannot work. And yet Christians are silent on this matter—or, worse still, actually believe they can be saved by it.

§14. It is the Jewish Passover, however, that most clearly reveals the template for the innocence signaling that we now see everywhere—in our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches, in our media, in our corporations, in our foreign policy, etc. In the Hebrew Bible (Exod. 12:23), God’s deadly wrath passes over those Jewish homes on whose door frame has been painted the innocent blood of a sacrificed lamb. The public visibility of that marker of innocence saves them from death. All the rest perish. This lesson about who lives and who dies, and about how death—in our case social death—can be kept at bay is reenacted daily across America. All too many Americans, not knowing how to discharge their guilt, today reflexively commit themselves to the cause of social justice, say, by painting “Black Lives Matter” in large letters on the street in front of their house. Are they not thereby absolved of the charge of being racist? Does social death not pass over their houses because those nearby letters stand for the innocent blood of a sacrificed lamb—the death of George Floyd, for example? Across America today, citizens are transfixed on signaling their innocence. After they do so and social death passes them over, all too many return to their lives of inaction and slumber, content that they need do nothing more to address the real afflictions of the least among us. The New American Awakening has given us the frenetic moral posturing of innocence-signaling that monetarily lifts the weight of guilt, but does none of the long-term heavy lifting needed to solve the real problems of real people. The sickness in America with respect to the question of race is something we need to face head on. This wound has yet to heal. Identity politics parishioners pretend that that wound is their deepest concern—then promptly use the black American wound as a pretext and template for other “causes” like feminism, gay rights and, now, transgenderism. Once every four years, just before a national election, they beat the drums, declare that America is racist, tell black Americans that they alone “have their back,” and ignore real solutions for the next four years, but happily fund expensive government programs that assure that one portion of black America will remain permanently indentured to the state. “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” So wrote Eric Hoffer, in The Temper of Our Times (1967). The Great Society programs have become a racket. Innocence-signaling is the great moral fraud of our times. The New American Awakening alerts citizens to the centrality of race, then, through innocence-signaling, diverts the efforts of a large swath of the nation toward establishing who among us—forgive my language, here—can claim to be the right-kind-of-white-man, and who, by virtue of not having BLM signs on their front yards or refusing to take Anti-Racist or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training, is the-wrong-kind-of-white-man. This will never heal the race wound in America. Once black Americans were purchased, today in the Church of the New American Awakening they provide a service to the innocence-signaling portion of white America that needs to broadcast to those who are watching that it is not the-wrong-kind-of-white-man. Have we heard this before? Yes, we have:

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward (Matt. 6:5).

The street-corner prayers of today’s race hypocrites are BLM signs, Anti-Racist and DEI training sessions. They shall have their reward. There are ways to address a real and festering wound. Identity politics is not one of them.

§15. Fourth, there is the much-mocked phenomenon of “wokeness.” On the face of it, wokeness is indistinguishable from innocence-signaling. The person who is woke is signaling his innocence. But wokeness, as the name implies, pertains to awakening. From what do the woke awaken, and of what Christian insight is this but a cheap imitation? They awaken from the slumber of unexamined prejudices that purportedly inhere in all of the institutions in which they dwell. The woke, therefore, must transform those institutions, rename them, in fact. For the woke, for example, churches are referred to as “communities.” If you are greeted at the door with “welcome to our community,” you can be certain that the institution you are about to join has deliberately turned away from its proper purview. A woke Church, for example, will be at pains to distance itself from passages in the Bible that make its parishioners “uncomfortable”—a signal word in the woke vocabulary. It will claim that the sum-total of Christianity is social justice, and be at pains to explain away Christ’s words, “the poor will always be with you” (Matt 26:11.) For the difficult and revolutionary inner reorientation of the soul towards God that Christ announced has been substituted the outer social revolution Christ’s betrayer, Judas Iscariot, desired.

§16. A woke university will be at pains to distance itself from its time-honored mission of truth-seeking that will necessarily place it at odds with the prevailing prejudices of the age. Turn a university into a community, and it is transposed into an institution that reinforces the prejudices of the community. The longing for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful in Plato; penetrating reflections about nobility and wonder in Aristotle; the mystery of the soul and of God in Augustine—these authors and a handful of other once-in-a-thousand-year giants who invite us to explore the unknown territory beyond the borders our prejudices impose are, in the hands of the woke, purveyors of prejudice—Western prejudice, White prejudice—from which we must now awaken. The task of the woke university is to teach the articles of confession of the Church of the New American Awakening. Everything else is gothic flourish, soon to be chiseled away. While not yet forced to do so, professors, administrators, and students in colleges and universities across the country today are expected to bow before the golden calf the woke university community has fashioned. Woe unto the heretic who refuses community membership.

§17. What of woke capitalism? This development has caught defenders of the free market quite off guard. When the enemy abroad was communism and the threat within was Progressivism, conservatives and defenders of the free market made common cause. Together they endorsed a constitutional republic whose vibrancy was assured by the family, religious liberty, and by entrepreneurship. The free market entrepreneur, as we know, must attend to the ledger book that records profit and loss. There are many important things he must attend to, but if for long he fails attend to what that ledger book is telling him, his business folds. The Church of the New American Awakening presents the entrepreneur with another ledger book, one that registers guilt and innocence, and demands that he succeed by its measure or suffer social death. In order to be profitable now in a double sense, money must be made and innocence must be signaled. Under the banner of “corporate social responsibility,” woke capitalism today funnels vast sums of money to so-called social justice causes that purchase corporate innocence—BLM, “climate change,” etc. To be a legitimate business enterprise in America today, earning a profit is not enough; you must prove in your advertising, hiring and advancement practices, and in your philanthropic portfolio that you are not racist, not a “denier,” etc. 

§18. To these observations should be added another: the largest and most profitable business enterprises on the planet—the ones crony capitalism makes possible—have discovered that in order to avoid the scrutiny to which they would otherwise be subject, they need only signal their innocence in the ledger book the New American Awakening provides. Should we then really be surprised to learn, for example, that BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, which oversees ten trillion dollars of assets, is a leading advocate of “corporate social responsibility”? In what sort of world is it acceptable for a business enterprise to have that much power? The basic tenets of market commerce disallow it. Answer: in the woke capitalist world in which innocence-signaling in one domain buys you an exemption from scrutiny in another. Parishioners in the Church of the New American Awakening can become fabulously wealthy—and even actively seek to destroy their competition—provided they find cover from social death while they do so. “Never mind that inconvenience,” declare the Elect within the Church of the New American Awakening. “Come unto me all who are heavily burdened with wealth, and I will give you rest” (see Matt. 11:28).

§19. “Wokeness” seeks a second birth for our churches, our educational institutions and our business enterprises. The Christian has some familiarity with this idea of a second birth, but knows that the transformation it marks is an unmerited gift from God. God the Son imputes His righteousness unto the unworthy creature, man who, now justified, begins the long labor of sanctification. Until God returns in judgment, the world remains in no small measure fallen. That is not how the woke see the matter. They suppose that “woke” churches, schools, and businesses can become fully liberated from the stain that marked them by virtue of their first birth unto Whiteness. The second birth covers over their stain, so that no further evidence of the fallen world need remain. They—not God—will perform this once-and-for-all-time cleansing. The Christian knows in no uncertain terms that this amounts to man taking upon himself God’s office. The Christian knows in no uncertain terms that this is the sin of pride. God, not man, makes man’s second birth possible. Where are the Christians who will declare that they see through this charade?

§20. The fifth phenomenon that requires a comprehensive account is whimsically called TDS, or Trump Derangement Syndrome. This is not to be confused with sober dislike or disagreement, which half of the citizens of America will invariably display toward any given President. That would be normal politics. TDS is not incidental to the New American Awakening; it is a central feature, confirmed by the cathartic rage its parishioners exhibit toward former President Trump and those who voted for him. At the mention of his name, rational conversation ceases and purge words spew forth, not with the view to enriching the conversation, but with a view to terminating one conversation and beginning another one, perfectly rational in character, in which President Trump does not even exist. We do not need to be penetrating social critics to notice that there are two conversations happening in America today: one that can include Trump, and another one that cannot. We say America is “politically polarized,” but that only scratches the surface. Something much more fundamental than politics is being worked out here, and we need to get to the heart of it.

§21. Let us ask a serious question that TDS helps us pose: what is the relationship between rational conversation and cathartic rage? Pressing the question further, might the precondition for rational conversation be the successful discharge of cathartic rage toward a sacrificial offering? This idea is discomforting to the modern mind, for whom sacrifice is a barbarous relic of pre-modernity. Christianity, we must never forget, is pre-modern. Or rather, it is the fulcrum that separates pre-modern from modern. The interminable blood sacrifice in which the rage of the community was discharged on a victim in the pre-modern world was brought to a close by the Christian affirmation that Christ is the one sufficient sacrifice (Heb. 10:10-14), after which no further blood sacrifice was necessary. The very success of Christianity, in a word, was the cause of the modern incredulity and unease about sacrificial offering. Man could be reasonable because the need for ongoing irrational cathartic rage toward a victim had come to an end. This insight allows us to make sense of Augustine’s remark in The City of God (426) that Christ “freed man from the oppressive domination of demonic powers.” Much later, in The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695), Locke made a kindred claim: the precondition of enlightenment was Christ’s sacrificial offering. Later still, it might be said that because the Passion of Christ had accomplished its agonizing task of putting an end to sacrificial offering once and for all, Hegel could write without giving the matter a second thought that “reason is at the center of the Cross.” The Enlightenment does not mark a break from Christianity; it marks the victory of Christianity. So it appears, at any rate, if we start from the position that sacrificial offering for sin is the problem no human society can for long ignore.

§22. The Church of the New American Awakening walks back this astounding achievement. Here, the clearing of reason, to coin a phrase, shrinks and is intermittently entangled and overwhelmed by cathartic rage toward a mortal sacrificial offering. When the one sufficient offering of Christianity is replaced by a mortal scapegoat who must again and again be offered up as the object of cathartic rage, we witness a strange but predictable oscillation in those who suffer from TDS between moments of exemplary lucidity and moments of venomous irrationality. Nothing more characterizes TDS than this entanglement and oscillation. For those who suffer from TDS, the clearing of reason, like a sunny clearing in a dense, ever-encroaching jungle, must be carved out anew each day—hence both the revulsion toward and pathological 24/7 need to track and register everything President Trump said or did, so that rage may discharged. TDS may wane if former President Trump withdraws from public life. What will not wane is the entanglement of reason and cathartic rage so characteristic of the Church of the New American Awakening, the consequence of which is that there are only two kinds of conversations possible in America today: one that can legitimately include Trump without the discharge of rage, and another one that cannot. It is difficult to imagine how a political consensus, so necessary if we are to find workable domestic policies and face foreign foes abroad, can be forged under these circumstances.

§23. Sixth, we must give an account of the fixation within the Church of the New American Awakening on “dirty” fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide and “clean” green energy that supposedly does not. Scientifically speaking, carbon dioxide is neither clean nor dirty. It is a molecule containing one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms, whose combined molecular weight is 44.0095. Life on planet earth is almost entirely carbon-based, which means that carbon dioxide is an integral part of the carbon cycle on planet earth. Without this cyclical exchange of carbon, life would quickly perish. The human body is 18% carbon by weight. Carbon dioxide is .04% of the atmosphere. We breath in—and then we exhale 110 times that amount (4.4%) in every breath. We do so because our bodies dispose of the some of the carbon-based foods we eat by off-gassing carbon dioxide through exhalation, not unlike what a coal-fired power plant does through combustion. In the New American Awakening, carbon dioxide is the molecular embodiment of original sin. If it could be done away with, parishioners declare, the environment would be pure, and there would be no anthropogenic-caused death. “To become pure, to be absolved to the charge of environmental homicide, we must reduce our carbon footprint!” In the First Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards argued that “the wages of sin are death” (Rom. 6:23). In the New American Awakening, the wages of carbon dioxide are death. As Christ paid “a ransom” (Mark: 10:45) to redeem man from sin in the First Great Awakening, the cost of clean green energy is the ransom we must now pay to be cleansed of sin in the New American Awakening. 

§24. Is this science, or is it something else? No sensible American would disagree that we must be good stewards of our planetary home. Proper stewardship begins, however, with the understanding that purity is unachievable in a broken world. If we do not procure our energy from drilling for fossil fuels, we will get it from mining rare-earth minerals, imported largely from China, for solar panels and wind turbines. “Pollution”—we must attend to the theological overtone of this word—is unavoidable, because all of life is a burden on nature, a taking and a disturbing, which we cannot circumvent, except by never having existed in the first place. There is no imposition-free life. Having been cast out of Eden, “in the sweat of our brow we now labor” (Gen. 3:19), among nature’s thorns. That is our lot after the Fall. We cannot go back; we can only walk our path, recognizing our own culpability and regularly wondering whether what we take from nature is to nourish us as pilgrims seeking daily bread or as tyrants seeking dominion. In the Church of the New American Awakening, the stain of carbon dioxide and the “dirty” fossil fuels that produce it block our return path to Edenic purity. “Going green” supposes that filth—perhaps ultimately the filth that is man—can be purged so that the path can be unblocked. Like the other phenomena we have considered here, this one also locates fault in some other place than man’s own darkened heart. “Carbon dioxide molecules, hundreds of billions of tons of them, are the real culprit. Let us weave together a new economy, with new technology, so that like the fig leaves woven together by Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:7), our guilt can be covered and we can feign innocence.” So intimates the prideful New Elect. Man does not “save the planet” by fiddling with Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere; God saves man by purifying his heart.

§25. Seventh, consider the deeper meaning of the concerted effort to purge “toxic masculinity.” For what is masculinity a proxy in the New American Awakening? And what will be accomplished by purging it from the social body? During the First American Awakening, God the Father, the God of judgement, indicted man for his disobedience, and sentenced him to death (Gen. 2:17). Through the mercy of God the Son, man’s sentence was commuted. This sequence—judgement followed by mercy, infraction followed by forgiveness—is inscribed into creation, and cannot be tampered with without producing never-ending confusion. The New American Awakening intends to eradicate this sequence; it intends to purge the God of judgement, so as to produce a fatherless world, a world of mercy without judgement. Whether in the way parents raise their children or in the way citizens think about our national borders, parishioners in the Church of the New American Awakening declare that mercy must now altogether supplant judgement. Whatever their children declare—that they are allowed to be, to alter, or to have, without judgement or constraint. If illegal aliens want to cross our borders, they are invited in, without judgement. They are “dreamers,” not illegal aliens. Therein lies mercy.

§26. Can mercy exist without judgment? Here is a fateful question for our age. How we answer it will determine whether with sober confidence we declare thou shalt not in every arena of life or whether we abolish boundaries altogether. In the First Great Awakening, the answer was clear: judgement—Thou Shalt Not—comes before mercy. Absent God’s judgement against man, the merciful Gospel Good News that through Christ, there is a way back to God the Father, is meaningless and incoherent. No judgement, no mercy. There is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday. Mercy is a supplement to judgement, not a substitute for it. In the Church of the New Awakening, however, mercy is a substitute. This audacious claim cannot endure any evidence of its overreach. That is why masculine judgment is utterly toxic to its enterprise, and must be purged. No more grim decisions about life and death, no more winners and losers, no more wars, no more consequences for our actions, no more humiliating insults that toughen our resolve, no more necessary pains to be courageously endured in silence—except perhaps the humiliation that being masculine today invites. Instead, we must endure the unending faux-mercy that prepares The New Elect to be at once pathetically tender and tyrannically self-absorbed. When we purge judgement, we do not get unalloyed mercy; we get a fatherless world, a world without boundaries, in which mercy can never make an appearance. 

§27. Eighth, and finally, we must give an account of the fixation in the New American Awakening on “micro-aggressions” and “unconscious bias.” Within what framework is the idea that we are guilty without even knowing it make sense? The New Elect currently declare that racism is as deep as we need go to answer this question. To be White is to be racist; not to admit that is to confirm that you are a racist. Let us dredge up recent memories that have been covered over by the silt of racialism these past several years, and recall that during the Bret Kavanaugh Senate Confirmation Hearings in the Summer of 2018, every man in America went to sleep at night wondering if he was indeed a misogynist, a rapist-in-secret who needed to come clean and admit his guilt. Bret Kavanaugh was not one man, he was every man. The drama pertained to sex, but the courtroom verdict was the same: though you profess innocence, you are guilty. You are, after all, a man; and to be a man is to be a rapist, despite the fig leaves of apparent decency that cover your sin. 

§28. Misogyny was then. Racism is now. Soon, no doubt, we will be found guilty of micro-aggressions and unconscious bias against yet another category of Innocent Victims. One wave after another that crashes at your feet as you, a law-abiding citizen, walk along the beach, and feel your standing undermined. The sum total of your experience along with all of human history, overwhelmed and reconfigured by wave after wave, ad infinitum—each for a moment the focus of attention, only to be forgotten when the next wave comes in and undermines the sand you thought was firm and trustworthy. Do you not now see it off in the distance—the next wave that will crash on the shore and shift our attention away from mere misogynists and mere racists? The transgender wave. When it does, The New Elect will demand that the previous Innocent Victims of micro-aggressions and unconscious bias confess their full support for the next wave of Innocent Victims, even if it undermines their own footing. “We note that you are an African-American who labored on behalf of civil rights in the 1960s, who today defends the generative family and conventional Church, as did Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Alas, we have reached The Transgender Moment. The Church of the New Awakening must therefore now indict you for micro-aggressions and unconscious bias because you believe that sex is an actual category established by God rather than an oppressive contrivance to be repudiated. The families and churches you naively assert you need are guilty of thought crimes. Renounce them. Now. That is not a request; it is a command.” If you doubt this is happening, peruse the course catalogue of Black Studies departments around the country. A significant number of them now include courses on “Queer Studies.” You should not be surprised. Elite blacks in American higher education must publicly endorse women’s rights, gay rights, transgender rights, etc. Identity politics parishioners demand of this as the cost of their admission to the upper echelons of American society; they demand that the wound of black America be used for their purposes. Innocent victim one day; transgressor the next—unless you capitulate. That is the fate that awaits every parishioner in the Church of the New American Awakening. When fault lies outside of you, sooner or later someone will declare that you are source of the fault they refuse to acknowledge has its source within them. The irony cannot be overlooked: the Church of the New Awakening begins with the desire to make moral stain an “identity group” problem, in the mistaken belief that the world can be purified through group purgation. Absent the One-Sufficient-Mediator, the Divine scapegoat who takes away the sins of the world for all time, new groups will need to be offered up after the first one fades from view. In the end, you who thought you were pure and needed no Divine rescue are nailed to the cross and humiliated. The Christian understands things differently: you are a sinner—who is saved by God the Son, who was humiliated and nailed to the cross for you.

§29. Can the impenetrable darkness in the human heart that micro-aggressions and unconscious bias purport to disclose be revealed by the erosive action of wave after overwhelming wave—sex yesterday, race today, transgenderism tomorrow? This is the grim pseudo-moral project now underway in the Church of the New American Awakening. Had talk of micro-aggressions and unconscious bias emerged during the First American Awakening, it would have been dismissed as pathetical and superficial. Sin, Christians of an earlier age would have said, is original. Sin already resides in you before you are man or woman, this race or that race, etc. Hide though you may behind the purported innocence that membership in this or that identity group grants you, your problem cannot be traced to being either a man or a woman, to being either black or white, etc. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The Church of the New American Awakening deceives itself. “We must fight against racial micro-aggressions and unconscious bias,” its parishioners declare. The Christian who is Adam’s heir laughs at this pompous moralism that wades into waist deep waters where man can stand without assistance and bob up and down on waves that then undermine the footing of those who walk along the shore. There are far deeper waters than these proud parishioners know, which produce drowning waves and turbulent seas that wash over man and compel him to cry out for rescue. Divine rescue. Where are the Christians today who know this, who dare say, without embarrassment, that sin is a problem so grave and mortally irresolvable that God the Son had to rescue man from its drowning waves? Alas, Christians long ago waded up to the warm sandy beach and encamped there. They grew tired of swimming, tired of their never-ending dependence on God’s rescue. They are Adam’s heirs, who still feel guilt; but they have forgotten sin’s depth. About those waves that crash on the beach, they should say, “You are the faint afterwards of titanic storms farther out to sea. Our problem is not micro-aggressions and unconscious bias toward this or that category of persons, as you naively imagine; our problem is original sin, which corrupts our understanding of ourselves, of all others, and of God, and which cries out for Divine rescue. Good Friday and Easter Sunday encapsulate the whole drama of man’s brokenness and his redemption, the depth and glory of which you have only the slightest understanding.” 

§30. Alas, Christians today, walking along their sandy beaches safe from distant turbulent seas, do not say that. Easter is for them but another feast day, nothing more than the spring bookend to the fall feast of Thanksgiving, which they may not understand either. They have forgotten how to say what they once knew by heart, forgotten that the first clause of the third paragraph of the Nicene Creed—“for us and for our salvation”—hands them, as a gift, the only answer that tomorrow can end the charade that is the Church of the New Great American Awakening, a Church that elicits Christian guilt not for the purpose of directing man’s heart to the Divine rescue he desperately needs, but for the purpose of extinguishing the American regime altogether.

§31. In these remarks, I have brought together a host of phenomena that many of us now intimate are related, but do not yet grasp are pieces of a larger comprehensive project. Purge words, cancel culture, innocence-signaling, wokeness, TDS, the fixation on “clean” energy, the desire to eradicate “toxic masculinity,” along with claims about the perils of micro-aggressions and unconscious bias—what gathers all these together into a coherent whole is the Church of the New American Awakening that commands our national attention. Its liturgy involves the anxious attempt to secure purity in an impure world, by scapegoating someone or something out there, so that parishioners may declare themselves to be “without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19). Christians who believes that sin is original, that only Christ is without blemish or spot, can see in the host of phenomena the New American Awakening present a shallow apparition of Christianity itself. It is an incomplete religion. As such, they have the antidote to the poison. Most Americans today, however, are nominal Christians, who feel Christian guilt without understanding its depth. For them, original sin and Christ’s sacrificial offering are an embarrassment. They do not have the antidote to the poison; they have only the poison. Some are devout parishioners in the Church of the New Great Awakening, who scapegoat in order to purge the poison. Others stricken by the poison know that the cost of never-ending scapegoating is the destruction of the American regime itself and, so resist. But with what weapons can they resist? The rhetorical weapons that brought them victory during the Cold War are of little use in this battle. We are not fighting Marxism or the French Revolution and its spiritual heir, Progressivism, those first two incomplete religions to plague the West in the aftermath of the Reformation; we are fighting the third incomplete religion, this time over the meaning of sin and how we achieve redemption. The fate of the American regime now hangs on the question of whether we can recover the whole of the Christian understanding from which the Church of the New American Awakening offers fragments and pale imitations. For parishioners of this later Church, the redemption of the America regime can only be achieved by the destruction of the American regime. Christianly understood, it would seek the destruction of “the old man” so that “the new, spiritual, man” may emerge (Eph. 4:22-24). These parishioners, however, have something else in mind than a birth unto the spirit. As it is now being worked through in the soul of America, every major action-item of the political party that houses the Church of the New American Awakening, without exception, intends redemption through destruction. Pushback against national borders; the unwavering insistence that fundamental political and economic transformations are necessary to address Climate Change; the disgust with “dirty” fossil fuels; the demand for wealth redistribution; the suspicion of and outright hostility to the idea of equal treatment under the law, and the resolve that every mediating institutions in which citizens gather must be altered so as to become “inclusive”—all of these have at their root the supposition that the nation-state, market commerce, the petro-chemicals that fuel it, the conventional generative family, our civic institutions, and our religious institutions are unclean and must be purged. This is not politics, this is a religious quest to establish a sacrificial offering that takes away the sins of the world. As such, our problem in America today admits of no political solution. Either there will be a Christian reawakening in America that provides a feast to replace the crumbs offered by the Church of the New American Awakening, or America will perish. America hungers. Who will feed it?

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Joshua Mitchell

Joshua Mitchell is professor of political theory at Georgetown University. His research interest lies in the relationship between political thought and theology in the West. He is also an avid conservationist, committed to stewardship on his small farm on the Eastern Shore, and is working on the development of the next generation of solar-electric sailboats. His most recent book is American Awakening: Identity Politics and Other Afflictions of Our Time (Encounter Books).