Beware of the ‘Woke’!

Michael Warsaw

Michael Warsaw is the Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the EWTN Global Catholic Network, and the Publisher of the National Catholic Register.

A NOTE FROM OUR PUBLISHER: Archbishop José Gomez’s timely observations point to the intrinsic shortcomings of these contemporary ideologies that lately have become so prominent in our national discourse.

Archbishop Jose H. Gomez pauses after leaving flowers at the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe during the Archdiocese of Los Angeles' 89th Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Mass and procession at the San Gabriel Mission in San Gabriel, California, December 6, 2020.
Archbishop Jose H. Gomez pauses after leaving flowers at the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe during the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ 89th Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Mass and procession at the San Gabriel Mission in San Gabriel, California, December 6, 2020. (photo: Patrick T. Fallon / AFP/Getty)

Michael WarsawPublisher’s NoteNovember 13, 2021

Recently, Archbishop José Gomez of Los Angeles, the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, offered an important set of observations about the rise of new secular ideologies and movements for social change in the United States and the implications for the Church. 

It’s a critical theme to address, given how much political power the followers of these ideologies and “woke” social-justice movements have accumulated. So it’s no surprise that these same people were vocal in challenging what he had to say.

Archbishop Gomez explored this “serious, sensitive and complicated topic” in a video address to Spain’s Congress of Catholics and Public Life. 

He described how these latest ideologies are situated in the context of “broad patterns of aggressive secularization,” which have given rise to an “elite leadership class … that has little interest in religion and no real attachments to the nations they live in or to local traditions or cultures.” 

We have seen the dominant sway this elitist group holds over government, universities, the media and public corporations. 

As the archbishop points out, they seek to displace “old-fashioned belief systems and religions” — especially Christianity — in pursuit of a new “global civilization” dedicated to consumerism and guided “by science, technology, humanitarian values, and technocratic ideas.” And “political correctness” and “cancel culture” are the weapons these elites use to silence faithful Christians and achieve their secularist agendas.

Archbishop Gomez dates the hold these ideologies have had back many years but acknowledges that recent events — the pandemic, social isolation, and the tragic deaths of unarmed Black men and women by police officers — have accelerated some negative trends. 

He laments that the overarching response to racial and economic inequalities and injustices has sought to excise Judeo-Christian belief from the social framework. He makes clear the suffering caused by inequities needs to be addressed and the serious problems that contribute to injustice corrected. 

However, he also insists that Christianity can’t be replaced by new “political religions” that attempt to rewrite the Christian narrative of creation, fall, and redemption into eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross with a purely secular “salvation narrative” that relies too heavily on Marxist-inspired liberation theologies and echoes Manichean and Pelagian heresies that Pope Francis warned us against in his 2018 exhortation on the call to holiness, Gaudete et Exsultate

Ultimately, the critical theories and the many movements that have spun off of them have a fundamental flaw in terms of attaining their own goals: Because of their militant atheism, they can’t perceive the image of God in all of our neighbors. “In denying God, these new movements have lost the truth about the human person. This explains their extremism and their harsh, uncompromising, and unforgiving approach to politics,” said Archbishop Gomez, identifying this approach as “causing new forms of social division, discrimination, intolerance, and injustice.”

Archbishop Gomez’s timely observations point to the intrinsic shortcomings of these contemporary “woke” ideologies that lately have become so prominent in our national discourse. 

As I noted previously in this space, these same secularists and anti-religious perspectives constituted the core of the Democratic Party’s political vision during the 2020 election, and they have remained central to the party’s governing vision since the Democrats’ narrow presidential and congressional victories last year. 

This is a vision that seeks to exclude God and to replace eternal truths with new imperatives as it morphs to accommodate the ever-expanding demands of key progressive constituencies like abortion and “LGBTQ+” lobbies. This vision is perhaps even more pronounced among advocates of critical race theory, which posits that all of U.S. history is fundamentally the story of racist oppression and proposes “remedies” sourced from the theory’s explicitly Marxist underpinnings. It’s a highly controversial vision, to put it mildly, and the Democratic Party’s unexpected setbacks in this month’s state elections in Virginia suggest that a strong national pushback against this profoundly irreligious narrative may now be taking shape. 

While that remains to be seen, Virginia’s political backlash against “woke” overreach almost certainly contributed to the harsh criticisms that Archbishop Gomez’s remarks have provoked from some “progressive” Catholic commentators. 

In particular, these critics contend, the USCCB president was turning a blind eye to the social cancer of racism, which has held a central place in U.S. political and cultural discourse since George Floyd’s death in May 2020.

Such criticisms completely miss the mark. These agenda-driven media accounts bury the fact that Archbishop Gomez framed his entire discussion within an emphatic acknowledgment that Floyd’s death had shown that racial inequality remains “deeply embedded in our society.” 

Furthermore, the message the archbishop delivered was far more nuanced than these media caricatures would imply. 

As on earlier occasions when he has spoken publicly about these matters, he strongly supports an authentically Catholic pursuit of social justice, one that assigns top priority to eradicate the stain of racism from the fabric of U.S. society, as well as from individual hearts and minds. 

At the time of George Floyd’s death, he condemned his killing as “a sin that cries out to heaven for justice,” and it’s no accident that the release of the USCCB’s pastoral statement against racism, “Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love,” was published not long before Archbishop Gomez’s election as USCCB president in November 2019.

So, to any fair-minded observer, it should be obvious that Archbishop Gomez wasn’t downplaying the urgency of combating racism in his critique of secular ideologies and social justice movements. Instead, he was emphasizing that effective responses to major social-justice issues must be grounded in faith — a point that Pope Francis has emphasized forcefully throughout his pontificate. 

“Others drink from other sources,” the Holy Father declared in Fratelli Tutti. “For us, the wellspring of human dignity and fraternity is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

This supernatural perspective, anchored in our love of God, is what’s missing from the secular progressive vision. 

And as 2,000 years of Christian history categorically confirms, this love of God is what inspires the profound love of neighbor that we need to engage and seek to overcome social inequities. 

In this respect, Archbishop Gomez appropriately cited Father Augustus Tolton and Dorothy Day as a pair of striking examples of faithful Catholic Americans who modeled this undivided love of God and of their earthly neighbors.

Archbishop Gomez’s address to the Congress of Catholics and Public Life is something that U.S. Catholics should reflect upon and take to heart, as we seek God’s grace to reform both ourselves and our society in the face of the secularist challenges that confront us every day.