The Great Awoke-ening Is Here!
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions…
Brethren, Sisters, and Non-Gender-Specific Siblings, hear me: there is a new movement in town. It is spreading like wildfire…like…er, not to be indelicate, a virus. And nothing after this will ever be the same. For good or ill, like it or not, your mind has been changed.
I don't mean you have to agree with all of the new movement's precepts. Or feel that it is a positive development. In fact, you may resent and resist with might and main. Carp all you like, but the cultural, philosophical, and ethical underpinnings of our civilisation are in the process of undergoing a sea change. Public discourse will not be the same.
I make no statement or claims about the content of this alteration in the group mindset. Obviously, some insights are better than others. I refuse to engage with those who fail to heed the warning of Koheleth:
Say not thou, What is the cause that the former days were better than these? for thou dost not inquire wisely concerning this.
It's here, it's clear, don't jeer, just cheer. Get over it. In the immortal words of Barenaked Ladies, it's all been done before. Those Canadian singers know their history.
Of Great Awakenings: What They Do, What They Don't
Ben Franklin was impressed by the First Great Awakening when it happened in Philly.
It was wonderful to see the Change soon made in the Manners of our Inhabitants; from being thoughtless or indifferent about Religion, it seem'd as if all the World were growing Religious; so that one could not walk thro' the Town in an Evening without Hearing Psalms sung in different Families of every Street. . . .
Ben goes on to say that when he heard George Whitefield, the superstar British Invasion preacher of the day, he purposely left his money at home so he wouldn't be tempted to give to any of his charities…but then had to borrow money from his neighbour. Ben was a professional humorist. He's also being disingenuous: George Whitefield was staying at his house. When Ben offered to put him up, because he liked him, Whitefield praised God for putting it in Brother Franklin's heart to help him save on expenses. Ben, who wasn't much into formal religion, replied in effect, 'Could you just say thank you, George, and leave the Deity out of it?'
The Great Awakening made people treat each other better. It is considered by historians to be one of the two major causes – along with the Enlightenment – of popular support for the American War of Independence and the creation of the United States. And yes, the Great Awakening caused people to sing hymns, talk a lot about religion, and cry in public. You can't have one without the other.
The Great Awakening wasn't caused by George Whitefield or any other preacher. Or by a particular book, not even the Bible. It just sort of…happened one day when Jonathan Edwards preached a sermon. Edwards didn't have anything to do with it: he wasn't trying to start anything. In fact, he was a really boring preacher. He had a terrible speaking voice. Here he was, droning on about hell. And it was about as interesting as algebra class. Sure, the sermon title, 'Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God', sounds really exciting, but most of it reads like this:
The observation from the words that I would now insist upon is this,
There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell, but the mere pleasure of God.
By the mere pleasure of God, I mean his sovereign pleasure, his arbitrary will, restrained by no obligation, hindered by no manner of difficulty, any more than if nothing else but God’s mere will had in the least degree or in any respect whatsoever any hand in the preservation of wicked men one moment.
In other words, this squeaky-voiced character was reading an academic paper intended for canon lawyers. And yet…all of a sudden, people began sobbing. They were totally overcome with emotion. They started repenting in droves: loudly, emotionally, and not at all in a staid New England manner. It didn't have anything to do with Jonathan Edwards' smooth delivery. In fact, Jonathan Edwards had just proven the Apostle Paul right.
For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.
1 Corinthians 1:21 [And yes, nitpickers, it does say foolishness, μωρια ς ]
It was time for the Great Collective Conscience of humanity to wake up and smell the dark roast. And if the only instrument available to channel the group awakening was a sharp-nosed Congregationalist, so be it. It wasn't the first or the last time that human revival broke out. And, like all such revivals, it had its good side and its bad side. It had its fans, its superfans, its backlash, and its detractors. But once the Great Awakening had happened, nobody in the western world could talk about things the same as before.
Movements like this are kind of like those caltrops they put at the exits of parking garages: you know, the ones where, if you try to back up, you'll tear up your tires? It's like that. People, you ain't never getting back to 1990 again. So get used to it.
There was another Great Awakening after the first one. Yes, things got so bad in upper-state New York that one area was called the Burnt-Out District, because the religious fervour was like a forest fire up there. You may deplore this: Robert Ingersoll did, because he grew up in it and it destroyed his family. You may, or may not, be thrilled to learn that the Second Great Awakening gave us Christian Science and the Mormon church. But it also gave us abolition and women's rights movements. When people as a whole get 'woke', they tend to have both good and bad ideas.
So: do you hate 'political correctness'? Get over it. Does it rot your socks when people want to tear down statues, even if you don't know the guy on the statue from Adam's housecat? Just turn the page, friend: that's what human history is doing.
I realised we were in the middle of a new 'great awakening' yesterday. That's when I went on Twitter in the morning and read that some young woman I'd never heard of was quitting her voiceover job for a cartoon character because she didn't believe that she, as a white woman, should voice a mixed-race character who identified as Black. The day before, I'd learned that the Associated Press wants us to capitalise Black now. I'm glad to comply – I pay attention to these things as an editor. Then, in the evening, I peeked in on Twitter again, only to read that the Dixie Chicks (they're a music group, them I know) were now The Chicks because, you know. And I did know.
We no longer wish we was in the land of cotton, and old times there may soon, finally, mercifully, be forgotten. Or at least, remembered with a bit of perspective. Trevor Noah was perplexed at the preemptive network move to stop streaming Gone with the Wind. I'll bet he hasn't seen it four times. I have, and I know why somebody remembered that film and winced.
The wincing is the key. You know the saying, 'Once you see it, you can't un-see it?' This is happening to people all around the world, all at the same time. They're seeing, and they can't un-see. We can tell, because they are spontaneously doing things, by their own choice, to distance themselves from their former way of thinking.
And yes, sure, it's driving everybody who hasn't caught the virus yet just about insane. Which is why they aren't reacting too well. If all they do is carp, that's the safest option. But occasionally, violence is the result of all this cognitive dissonance. Something is changing, and they don't like it. Yeah: back in the 17th Century, English families were torn apart by the rebellious teenagers who insisted on joining the Quakers. The boys wouldn't fight! They wouldn't pick up a gun except to go hunting! They started calling everybody 'thou', even their betters, and wearing their hats indoors! They wouldn't quit, even when their dads disinherited them and threw them out of the house. They just smiled and forgave them! Can you imagine how mad those people were at these loony hippies?
In other words: yes, some of it's a fad. But it isn't going away. The tide has brought in something new, and although the tide may recede again, there's going to be a lot of flotsam left. Better get used to it.