The desire for religion is as natural as the desire for sex. Technically you could live without it, but it is a very big part of life and culture. And when you try to suppress it, weird things can happen. America has suppressed religion, so it is no surprise that the religions that formed are a little strange. And it is important we recognize the phenomenons of Woke and QAnon for what they are. They are religions.
They have tenets. They have followers. They have evangelists. They have mantras. They even have martyrs. And they are growing.
For reasons I do not fully understand, America has taken great strides toward eliminating organized religion. This could have happened naturally, or it could have been a deliberate effort. I do not know. But I do know the early days of the United States saw very devout Christian leaders and citizens. The church was a big part of American life regardless of whether one lived in the city or the country. But the church and the spiritual strength of America has declined rapidly in the past generation.
There are of course other religions besides Christianity. In fact before Constantine converted the Roman Empire to Christianity it was a rather obscure cult. Romans themselves delighted in persecuting and torturing the few Christians that threatened their pagan way of life. One of the more popular religions in Rome before Christianity was the cult of Mithras, a figure that has many similarities, but many important differences with Jesus.
Before Mithras there was Zoroastrianism, a dualist religion introducing the idea of a messiah and many other concepts that were later refined in Christianity. For a time Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion on the planet. Islam also has a lot in common with Christianity.
In other parts of the world there rose very different religions such as Hinduism, which worshiped many gods, Buddhism, which studied a path to personal enlightenment and transcendence, and Confucianism and Daoism which sought to harmonize the spiritual and material worlds. Ancient Egyptians believed their first kings were Gods and before them the Sumerians believed in the Annunaki which "came from the sky" and created humans. The story of religion is the story of mankind.
There is no period of history where humanity at large was not overwhelmingly religious. It may not have been organized, but most people for most of history have taken the existence of the spiritual world as a given. Much religious persecution simply sought the spread of a competing religion. The only times spiritual religion faded overall were when a government sought to make the State itself God. But this could also be seen as a religion.
America has undertaken an interesting experiment to replace religion with science. After all, much of religion's duty was to explain and answer difficult questions such as "where did the universe come from?", "what happens when we die?", "what should I do with my life?". Now we have government funded scientists and expensive therapists that can answer these questions for us. No God required. Simultaneously, the Christian church was painted as an anti-science hateful organization that oppressed gay people and the Catholic church was infiltrated by pedophiles and both largely lost touch with the new generation, which was not allowed to discuss Jesus at school, and Evangelical Christian somehow became a pejorative term. This lead in many ways to scientific and social advancement and a more empirical population. But something was lost along the way.
Nature abhors a vacuum. If Americans were not allowed to be Christian, it was only a matter of time until new religions rose. Helena Blavatsky wrote The Secret Doctrine in 1888 and founded the occult Theosophical Society which opened in Pasadena in 1895. In 1904, Alistair Crowley published The Book of the Law and founded Thelema and the magical order OTO, which grew in the United States. In 1950 L. Ron Hubbard published Dianetics and founded Scientology, which took root in California. All of these organizations have outlived their founders, but none have found mainstream appeal, though there is an argument that the growing self-centered culture of America and the popular philosophy of Objectivism borrows heavily from Crowley's teachings. On the more positive side, one of my personal favorites is the Happy Science religious organization founded by Ryuho Okawa in 1986.
What would a new religion look like today? It would probably start on the web, and spread on the web, and then lead to some very strange behavior. In 2017, an anonymous internet forum poster going by the pseudonym "Q" began posting seemingly absurd statements about Hillary Clinton and the inner workings of the United States government. Like any good false prophet, Q had identified a suggestible group, was telling people what they wanted to hear, and he was making predictions about the future. He was even right about a few things. Big things. But even when the predictions did not come true, the following grew.
Q appealed to the masses of people who felt downtrodden, forgotten, and ignored by their government. The real reasons their life was the way it was and the government had so far failed to create a utopia were very complicated. But Q offered a simple answer. More importantly, he offered a very bizarre, very emotionally triggering answer that was sure to be remembered and spread. And it did spread. Q's theories spread like wildfire and even incited a few desperate souls to violence. It was difficult to amass a strong enough collection of evidence to prove Q's theories, but, it was also strangely difficult to disprove them. Strange events kept happening and the mass media kept reacting, or not reacting, in a way that only fueled the speculation, and fueled the spread.
Q is a seductive cult. You think you could watch one more video or read one more web site and finally get to the bottom of things and convince everybody but you can't. The web simply does not have a clear answer and never will. It only has stranger and stranger theories that cannot be proved or disproved. But it doesn't matter. What matters is other people have chosen to believe the same thing as you without a clear preponderance of evidence. This is faith. People's faith binds them together in communities and it feels good, especially if you were feeling lonely. But it is also tearing families and relationships and our country apart.
If Q is a false prophet, Wokism is a religion of hatred. At least Q is a leader. Wokism has no central leader, no core belief system, no proposed system of how to live a good life or specific ways to reform or improve society. It is merely a collection of unhealthy practices that in the long run weakens society and drives people to hate each other and themselves.
Wokism is seductive because it makes you think you are helping. You think you are doing the right thing and fixing the world and recruiting others to help you fix the world. But you are not. The way to fix the world is to stop trying to fix it and start trying to love it. But Wokism has no tenet of love, no time for or understanding of love. Wokism loves nothing and hates many, many things. And most importantly, Wokes hate themselves.
Wokism drives people in to groups based on identity or race and then encourages these groups to lash out. This only makes prejudice worse. Wokism does not debate. It only destroys. It is a religion of conquest and war. Wokes have infiltrated internet media companies and unleashed a catastrophic degree of censorship, witch hunts, and constantly fans the flames of hatred, making the entire internet an unsafe place where once was a fountainhead of creativity and ideas.
Wokes do not forgive. There is no statute of limitations. All history must be destroyed. Tearing down statues is eerily similar to the Chinese Cultural Revolution or Soviet Russia's deliberate destruction of history. Wokes do not forget. Being cancelled is forever. Wokes do not allow inquiry and convict without trial, leading to a scourge of academia.
Wokes do not actually care about human rights, else they would attack the litany of offenses happening around the world today. They would rather punish America and themselves. They do not love the oppressed. They simply hate the imagined oppressors. And everyone is a suspect. Wokes would massacre every human alive to end racism and save the environment.
Just like Christianity and Islam, Wokes and QAnon have much more in common than they would ever admit. They hate each other. They love to hate each other. They think they are the only people that can see clearly but they are just pawns in a political game to divide and conquer America.
How did we get here? Well we didn't really give people a religious ideology to follow, so they started inventing new ones, and made quite a mess of things. Are we sure we would rather have these religions than simply bring back Jesus? Would you really rather have Wokes and Q than Jesus? The teachings of Jesus have stood the test of time, and while the church has strayed (Q himself preys on Christians), Jesus' teachings of love, compassion, forgiveness, and patience are still relevant, and would deflate both of these extreme religions and lead to a much happier, more peaceful society. Even if Q was right about everything, the solution would not be violence and hatred, it would be love. The Wokes are right about the issues they care about but the solution is not violence and hatred, it is love.
I bet if people put down both the conspiracy YouTube channels and the New York Times and read the Sermon on the Mount they would immediately feel much better. Maybe we don't have to start a new religion. Maybe we don't need a new messiah. Maybe we already have one we just forgot about.