The fun-loving Puritans have returned. Photo by: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

January 20, 2020   5 mins

I am a white supremacist. Who knew? I didn’t. I have, however, just read Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad, published next month by Quercus, which has made clear to me that I am white, therefore I am a racist. In fact, Ms Saad told me in the introduction to prepare to “become overwhelmed when you begin to discover the depths of your internalised white supremacy”.

On a similar note, a friend recently told me that my failure to recognise a vast malevolent patriarchy was as a result of “internalising your own oppression”. There seems to be a lot of internalised weirdness going on: gender victim battling it out with racist in my gut. I thought it was wind.

The publisher is pretty sure that the ranks of underpaid, bookish folk who work for them are also all white supremacists. It is distributing the tome to all the British employees of its parent company Hachette, and telling them to spend 28 days “reflecting on manifestations of white supremacy, including white privilege”.

The self-flagellation of all the white supremacists at Hachette is yet another example of how much the Woke borrow from the Church. Identity politics has become a secular religion, and “white privilege” is one of its shibboleths. Indeed Ms Saad makes the point clearly in her book, stating that “I strongly believe that anti-racism practice and social justice work are also spiritual work.”

To be woke demands faith in certain creeds, with the twins Equality and Diversity as unassailable deities. It demands a knowledge of the right language. You must believe in certain disprovable evils — like the existence of a malevolent patriarchy — and like many strict sects, it punishes its apostates most severely. The Twitter storms are fierce for those who express a non-woke view but should have known better than for those outside of the faith altogether.

Tom Holland, in his book Dominion, The making of the Western Mind, identifies the “trace elements” of Christianity in the woke world. The example he used was the intersectional feminists in the #MeToo movement offering white feminists the chance to “acknowledge their own entitlement, to confess their sins and to be granted absolution”.

But the problem with identity politics as a secular religion is precisely its failure to allow for absolution. The faith that Saad  espouses is utterly bleak, even cloaked as it is in words of love. It utterly fails to allow for redemption, and its most direct  religious antecedent is found in Calvinist predestination.

Under this doctrine, God has predetermined whether you are damned or elect. From the second that the right sperm hit it lucky with the most fecund egg, your place in the woke hierarchy was decided. In the modern progressive world, informed by intersectional feminists, it does not matter what you say or do, the only defining factor in your state of grace is your skin, gender and sexuality.

This is a profoundly depressing outlook for three main reasons. The first is the essential nihilism in the creed. Your intent? Irrelevant. Your deeds? Likewise. The sum of your experience, desires, longings, beliefs? Your humanity itself? Nah, not relevant.

The second dispiriting message is that the problems its aims to address are insoluble. White people are racist by their nature, and inherently incapable of seeing their own racism or addressing it. Men are misogynists, by default, witting or unwitting bulwarks of the patriarchy. If they don’t believe they are individually at fault they are in denial. And if they try to say, actually, I’m not sure the patriarchy exists, they are mansplaining misogynist bastards. This is the politics of perpetual antagonism, of a  kind of bleak acceptance that all relationships between different categories of human are necessarily fractious.

Most of us accept that racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination exist. Most of us accept that it would be infinitely preferable if they did not. But as progressive politics grip, and the more the Pandora’s box of vile isms is talked about, the  fewer of us seem to believe that it is possible to eradicate them.

The third problem with Puritan wokeness is that it sinister echoes in the history of predestination. When the creed reached its zenith in the seventeenth century, the logical hole at its centre became insanely obvious. If it does not matter to God how you behave, because your salvation was pre-determined at birth, why not behave however the hell you want to?

The outpourings of radical thought in the English Civil Wars included sects who came to exactly this conclusion. The Ranters, at least by reputation, advocated a lifestyle of Dionysiac excess. If orgies and boozing, gluttony and blasphemy did not have any material impact on whether you were going to heaven or hell, then why not shag, indulge and curse the Lord as much as you want?

The extent of their membership is disputed and the fear of the Ranters was strong among the Puritans, partly, I suspect, because the logical fallacy of the original tenet is so glaringly obvious. Many of the theological arguments espoused by the men who were labelled Ranters were more textured and complicated than a license to loucheness. But the essential point remains: if you are already damned, your actions and intent are irrelevant.

The Puritan response was a horrified recoil. If God has made you one of the elect, you have a responsibility to Him to behave as if you are elect. A rare few came to believe they were not elect, and tortured themselves with it. If this sounds familiar, you have probably met an apologetic white male ally of the woke.

This response to inescapable damnation matters. I have spent some time in the twilight reaches of the manosphere researching a new book, a world of depressing forums, full of hatred and despair, where young men gather to focus on the absence of sex in their lives. There are two broad categories: The Incels hate women because they won’t sleep with them. The Men Go Their Own Way (MGTOW) guys won’t sleep with women because they hate them.

These boys have their own vocabulary and belief systems. Pretty girls (Staceys) all sleep with the same few Alpha men (Chads). The Staceys ride the Cock Carousel, ie, have sex with the same few Chads. All this sluttish behaviour gives the Staceys something called A Thousand Cock Stare.

It is a grim world, in which women are evil and manipulative, and hated both for being sluts and for being virgins. It is a world in which pictures of pretty girls with their pet dogs are unbelievably sinister. These boys choose to live in this bleak world. They are culpable. But, if you tell all young, white boys that they are damned, why should they not behave as if they are damned?

A society which does not allow for people to atone, to be redeemed, and to be judged on their intent and actions is a miserable place. Most people interact with each other without antagonism most of the time. We should start being a bit more forgiving to each other, ditch the Puritanism and learn to cherish the well-meaning stumble towards decency. Even if, sometimes, we fall.

Antonia Senior is a novelist and freelance journalist.