Against Illiberalism Chapter 10: Extreme Social Justice Activism as a Religion

The following is a sample chapter from my new book available at Amazon: Against Authoritarianism: A critique of illiberal trends in liberal institutions with a focus on Unitarian Universalism


Numerous academics and religion experts have compared the dogmatic use of critical race theory and the Unitarian Universalist Association’s extreme, authoritarian version of antiracism ideology to a fundamentalist Evangelical religion. Writes political scientist Art Keller, “It is not a particularly unique observation to notice that the Critical Social Justice movement, particularly the part that embraces Critical Race Theory, bears tremendous resemblance to a secular religion.” (Keller 2020)

The ideology is full of Abrahamic ideas of original sin, spiritual awakening (“woke”), blasphemy, thought and expression control, suspension of disbelief, believers versus unbelievers, moral versus immoral, repentance, admission of sin, submission to authority, binary thinking, and calling those who do not fully subscribe to the theory immoral (“racists,” “upholders of white supremacy”). The Unitarian Universalist Association’s UU World magazine and UU leaders regularly describe it in religious terms and imagery, calling their work “liberation theology.”

Former Unitarian Universalist Sasha Kwapinski wrote, “The comparison with religious fundamentalism is spot on. I turned away from fundamentalist Christianity decades ago largely due to their hammering about how we are (supposedly) collectively guilty or culpable due to Adam’s transgression in the Garden of Eden. Collective ‘white guilt’ is little more than an updated, politically correct remake of the same fictional concept.”

Sociology professors Bradley Campbell, of California State University Los Angeles, and Jason Manning, of the University of West Virginia, write: “I think it’s similar to a lot of utopian political movements in having similarities to religion. Those at the forefront of the movement, who wholeheartedly embrace an oppression/victimhood worldview derived from Critical Theory, and who see it as providing a basis for a call for repentance and change in their own lives and the lives of others, and as a call to restructure social institutions, seem to have embraced something very much like a religion.” (Campbell & Manning 2018)

Columbia University professor John McWhorter is the author of the book Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America. He explains not only how he believes the form of antiracism derived from current critical race theory is a religion, but how it hurts racial justice. 

McWhorter says, “Anti-racism, as currently configured, has gone a long way from what used to be considered intelligent and sincere civil rights activism. Today it is a religion. And I don’t mean that as a rhetorical feint. It is what any naïve anthropologist would recognize as a religion.” (McWhorter 2019)

Author and Unitarian Universalist Jim Aikin writes, “McWhorter’s thesis is that the adherents of ‘woke’ antiracism are practicing a new religion. It’s not just similar to a religion; it is a religion. There’s no higher power, but all of the other components are there. There are celebrity preachers, deadly sins, heretics (who are, inevitably, in need of persecution), a complete rejection of logic, and much more. The woke anti-racist crowd are as fully committed to their faith as Pentecostals or Scientologists.” (Aikin 2022)

In his landmark 1953 social psychology book The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, Eric Hoffer wrote how fanatical social, political, and religious movements tell their followers to reject logic and reason and chastise and shame dissenters or even those who merely ask questions. Notice this with fundamentalist promoters of the new social justice ideology. Hoffer wrote how the movements do not see people as individuals but as categories. Again, a hallmark of dogmatic CRT.

Wrote Hoffer, “Mass movements aggressively promote the use of doctrines that elevate faith over reason and serve as fact-proof screens between the faithful and the realities of the world. The doctrine of the mass movement must not be questioned under any circumstances.”

McWhorter says there is no point in trying to debate the social justice true believers as they consider their views dogma. Critical race theory critic James Lindsay writes, “Debate and conversation, especially when they rely upon reason, rationality, science, evidence, epistemic adequacy, and other Enlightenment-based tools of persuasion, are the very thing they think produced injustice in the world in the first place. Those are not their methods and they reject them.” (Lindsay 2020)

University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne and philosopher Peter Boghossian point out that critical race theory dogmatists consider questioning of and debates about their hardcore beliefs to be taboo and “harmful.” Coyne writes, “What’s clear is that the Socratic Method won’t work on ‘woke’ students, since they’re unwilling to question or even defend their ideology.” (Coyne 2022)

Fundamentalism and dogmatism are a psychology, and fundamentalists and zealots are a psychological type. An Emory University study showed that far-left authoritarians share key personality traits with the far-right. (Clark 2021)

Wrote Hoffer: “Though they seem to be at opposite poles, fanatics of all kinds are actually crowded together at one end. It is the fanatic and the moderate who are poles apart and never meet. The fanatics of various hues eye each other with suspicion and are ready to fly at each other’s throat. But they are neighbors and almost of one family. They hate each other with the hatred of brothers.”

Psychologist Valery Tarico was raised an Evangelical Christian and studies evangelical movements. She writes that the current fundamentalist far-left social justice movements informed by critical race theory remarkably resemble the fundamentalist evangelical Christianity she left.

In the essay “The Righteous and the Woke—Why Evangelicals and Social Justice Warriors Trigger Me in the Same Way,” Tarico writes, “It occurred to me recently that my time in Evangelicalism and subsequent journey out have a lot to do with why I find myself reactive to the spread of Woke culture among colleagues, political soulmates, and friends. Christianity takes many forms, with Evangelicalism being one of the more single-minded, dogmatic, groupish, and enthusiastic among them. The Woke—meaning progressives who have ‘awoken’ to the idea that oppression is the key concept explaining the structure of society, the flow of history, and virtually all of humanity’s woes—share these qualities. To a former Evangelical, something feels too familiar—or better said, a bunch of somethings feel too familiar.” (Tarico 2019)

Critical race theory is a political ideology. However, anything, including a political ideology, can be taken so fanatically while invoking higher ideals that it can become a quasi-religion. The UUA has done exactly that, presenting its interpretation of critical race theory as dogma, and couching it in theological rhetoric and religious ideas. Besides, Hoffer observes, whether they are political, social, or religious, fanatical movements are in many aspects interchangeable.


Recommended further reading:

Book: Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America by John McWhorter

Book: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements by Eric Hoffer



Aikin, J. (2022), “McWhorter’s Book on Woke Anti-Racism,”

Coyne, J. (2022), “Why both Left and Right distort CRT for political ends,”

Coyne, J. (2022), “Peter Boghossian confronts Portland State students on the issue of gender,”

Campbell & Manning (2018), The Rise of Victimhood Culture, Palgrave Macmillan

Clark, C. (2021), “Left-wing authoritarians share key psychological traits with far-right, Emory study finds,”

Keller, A. (2020), “Critical Race Theory Is a Victimization Cult,”

Lindsay, J. (2020), “No, the Woke Won’t Debate You. Here’s Why,”

McWhorter, J. (2019), “How Anti Racism Hurts Black People,”

Tarico, V. (2019), “The Righteous and the Woke—Why Evangelicals and Social Justice Warriors Trigger Me in the Same Way,”


Purchase: Against Authoritarianism: A critique of illiberal trends in liberal institutions with a focus on Unitarian Universalism