Religion,  Woke

Did George Floyd die for our sins?

By Harry Storm

Wokeness – for lack of a better word – has often been described as a new religion with “sacred” tenets (such as so-called anti-racism and transgenderism) that is preached by its adherents with a missionary zeal comparable to that of the early Christians in the second and third centuries. But this current political, cultural and social project to transform society has much more in common with early Christianity than just religious fervour.

Like early Christianity, the emerging religion of wokeness has its martyr – George Floyd — and its Judases – Donald Trump, Brexiteers, gender critical feminists aka Terfs, etc. Like Christianity, wokeness has benefited from the support of powerful elites who strive to impose its core tenets on a population in which competing belief systems or ideologies continue to hold sway. And like Christianity, wokeness has succeeded in capturing many of the political, cultural and social institutions that ultimately determine the kind of society we live in and how it functions.

Christianity, originally an offshoot of the Judaism of the 1st century CE, was born a few days after the martyrdom of Jesus Christ on the Roman cross. Originally a small Jewish sect centred in Jerusalem, it spread across much of the ancient classical world and to Rome itself.

Despite early and later persecutions, Christianity appealed to a population undergoing a spiritual crisis just as the stability of the Roman Empire was beginning to unravel.

Becoming Christian gave individuals embracing Christianity a sense of belonging and a personal religion of salvation based on the martyrdom of Jesus that approximated the Jewish religion without the necessity for circumcision or adherence to difficult dietary restrictions. In addition, the egalitarianism of the early church and the social services it provided – charity for the poor, hospitals, soup kitchens, and support for widows –greatly increased its popularity in an Empire suffering from political instability and a crisis of confidence.

Ultimately, after competing with Judaism and other eastern religions of the time, such as Mithraism, Manichaeism, and Serapis- and Isis-worship, Christianity became an official and then the state religion of the Roman Empire, outlawing paganism and allowing only the Jews to continue worshipping as they had before, albeit with severe and ever-increasing restrictions.

Among the many factors that led to Christianity’s triumph, two stand out: (1) The incredible power that martyrdom exerts on the minds of people yearning for some sort of spiritual salvation; and (2) Christianity’s slow but inexorable takeover of the institutions of the Roman Empire; in particular, the administration of the state.

The spiritual pull of martyrdom can’t be overstated. After Jesus, the king of Christian martyrs, came Stephen, many of the apostles, including Peter and James,, and Paul, Christianity’s greatest missionary. And it would be difficult to imagine just how inspiring the accounts of the martyrdom of Perpetua, Felicitas and Saturus early in the 3rd century would be for those seeking spiritual salvation, were it not for the reaction in the United States and, to a greater or lesser extent, the rest of the Western world, to the murder of George Floyd. The eruption of violence and figurative self-flagellation by all sectors of society, including the least and most privileged, was unprecedented in the modern age, resulting in almost immediate changes in corporate and media behavior, and in state governance.

This incredibly powerful reaction to George Floyd’s murder – which effectively turned him into a martyr – massively accelerated a woke takeover of our most important cultural institutions, and, to a lesser extent, political institutions, that was already underway. Seemingly overnight, ideas that had been considered fringe, like defund the police, reparations, systemic racism, unconscious bias, etc.) became not only acceptable but effectively mandatory in social discourse and in many workplaces.

Like Emperor Constantine’s Edit of Milan (CE 313) that made Christianity AN official religion and Emperor Theodosius I’s edict in CE 380 that made Christianity THE official state religion, Western governments, particularly in the Anglosphere, fell over themselves in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder to initiate legislation supporting woke beliefs. For example, immediately after taking office, President Joe Biden issued executive orders supporting racial preferences and transgenderism, two key tenets of wokeness that had been opposed by wokeness’ main “Judas,” Donald Trump, whom the woke fervently believed had betrayed all their dearly-held values.

However, it’s unlikely that the edicts by Constantine, Theodosius and other emperors would have been able to succeed in securing and solidifying the status of Christianity within the Empire had it not been for the creeping but inexorable takeover by Christians of the Empire’s key institution; namely, the administration of the Empire itself.

According to Helmut Koester, professor of New Testament studies and ecclesiastical history at Harvard University, Christians were taught to read and write in order to understand the Bible, and therefore were among the most literate of Roman citizens. As a result, by the 3rd century the Roman state increasingly relied on them to perform the administrative tasks of the state. So when the Emperor Diocletian unleashed the last great persecution of Christians in the Empire in 303 CE, the administration of government functioned far less efficiently and the persecution ultimately had to be cut short.

Put in modern terms, one could say that Christians increasingly came to dominate and ultimately take over the key institution of the Empire, much the same way that woke ideas originally considered fringe and limited to academia gradually infiltrated other modern institutions such as media, the artistic, non-profit and corporate worlds, and ultimately, government itself.

The parallels with wokeness shouldn’t be overstated. In Christianity, the martyrdom of Jesus preceded the rise of Christianity, whereas the woke “religion” was already going full steam ahead when George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis turbocharged it. Further, it remains unclear whether the takeover of institutions is temporary or permanent; pushback against some of the more radical tenets of transgender ideology and anti-racism appear to be gaining traction as the woke attempt to insinuate increasingly “fringier” ideas into people’s day to day lives.

An even more important factor is that the societies most affected by wokeness are democracies that can elect governments opposed to wokeness that can take significant action to limit or reverse its progress, whereas state opposition to Christianity, once it was in the process of changing from an official religion to the state religion, was limited to one emperor (Julian, aptly nicknamed “the Apostate”) whose rule lasted only 3 years and whose efforts were immediately reversed after his death. Finally, and this is perhaps the most important difference, the speed with which information is shared in the modern era results in much quicker – and in most cases, much shallower, and often incorrect – emotional reactions to information and events, such as the “martyrdom” of George Floyd.


Kelly Latimore’s painting of a black Christ who resembles George Floyd (Mama, 2020) caused a furore and was stolen.


Still, the similarities between early Christianity and current wokeness shouldn’t be ignored. Whether it’s the capture of institutions, veneration of a martyr, or demonization of an enemy, wokeness does seem to be following a path previously carved by Christianity, albeit in a modern, technology assisted form.

Those of us who value the political and cultural achievements of the modern world need to beware: The acquiescence of our elites to the political, cultural and social project called wokeness and the harsh reactions to those opposing it should remind us that the intolerance that characterized Christianity once it had won over the elites of that time may be set to play itself out again in an even more fearsome way, given the pervasiveness and reach of today’s communication technology.

For all the goodness that the Judeo-Christian tradition may have brought into the world as Christianity matured, the fact remains that when Christians achieved dominance and control they wiped out many of the cultural and intellectual achievements of the ancient world, especially those associated with paganism. Given the technological tools currently available, never mind in the future, should wokeness gain the same societal control that Christianity had after the 4th century, a catastrophic destruction of all the political, social and cultural advances since the Enlightenment is hardly out of the question.