PROF ELLWANGER: Gender studies experts re-discover the soul

The religion is Wokeism, and secular left-progressivism provides the dogma.

Adam Ellwanger is a professor of English at the University of Houston - Downtown. His primary areas of expertise are rhetoric and critical theory. He writes political and cultural commentary for outlets like Human Events, Quillette, American Greatness, The American Conservative, New Discourses, Minding the Campus, and many more.

It’s no secret that academia is no friend to traditional religion. Many college professors respond to religious faith with a vague mix of pity and derision. Nevertheless, it can’t be said that our public universities are wholly intolerant of religious faith. Their level of tolerance varies based on the religion: Islam is better than Judaism, and any religion is better than Christianity. Secretly, though, academia has its own religion with its own dogma.

The religion is Wokeism, and secular left-progressivism provides the dogma. In the contemporary university, paying homage to gender ideology is one of the major forms of ritual worship. A counterpart to the academic fixation on race and class, gender (or sexual identity) completes the triune godhead of higher education. Gender ideology holds that sex is not biological – that the categories of man and woman are simply rhetorical inventions used to oppress individuals and enforce the political status quo. In contrast, gender ideologues insist that one’s sex and gender are determined by the internal sentiment of the individual (not by anatomy or chromosomes). Still, most adherents of gender ideology remain blissfully ignorant of the contradictory elements of their faith.

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This is nowhere more apparent than in their recent rediscovery of the soul. Often, the believers in your neighborhood remind you with their yard signs that in their houses, they believe that “science is real.” This faith in the human ability to understand all things empirically is what keeps them sneering at the “mystical” thinking that supposedly defines the great traditional religions. The afterlife, God, bodily resurrection, and sin are all just hobgoblins of little minds. Until a few years ago, the soul would have also been on that list. Not anymore.

What awakened our intelligentsia to the reality that we all have a soul? The testimony of some of their deacons. Transgendered persons, describing their experiences of gender dysphoria, did what science couldn’t: they demonstrated the existence of the soul. My recent book shows that in conversion narrative after conversion narrative, people who identify as transgender have told us that they knew that their “true self” “on the inside” did not align with the biological sex that they claim was “assigned at birth.” People who were born with male anatomy and chromosomes explained that they “felt like a woman,” spiritually speaking. How, having never experienced womanhood, do they know what it feels like to be a woman, you might ask? They just do. The simple presence of that feeling – whatever it is – is sufficient proof that they were “born in the wrong body.”

All forms of wokeism – especially gender ideology – require that practitioners engage in some ritual worship of the self, and this means that each person must succumb to the demands and desires of the “true self.” This true self – the internal sense of one’s fundamental essence – is nothing more than the idea of the soul as it has existed for thousands of years in the great religions of the world.

Still, there are some key differences between how the soul is conceptualized in traditional religions versus how it is imagined in gender ideology. Traditional religious believers hold that the soul was created by God – and for that reason, human beings are ultimately obligated to subordinate our own desires and observe God’s will and law. In Wokeism, the self is sovereign. The soul itself is the object of worship.

Thus, if the soul insists that you are really a man, despite anatomical and chromosomal evidence to the contrary, then the believer is obligated to affirm the soul’s perception of the self. To believe that one can be “born in the wrong body” is to imply that God – or at least “nature” – makes mistakes. The job of the individual, society, and perhaps the medical establishment is to “correct” those errors. Only then is the “true self” brought fully into being, as a creative act of the self itself. That the self simultaneously occupies the role of the Creator and the creature illuminates why the self must worship itself.

There is certainly much vanity in these ideas, but they are not frivolous. Together, they form an integrated, intricate philosophy for living in the world. Even capital-S Science – a demigod revered in academia – must defer to the doctrines of gender ideology when it comes to personal identity. Everything that we know about chromosomes, anatomy, and psychology must be temporarily bracketed to ensure that the dictums of the faith are affirmed. Transwomen are women. Transmen are men. Full stop. Period.

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Of course, heretics still intuitively grasp that transgender claims regarding personal identity are nothing but a rediscovery of the soul, writ secular and pseudo-scientific. But strangely, the universities’ allergy to religious faith is nowhere to be found when it comes to this particular dogma. In fact, university policy and curricula are being reformed in ways that reify these ideas.

While it is true that academia is often hostile to religious faith, it is important for the public to understand that the institutional atheism on display is mostly just moral posturing. The truth is that the universities do have a religion, with rich, mystico-philosophical conceptions of the soul, sin, virtue, and human flourishing. It’s just that the believers within the university cannot admit that they practice a religion. To openly concede that they do would undercut their critique of the great world religions that often serve to inoculate people to the illusions of gender ideology and Wokeism on the whole. That cannot be allowed to happen, and so the charade rolls on.  

Editorials and op-eds reflect the opinion of the authors and not necessarily that of Campus Reform or the Leadership Institute.