Woke Isn’t Enough: Louis C.K. and the Failure of Ideals

by | Nov 13, 2017 | Faith & Politics, In the News

Everyone wants to be “woke.” We fight over who is more self-aware, who sees more of what’s wrong with the world, and how we contribute to injustice. We hope awareness will lead to change. But what if a self-aware person is still a bad person?

A few days ago, BuzzFeed ran an article on the Louis CK piece that was originally titled “Louis C.K. Was Supposed To Be One of the Good Guys,” where the author expressed shock and disappointment at C.K., who has been accused by five women of doing unwanted sexual acts in front of them.   

While C.K.’s comedy routines have often been vulgar and transgressive, the author (and others) assumed that his ideals would keep him from evil. “C.K. was supposed to be one of the good ones. He was self-aware, routinely talking about how easy it is for men to indulge (or at least fantasize about) their worst instincts around women.”

He had feminist opinions and helped female comics advance their own careers. Surely such a man who thought the right things and knew how the truth applied to him would be immune to such depravity, right? Right?


All of us are broken in some way. We have seen so many pieces in the news and on social media of sexual harassment and violence that it is hard not to know someone who is implicated. Even people who seem to have all the right opinions can do all the wrong things. That is when it hurts the most.

Perhaps if there is one thing we take from the wildfire of scandals that have been brought to light recently, it is that no one is immune. In the #MeToo campaign on social media, many women (and a fair number of men) came forward as victims of sexual harassment. The perpetrators were all sorts of people—no set of professed beliefs made a person good or immune to temptation. People who knew what was right still chose what was wrong.  

There is no such thing as being too smart to do bad. There is no set of ideals we can believe in that will make us to be good. We cannot firmly resolve with the help of our intellects or our woke-ness to sin no more. It just isn’t enough. We need a firm resolution of action.

C.K. has now publicly confessed, which is commendable. But he (and we) still need to move forward–to sin no more. We look at what has happened, and we see the brokenness that everybody has. We see love and sorrow–the desire to do good while living with the choices to do bad. And we see hope for the future. C.K. wants a better future, so does BuzzFeed, so do the rest of us. But we need a way to get there.  After the confession, we need contrition to have growth.

This is why I love the Act of Contrition. It is a prayer of growth. And it is an amazingly human prayer. A human combination of love, sorrow, and hope for the future that finishes by asking for help. Asking for the help of God’s grace to sin no more and avoid the near occasion of sin. Because we are talented at sin. We are virtuosos at being broken.

Right opinions and good intentions won’t save us. We need something new—we need a bit of help. We need that prayer that is a mixture of love and sorrow and hope for the future, and most of all, that help from God’s grace. We need that Act of Contrition.


Image courtesy FlickrCC user David.


David Paternostro, SJ

dpaternostrosj@thejesuitpost.org   /   All posts by David