Cancel culture: where did it come from and what can we do about it?

One of the things everyone’s been talking about (well, everyone on Twitter, which is not everyone, but still) over the last month or so is “Cancel culture” and what we can do about it. This has been rumbling on for a few years now, but the thing which seemed to cause it to erupt was J.K. Rowling writing an article defending her views on sex and gender (and transgender).

This seemed to cause the internet to go into meltdown, with even people such as Daniel Radcliffe coming out to distance himself from her. This follows hard on the heels of the whole Black Lives Matter movement which I blogged about recently.

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I think many people have been simply bemused as to what on earth is going on. How have we got to this point, and what can we do about it? The Christian faith offers some insights into what is going on. I don’t claim to know all the answers, but I think it helps to explain a lot of what we are seeing.

The new religion: Woke.

I’m not sure whether “Woke” is the right word to use, but I’ll use it because it’s nice and short. It basically means, a set of liberal-progressive beliefs which you need to hold in order to be considered ‘not a bigot’: at the moment, one of the biggest woke battlegrounds is the area of transgender – you absolutely have to believe that transmen are men, and that transwomen are women, and to question that will get you cancelled.

But it’s not limited to trans issues – you could include gay marriage and sexuality, black lives matter – even face masks are becoming something of a political battleground. (Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write!)

What’s interesting to me is the way that ‘wokeness’ seems to have such a religious quality to it. The ‘woke’ seem to behave in ways that people accuse fundamentalist Christians of.

For example, looking at a list of the 10 characteristics of religious fundamentalists, let’s see how many of them would apply to the ‘woke’:

They (fundamentalists) are “generally assertive, clamorous, and often violent”.

Well I think this fits the “woke” fairly well, judging by (for example) the reaction to J.K. Rowling on Twitter. She received some horrible abuse for what she said. That is just one tiny example.

They are “the Chosen”, “the Elect”, “the Saved”.

I don’t think that the “Woke” believe that they were chosen per se, but I think they do see themselves as the morally pure ones.

Public marks of distinction are needed to maintain their sense of superiority and distinctive identity.

Judging by how many of J.K. Rowling’s associates (such as Daniel Radcliffe) felt the need to come out and distance themselves from her and her opinions, I think we can mark this one up as well.

There is only one true religion and one correct way of life; and these must be defended against inroads from other religions and secularism.

I think this is also a “yes”: the “woke” do not seem willing to engage in a logical defense of their position on e.g. transgender. Most people I think would appreciate that there are nuances and that we want to care for and show love to folks with gender dysphoria. But many people have questions about the appropriateness of what’s happening with children and so on. But no – to ask questions is to be cast out.

In fact, this is what ‘cancel culture’ is all about: if you have the wrong “bigoted” views, you get cancelled. The right views must be believed at all times, by everybody – or you get cancelled. It’s like the Spanish Inquisition (and nobody expected that!)

As an aside, watch that video and try to imagine Owen Jones being one of the man who comes in and shouts “NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION”. It absolutely made my day.

So – what has caused this new religion to rise up? I think in large part it’s been caused by…

The decline of religion & Christianity

Over the last 50 years, religion in the UK (and across the whole Western world) has declined. One of the minor headline news stories last year was that in the Church of England, usual Sunday attendance dipped below one million for the first time.

We, as a society, have completely abandoned the notion of being a Christian country in any meaningful sense. Christianity is still there, in the background (as Tom Holland argued in his excellent book Dominion), but most people have very little idea about what Christianity teaches or how it’s relevant.

The problem with this is that we human beings are religious creatures. We are built to worship. I believe it was G.K. Chesterton who said, when you stop worshipping God, you don’t worship nothing – you worship anything. And I think this is what has happened: ‘woke’ beliefs have started to take the place of Christian beliefs.

Yesterday I watched a helpful video by Speak Life: Moving Beyond Cancel Culture. The whole video was helpful, but I think this analysis by Glen was the best bit:

A few years ago, “The Sacred” used to be God, “The Political” used to be politics, and “The Secular” used to be sports and entertainment. But, now God has been taken out of the picture – everything has been moved up a notch. Politics is the only sacred thing left.

It’s not very pleasant when things such as politics take the place of God, is it?

This is simply what we should expect. This is what the Bible has to say about us human beings:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. …

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

Romans 1:18-19, 21-23

The Bible diagnoses the human condition pretty bleakly: we are constantly trying to substitute God for gods of our own creation. That may come in all shapes and forms, but as a society at the moment I think the new god is politics and ‘wokeness’. That’s why “woke” is a kind of religion, why it seems to have such a religious character.

Only, it’s not really religious – it’s a distortion – and that’s why it’s so loud, harsh and unforgiving.

So – here’s the million dollar question…

What can we do about cancel culture?

I’m going to suggest something simple and yet radical. If you want to do something about what’s going on in society, there’s a very simple solution. The problem, as I’ve shown, is largely a religious one: one religion (“woke”) is being substituted for another one (Christianity).

Therefore, if you want to take a stand against cancel culture and wokeness, you need to take a stand for Christianity: Go to church. Read the Bible. Pray. That’s … well, that’s it.

I’m being 100% serious here: in order to undo some of the nasty changes which have been happening in our society lately, we need to rediscover our Christian roots. A religious problem needs a religious solution – and we need to seek the One who can help.

This verse from the Bible has been one I’ve gone back to a lot recently, and I think it’s appropriate to end with it here:

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

2 Chronicles 7:14

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