The Phrase “Cancel Culture”
“Cancel culture” came into the collective consciousness around 2017, after the idea of “canceling” celebrities for problematic actions or statements became popular. American institutions and corporations now engage in censorship that was previously unimaginable, piling on critiques of a person, business, movement, or idea. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other Big Tech giants conduct coordinated censorship efforts, silencing important voices and shutting down civic dialogue. Former President Donald Trump is still banned from Twitter and other social media platforms, as are other prominent conservatives.
Says The Wall Street Journal‘s Peggy Noonan, “Cancel culture is SO toxic, you can’t even learn from your mistakes anymore because you’re not even allowed to make any.” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas stated on his website that “Cancel culture…is ultimately animated by a single idea—that America at its core is fundamentally irredeemable and wicked.” Though the term is new, the meaning is obvious and of great concern for the unity of the nation. Noonan compares it to China’s Cultural Revolution. “Social media is full of swarming political and ideological mobs. In an interesting departure from democratic tradition, they don’t try to win the other side over. They only condemn and attempt to silence.” One journalist even compared this process (only the process!) to the Salem Witch trials, which he calls “America’s first brush with cancel culture.” You were considered guilty once you were accused. For some, “cancel culture” is just the latest manifestation of fascism.
The brilliant young Jewish columnist, Bari Weiss, of politically conservative convictions, was dismissed from The New York Times for wrongthink. In a 1,500-word resignation letter she described a “hostile work environment,” “bullying by colleagues” and an “illiberal environment.” She concluded: “Cancel culture is about punishment. It is about making a person radioactive. It is about taking away their job,… it is ‘social murder.’”
Cancel culture is most often applied to issues of politics, race and sexuality, especially in the academy.
Cancelling Biological Sex
Dr. Nicholas Meriwether has been a philosophy professor at Shawnee State University for over 20 years. A male student approached him after class to say that he identified as transgender and demanded that Meriwether refer to him as a woman, using feminine titles and pronouns. As a philosopher and as a Christian, Dr. Meriwether believes that to call a man a woman or vice versa endorses an ideology that conflicts with his beliefs. University officials formally charged Dr. Meriwether with “creat[ing] a hostile environment” and threatened “further corrective actions” if the professor did not conform to school policy.On Friday, Mar 26, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled that, based on the allegations in the complaint, the university violated Meriwether’s First Amendment rights. The cancel was cancelled.
And yet, in Canada, a father was jailed for refusing to address his transgender daughter with male pronouns.
Another form of cancel culture has recently emerged in college sports—with vast implications. The immensely overwhelmed Oral Roberts University, to the rapturous joy of its students and alumni, made it to the Sweet Sixteen in college basketball’s March Madness. An article in USA Today by Hemal Jhaveri, the “diversity and inclusion editor at USA Today Sports,” does not rejoice. The article declares that because of the anti-LGBTQ+ language in ORU’s polices, the NCAA should ban the school from the competition. This canceling could go a long way, as Dr. Albert Mohler argues: “…this isn’t just about sports. If orthodox Christians don’t belong in basketball, why should they be allowed in business, entertainment, education, government, or medicine?… If Christianity behind closed doors, on private property, in a private school, is now a target of outrage, where do you draw the line?” Mohler warns, “The Left’s true agenda, which they’ve worked to disguise for years, is hidden no more.” We might well call this cancelation “cultural murder”!
Ironically, USA Today recently fired Jhaveri for her racist tweets about the Colorado shooting: “It’s always an angry white man [who does this]. Always.” Unfortunately for Jhaveri’s career, the Colorado shooter was not a white man but a Syria-born Arab-American, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa. Robespierre, who invented the guillotine, was put to death on one, for the Revolution inevitably consumes its own.
Oxford University is considering proposals that would remove sheet music from its curriculum because of claims that the Western form of musical notation has roots in “colonialism” and “complicity in white supremacy.” Professors seek to focus less on white European heritage and culture. Doubtless tongue in cheek, someone suggested that the thousands of windows in the ancient colleges in Oxford should be changed because they were put in by that same white supremacy culture. In both cases the word “inefficiency” jumps to mind.
The recent destruction of statues is a visible attempt to cancel historical events and recognized personalities in American history, like Columbus (first discoverer of America), George Washington (Founding Father and first President), Thomas Jefferson (Founding Father and third President), Ulysses Grant (18thPresident) and Francis Scott Key (author of the “Star Spangled Banner”). This destruction is not a college prank but the sign of radical, revolutionary thinking. In 1949, George Orwell wrote a prophetic book, 1984, in which he imagined the threat of a totalitarian state: “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. History has stopped.” Had the term been invented, he would have called this “cancel culture.”
Canceling Language: The End of Words and the End of the Binary
Those who define the terms win the argument. Manipulation of language, otherwise known as propaganda, uses arguments often based on false affirmations. In his Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis, who wrote about the same time as Orwell (1942), depicts a senior demon named Screwtape who writes to his nephew, Wormwood, a younger and less experienced demon, charged with guiding a man (called “the Patient”) toward “Our Father Below” (Devil / Satan) and away from “the Enemy” (God). Screwtape notes that hell has “philological experts intent on the corruption of human language.”
Grace Church School, an Episcopal school in Manhattan (annual tuition of $57,000), published a 12-page memo instructing its young students to do away with outdated terms and replace them with “inclusive” ones. They propose “people,” “folks” and “friends, instead of “boys and girls,” “guys,” “ladies,” and “gentleman.” “Grown-ups,” “guardians,” or “family” can replace “parents” or “mom and dad.” Instead of “husband,” “wife,” “boyfriend,” “girlfriend,” children must say “spouse/partner/significant other. And they must not wish anyone a “Merry Christmas” or even “Happy Holidays.”
Such refusal of “gendered” distinctions must be seen in the light of the assault on the notion of the binary, of genuine twoness.
In addition to terms like “women’s health,” meaning the slaughter of the unborn, and “marriage equality” (for the destruction of the millennia-old patriarchal marriage), the use of the term “racism” is constantly being manipulated in a totalizing accusatory term way. “Racism” means discrimination on the basis of race, of which all races are capable. Recently, however, it is implied that only whites are guilty of racism, because the term has come to mean possessing power. In a Marxist worldview, everyone is either a victim or an oppressor. Thus whites, who hold the power, are the oppressors and therefore the racists. Of course, in today’s America, many black people hold positions of power, from local school boards to city governments, to congress, and all the way up to the White House. Certainly, there are true racists among us, but to paint with so broad a brush is to claim victimhood for people who have never been victims and to condemn as oppressors those who have never oppressed anyone.
In Orwell’s 1984, Syme, a political leader says to Winston, whom he is training: “You haven’t a real appreciation of Newspeak. You don’t grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year? …Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thought-crime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.” By controlling the language, Big Brother controls the way people think. With a limited vocabulary, the people are limited in how much they can think, as well as what they think about. “Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.”
An important parenthesis here, I must draw attention to the advance in the West of Eastern spirituality. Though progressive Neo-Marxism and the ongoing search for alternate forms of spirituality seem worlds apart, the Hinduization of America in the name of spirituality is a powerful preparation for cancelling of the binary. It encourages practitioners to leave behind their constant distinction-making between right and wrong, good and bad, male and female, etc. This practice of self-hypnotic Oneism (my phrase) leads to what one practitioner predicted, after finally freeing herself from a long involvement in what she calls an “esoteric logic of non-duality.” She writes: ““…if you can diminish the ability to reason and think objectively…you can eventually weaken the foundation of Western civilization” which, she believes, is the present intention of Eastern Buddhism. 
From Whence Comes this New Way of “Solving Problems?
A new ideology called CRT (critical race theory) arrived on our college campuses about the same time as “cancel culture.” Justin Lane, an Oxford University-trained sociologist, estimates that 90% of teachers and speakers in the American universities are Neomarxist critical theorists who promote CRT and cancel those who do not follow them. According to Lane, “…this has led to a form of authoritarianism and extremism that is very unhealthy.” The reason for this authoritarian cancelling is provided by two authors of a book critical of CRT, who state that the system of Postmodernism, on which CRT is based, is “one of the least tolerant and most authoritarian ideologies the world has had to deal with.” The book shows that in Postmodernism, truth has no ultimate meaning; it is simply the means to gain power. CRT believes that whites have invented so-called “knowledge,” using language to manipulate their inferiors. Postmodern ethical relativism is accepted as the norm in schools, and K-12 students are taught that traditional morals, logic, reason, grammar, science and math are racist and thus worthless.
This Is Not the Traditional Western Way of Solving Disagreements
Traditional ways of resolving disputes are disappearing, as the two non-Christian classic liberals, mentioned above, show. Freedom of speech, the free exercise of religion, cognitive liberty, honest communication, individual rights, as defended by the Constitution are rejected as white hegemony; open academic debate and spirited exchange are no longer practiced; divided powers and ordered liberty, patriotism, civic virtues, pride in citizenship are passé.
Jason Hill, a mixed-race, black, Jamaican-born American citizen, professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago, defends “Enlightenment (that is, liberal) values,” showing that out of Western Patriarchy has emerged the emancipatory movements that led to the abolition of slavery, the equal rights of women and blacks and all previously disenfranchised people within its hemisphere; the Rights of Man; the birth of modern science, technology and capitalism; and an enhanced quality of life for millions across the globe.
Why Is Cancel Culture So Prevalent Today?
As the West has turned away from Judeo-Christian values, and turned to atheism or to Eastern religions, truth has lost its sense of transcendence. For the first time in eight decades, church membership in America has fallen below 50%. The latest Gallup survey on church membership — a data point the polling firm first asked about in 1937 — said just 47% of Americans belong to a church, synagogue, or mosque. More young adults are claiming to have no affiliation with any religion. There is no external person or thing to which one can appeal. With the disappearance of generalized cultural theism, the culture is left with no common or objective criterion, which is why identity politics has emerged. Identity is who we decide we are and politics is the acquisition of power. Because identity is often thought of as sexual identity (which is both deeply personal and greatly contested), “identity politics” is often associated with victimhood and grievance. Polyamory, now declared legal by the city councils of Cambridge and Somerville, MA, is the latest claim to sexual liberty that fits the paradigm of identity politics. In the absence of common agreement about who we are at the deepest level, we are free to impose on others our definitions of who we are, and anyone who opposes such a self-generated definition must be cancelled. Politics or power takes over when there is a cultural loss of any generalized understanding of human identity, when our world has no common worldview.
How Do Christians Respond?
First, by bringing worldview clarity. The radical left has declared war on the traditions of America and is ruthlessly attacking the nation’s history, culture, faith, populace, books, games, language, race relations, schools and freedoms. Some do not even pretend to be guided by the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, documents dismissed as inventions of white males for reasons of personal power. The future looks very uncertain. Accusations of “systemic racism” and “white supremacy” seem an excuse for a massive power-grab on a scale never before seen.
This ideology is not Democrat vs. Republican politics. Neomarxist thinking has been creeping into the culture for a long time. It is a massive Oneist attack on the meaning of existence. It is at the same time a religiously pagan and a political suppression of the Twoist fact that human existence depends on God the Creator. Generally speaking, this Oneist worldview sees reality in terms of the collective (as Critical Race Theory does), with oppressed and oppressors. The nation’s Founders, however, saw the rights of the individual as of paramount importance. Yuri Bezmenov, who grew up in a highly-placed Soviet family, finally understood this when he got to the States as a Soviet dissident in the 70s: “…the Soviet Union,” he said, “is a state capitalist economy…where an individual has absolutely no rights, no value; his life is nothing…He is disposable. Where[as] in [the] United States even the worst criminal is treated as a human being, [and] has a fair trial.” We need to acknowledge the importance of the individual at two levels: 1. for appreciating the rights of the individual in Western culture; 2. for understanding the Christian gospel, which involves the individual, facing his or her personal Creator. The gospel is the Good News of divine paternal love expressed in the death of his Son, Jesus, for the individual sinner, who alone can confess his or her sin. This news is made known by the faithful proclamation in the culture of the only authorized earthly entity to do it, namely the church. We do this with grace in spite of the increasingly open attacks on the Christian faith. Not content with glorifying pedophilia in Cuties (endorsed by the Clintons and the Royal Sussexes who receive millions in fees), Netflix, in season three of the animated Paradise P.D, now features Jesus coming down from the Cross armed with two machine guns to kill his persecutors and then have sex with two women.
In the face of opposition, Christian cultural engagement must never engage in cancel culture but must be humble and sacrificial, seeking only the love of neighbor. We cannot cancel anyone. Indeed, we must love the sinner even as we urge the adoption of moral legislation and our theistic heritage for the good of all. Thus no pride, unjustified power-grabbing, selfish ambition, partisanship, or hatred can play any part in our public involvement. It is nevertheless true that when the Spirit led Paul to take the gospel to the ancient Western world, the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Christ became the universal principles that made the Western world the beacon of civilization. Clearly its origin has nothing to do with self-serving white supremacy.
We are all passionate for righteousness, but we are sometimes tempted to allow that passion to rise in our hearts as anger, resentment or pride. In our civic witness and gospel communication we must remember that we witness to the character of God who states that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Prov. 15:1). Remember that “cultural pluralism” is at the heart of the first amendment. Christians must reflect their Lord who said “Come now, and let us reason together (Is 1:18), in order to do what is “right and just and fair” (Prov 1:5). God loves fairness and “detests dishonest scales” (Prov 11:1), but God is the one who goes beyond fairness and gives unmerited grace to those who individually confess their sin before their Savior. He is the only one who can cancel our debt of sin and cancel the inevitability of death.
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean;
His blood availed for me.
 Rachel Greenspan, “How ‘cancel culture’ quickly became one of the buzziest and most controversial ideas on the internet,” The Insider (Aug 6, 2020).
 Rachel Greenspan, art.cit.
 Devin Sper. “Cancel Culture and The Salem Witch Hunts,” American Thinker (28 Mar, 2021)
 Al Mohler, The Briefing (Thursday, Dec 13, 2020).
 Marvin Stinson, “Oxford University May Scrap Sheet Music for Being Complicit in ‘White Supremacy,’” Breitbart (3/29/2021)
 Cited in http://www.gisborneherald.co.nz/letter/20200613/every-book-rewritten/
 Orwell, 1984, 52.
 Chandler, Enthralled, Preface.
 Helen Pluckrose and James Linsay, Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made
Everything about Race, Gender and Identity (Pitchstone Publishing, 2020), 13.