Why the piety of cancel culture is no gospel

March 1, 2021 · Print This Article

I don’t often agree with the eye-wateringly controversial comedian Ricky Gervais, but last week I did.

Known for his black t-shirt, big smile and outrageous jokes whilst hosting the Golden Globes, in last week’s interview on BBC Radio 5 Live, he shared that people get “cancelled” for the wrong reason. He’s got a point. He explains that destroying someone’s career because of some old email saying the ‘wrong’ thing is often about ulterior motives. It’s more about taking down someone ‘on the other side’. Or, in the recent case of MMA star come Hollywood actor, Gina Carano, it’s because the Twitter rage mob don’t like your tweets. This month, Lucasfilm demonstrated that, by firing Carano from The Mandalorian because of supposed controversial tweets. Get her take on it in this interview.

Gervais believes such cancel culture inevitably leads to greater tribalism – if you can only express your ideas around people who believe the same thing, then we force each tribe further into their own echo chambers. The consequence is that we stop learning from one another. But I think there’s another reason why the gospel of cancel culture is bad for us. Because this new gospel has all the puritanism of Christian morality but without the grace. And judgment without personal redemption is bad news for us all.

There is a veneer of self-righteousness to cancelling someone because of an indiscretion uttered in frustration, or after one glass too many, but it’s an empty piety. We are all foolish with our words sometimes, and no doubt we should be more careful. But sacrificing someone’s career and lifetime of hard work on the altar of offence because someone holds views that contradict orthodoxy sounds like bad culture to me. Surely this raises offence to the position of virtue, when offence is no virtue at all.

We may think we gain a purer society through this new cancel crusade – but we don’t. We gain a harsher, more coarse culture. Why? Because at the heart of cancel culture is a distinct lack of forgiveness. Of grace. And a society that lacks grace will be a less free place to live.

That’s why cancel culture is distinctly different from our once Christian-influenced culture.

Such Christian influence gave room for the central idea that Jesus attested to, that God does not cancel someone for indiscretions or moral failings. But who, instead, forgets when we own up to the failing and move on – a judgement wedded to grace. Imagine that. So many of us, including me, grew up with the notion of a God who was watching – maybe even waiting – for us to fall and fail, and then cancel us. To turn up at some inconvenient moment and remind us of that blush-worthy mistake we made all those years ago. As if God was some cosmic judge totting up the ethical accounts and banking every transgression.

I don’t think God is like that. God is about second, third, and multiple chances – in fact, Jesus taught a very different cancel culture: cancel the transgression, not the person. A culture of forgiving each other as many as seventy times seven![1] A God of grace, of redemption, of forgiveness and forgetting.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because.

[1] The Bible, Matthew 18:21-22
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