Might we cancel the “cancel culture”?

Maybe Christians should help cancel “cancel culture.”

On July 7 Harpers Magazine announced their plan to publish in their October issue “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate” already signed by 150+ people—people as famous as J.K. Rowling, Noam Chomsky, Margaret Atwood, and Salman Rushdie. This letter warns against “stifled free speech” and “intolerance of other viewpoints” that are creating an “intolerant climate” in society. 

The next morning the Washington Post reported a backlash against this letter for “igniting a heated online debate over free speech and ‘cancel culture.’” Some critics argued that many of the letter’s signatories have “bigger platforms and more resources than most other humans” and are “not at risk of being silenced.” Special criticism focused on Rowling for her recent “comments widely deemed to be anti-transgender” (Rowling has claimed that sex is real and there are only two sexes).

Canada’s National Post updated the matter the day following. “An open letter denouncing social restrictions on free speech and public debate… is sparking ample debate, although not all of it the sort its authors likely hoped for… While Atwood is among those grabbing top billing in headlines around the world, other Canadian signatories include Michael Ignatieff, former Liberal Party of Canada leader; Malcolm Gladwell, a best-selling author, including of The Tipping Point; David Frum, a political commentator and former speechwriter for President George W. Bush…”

Oddly, none of these three articles mentioned Jordan Peterson, who became Canada’s most globally famous public intellectual in 2016 with his refusal to bow to the new C-16 bill’s required speech concerning transgendered persons (i.e., the legally required use of “preferred pronouns” such as xe, xem, xyrs, etc. which implies agreement with the controversial transgender ideology).  In his public appearances Peterson has been repeatedly “deplatformed” by noisy mobs that simply shut down these events.

Nor did the articles mention Canadian philosopher Stephen Hicks who, now teaching in Illinois, has generated both acclaim and backlash with his critiques of postmodernism.

Some mention should also have been made—but wasn’t—of NYU Professor of Ethical Leadership Jonathan Haidt, who studies why differing political groups have different notions of right and wrong, and seeks to use moral psychology to foster collaboration among partisan opponents. Cancel culture troubles him. Himself an atheist, Haidt has argued that religion contains psychological wisdom which can promote human flourishing, and that the New Atheists have themselves succumbed to moralistic dogma. 

Cancel culture dogma too often seeks only to silence its opponents and avoid debate. Questions of truth, evidence and reason are too often entirely rejected.

On July 10, US President Trump added to the fire with his tweet, “Too many Universities and School Systems are about Radical Left Indoctrination, not Education.” Cutting federal funds to schools that reject free speech is now being considered in both Canada and the US.

A July 10 article in New York Post defines “cancel culture” as “the phenomenon of promoting the ‘canceling’ of people, brands and even shows and movies due to what some consider to be offensive or problematic remarks or ideologies.” They add, “the social-media trend has gained momentum under the trendy new name — placing celebrities, companies and media alike under a microscope of political correctness.” Of course, Bible-believing Christians have been victims of such “cancel culture” for centuries. 

Recently unruly mobs have dominated our news by destroying statues of notable historical figures. In Ottawa recently the unfinished Monument to Victims of Communism was defaced by vandals who promised that “Communism will win.” In the US, top elected Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, dismissed the leftist mobs with “I don’t care that much about statues.” Critics have noted that realists, that is, people who appreciate and wish to learn from historical reality, should celebrate the successes of these people. The iconoclasts seek to erase all memories of anyone who participated in any aspect of the colonial slave trade including those immortalized on Mt. Rushmore. The realists seek to preserve and learn from nation-builders of the past, recognizing they too were all flawed humans, much like the rest of us common folk. Cancel culture is primarily destructive. Realism can be constructive. No utopia will arise from the ashes left by the iconoclasts.

In the race for the leadership of Canada’s Conservative party, two candidates—Leslyn Lewis and Derek Sloan—have committed to repealing the current government’s Bill C-8 (to ban conversion therapies other than sex-change procedures on minors) and Bill C-16 (to require speech as transgendered people demand). Both of these reduce freedoms of speech, expression, and religion to all Canadians. The other two candidates (Peter MacKay and Erin O’Toole) have made no such commitments. August 22 the votes will be counted.

Even today, many people know that Jesus said, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free” (John 8: 36). How many know what He said next? “Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message.” Cancel culture has no room for Jesus’ message. 

If Harpers Magazine can help cancel current “cancel culture” then, surely, Bible-believing Christians can applaud that change in society.


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About the author


Al Hiebert, PhD, currently serves as President of Growing Up In Christ, Inc. Previously he served as the first Executive Director of Christian Higher Education Canada, as Assistant Director of the Association for Biblical Higher Education and for 33 years as Professor of Theology and Philosophy, first at Providence University College and Seminary and then at Briercrest Seminary.

About the author