Archive for July 2, 2021

Cancel Culture and Freedom

Posted: July 2, 2021 in Uncategorized

Over the next few days leading up to Independence Day, I thought I would look at freedom. There is something that has been particularly alarming to me in recent years and it ought to be alarming to everyone involved in the arts and in faith. It’s the idea of cancel culture. When people are offended by something the first response of many is to cancel it, to tear down statues, ruin careers, and a multitude of other responses and this in a nation founded on free speech. It’s terrifying for a couple of reasons.

First of all it completely eliminates the idea of free speech. If all of the sudden we are not allowed to say or do or create something because someone might find it offensive, creativity is over, because everyone is offended by something and if we stop making statements and statement pieces for fear of being “cancelled” it will only be a matter of time before either our work is so bland that no one cares about it, or we will only create things that appeal to current sensibilities, whether or not we agree with those sensibilities. It’s frightening, and if you think it’s concerning to the arts and creativity, imagine what it will do to freedom of religion.

The thing is we were never guaranteed freedom from offense, which is good because as stated above, everyone is offended by something. What we are guaranteed instead is free speech and freedom of religion. The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” What this means is very simple. There will not be a state religion. This was written by founding fathers who were very familiar with what happened when the state ran the church and the church ran the state, and both were disastrous. While there would be no establishment of a state religion, neither would there be the state preventing the free practice of religion. Neither would free speech be oppressed. People would be free to speak their minds, share their thoughts and have an open exchange of ideas. This is essential to a free society. Yes it guarantees we will hear things we won’t like and even things that are horribly offensive, but it also guarantees that these things will always be able to be rebutted. Anything less than this is totalitarian.

Cancel culture is really just the fulfillment of Orwell’s 1984 “prophecy.” That book feels less like fiction every single day and something has got to give. If we continue in this wave of censorship, sooner or later we will all be the ones who are being cancelled or worse. What can we do instead? We have to cancel cancel culture. This is actually simpler than it may appear and what it mainly involves is exercising our individual freedoms. If I see something that offends me, I have the right to turn it off. I don’t have the right to silence another person or stifle their free speech anymore than I want them to stifle mine, but I do have the right not to listen. If it’s another person maybe listening is precisely what I must do, as in having a conversation, but be warned, I have no interest in being brow beaten or even physically beaten but if we can have a free and respectful exchange of ideas, I am all for it. Perhaps we will come to agreement, perhaps not but we can still disagree agreeably.

Secondly restricting my freedoms will have an economic impact. If companies support things that run contrary to free speech and freedom of religion, they will not receive any of my money. If enough of us make these choices and exercise these freedoms things will change. The point is if we do not try to rein this madness in, there will come a time when we will not be able to, and that time is not very far away and no one, but a powerful few, will enjoy it.

Tomorrow we will look at this from a faith aspect.