Cancel culture also shows how difficult it is to separate sin from sinners. In our current climate, sinners seem irredeemable—even if a sin occurred a long time ago, or in a different social environment, or seems minor (I recently heard of a cover band banning Van Morrison songs because of his views on COVID). Apologies don’t make much difference—the sinner still bears the stain. The only way to purify the camp, metaphorically speaking, is to remove the entire person from the camp—to purge them from our presence.
“Cancel culture” is a recent social phenomenon. The term was first used in 2016 and it describes the increasingly popular practice of publicly rejecting, boycotting or withdrawing support for (‘cancelling’) particular people or groups because of their unacceptable social or moral views and actions.
Cancel culture came into the spotlight during the Black Lives Matter protests that followed the murder of George Floyd. As part of that turmoil, statues of past public figures who had benefited from slavery or were deemed racist were toppled. Some were even calling for the cancellation of the children’s TV show Paw Patrol due to its connection with law enforcement.
Productions such as Gone with the Wind, an episode of Fawlty Towers, Summer Heights High (and other Chris Lilley works), 30 Rock and Cops were removed from streaming platforms because of perceived racism.
More recently, J.K. Rowling has become one of the highest profile celebrities to be ‘cancelled’ for insisting that sex-differences are still important designators of what it means to be a woman. In 2021 atheist champion Richard Dawkins was stripped of his Humanist of the Year award by the American Humanist Association for perceived insults to certain marginalised minorities.
Of course, there have always been protests, boycotts, of controversial figures, but cancel culture seems different—more vitriolic. But what is driving it, and what does it say about our culture?
I want to suggest that it reveals several deep human intuitions that fit with what the Bible says.
Humans Really do Believe in “Sin”
Some secular thinkers claim that sin is simply an invention and fetish of Christians trying to sell their ‘cure’. Indeed, leading atheist advocate Dan Barker claims, ‘we atheists don’t need to go to the doctor. There isn’t anything wrong with us.’ He was speaking in reaction to the idea of being painted as a ‘sinner’. He says that ‘sin is an imaginary disease, invented to sell you an imaginary cure.’
Yet the fact that certain people are cancelled for holding morally objectionable views indicates that humans really do believe in a thing called ‘sin’.