Want to listen instead of read? You can hear the audio version of this article on Episode 13 of The Natasha Crain Podcast.
Last month, the CEO of video game maker Tripwire Interactive was made to step down from his job just 53 hours after he tweeted support for the new Texas abortion law (which banned abortion after the baby’s heartbeat can be detected). Here’s the offensive tweet that apparently warranted the loss of his job:
“Proud of #USSupremeCourt affirming the Texas law banning abortion for babies with a heartbeat. As an entertainer I don’t get political often. Yet with so many vocal peers on the other side of this issue, I felt it was important to go on the record as a pro-life game developer.”
He merely stated his view that he supports protecting unborn babies from being killed. But having a different view was too much for cancel culture to handle. The pressure came quickly. A co-developer, Shipwright Studios, tweeted a statement the next day in which they said they would be canceling any existing contracts with Tripwire Interactive because they could not in “good conscience continue to work with Tripwire under the current leadership structure”:
Almost unbelievably, Shipwright Studios’ About Us page has a section called “Moral Compass.” It states:
“STEM fields are notoriously unwelcoming for many demographics, but women and minorities are notably underrepresented in game industry as a whole, and game programming in particular. As a small business owned by three white men, we are not blind to the luxury of being able to keep our ‘politics’ separate from our work, as well as personal lives. But for many of our friends and colleagues, ‘politics’ are not some easily ignorable distraction.
As an industry, we can do better and we must.
While we don’t have the power to change the industry as a whole, we do have the power to change the way we conduct our business with it. We are ready to put our money where our mouth is and lend our voice to further causes that promote diversity and inclusion, preferring to work with clients working towards the same goals which only serve to enrich the industry to which we have devoted the entirety of our careers.”
I’m guessing you didn’t hear about this particular story, or if you did, you shook your head and moved on with your day. Maybe that’s what you’re doing right now.
But that’s the point of this article.
Similar actions are taking place every day across nearly every (if not every) industry. People are losing jobs for publicly sharing views that differ from what’s been deemed acceptable by secular culture.
This also happens in academia.
And in the press.
And even—if not especially—in personal relationships. Numerous people have been canceled by friends or family in the last couple of years simply because of what they believe (including myself).
You might collectively call all this “everyday cancel culture.”
Yes, there are still high profile cancel culture examples that grab sustained public attention, but it’s the everyday cancel culture that picks off person after person without national attention that’s far more insidious because the cumulative seriousness of what’s happening isn’t obvious to many people.
Meanwhile, everyday cancel culture rolls on with major implications that Christians need to understand. Here are three important things to know.
1. Cancel culture is deeply rooted in today’s pervasive secular social justice ideology, so it’s not going away any time soon.
It might be tempting to chalk all this up to mere social hysteria—a “this too shall pass” phenomenon. But that’s a really dangerous and incorrect assumption to have.
To see why, you have to understand that cancel culture’s major ideological roots grow several decades deep; this isn’t something freshly springing out of society’s top soil. And those roots are called Critical Theory.
Critical Theory as an academic subject is quite complex, but in its popular manifestations, here’s the basic idea (which is a worldview unto itself). The world is divided into two groups: those who are oppressed (the powerless) and those who are oppressors (the powerful). Those who are in the identity groups considered to be oppressed—for example, women, people of color, and the LGBT community—are victims of the social structure that has empowered the oppressors. You’ve probably heard quite a bit in the media, at least in passing, about Critical Race Theory in particular, but that’s just one Theory in the Critical Theory family—the one that deals with race-based oppression specifically. (For more on Critical Theory and its relationship to Christianity, see my article here.) The basic ideological structure of Critical Theory has become the de facto lens through which secularists view social justice, and it’s becoming entrenched in nearly every major cultural institution.
So what does that have to do with cancel culture?
In the context of Critical Theory, canceling is seen as a tool of the oppressed to deal with the sins of the oppressors.
That brings us to an important second point. But the bottom line in this one is that Critical Theory and cancel culture are integrally related concepts, and because Critical Theory is becoming firmly entrenched in society, cancel culture is likely here to stay as well.
2. Cancel culture sees itself as taking the moral high ground.
Those who aren’t steeped in the views of Critical Theory typically see cancel culture as a bad thing; it’s a dictatorial shutting down of opposing viewpoints. But if you understand it in the context of Critical Theory, it suddenly makes sense why proponents of cancel culture see it as a good thing:
The harsh actions involved with canceling people are assumed to be morally justified because they’re thought to be taken on behalf of the oppressed.
When everything is framed either implicitly or explicitly in terms of a fight against evil oppression, a lot of leeway will be given to what’s considered to be acceptable action.
The problem is how one defines oppression. Note that Shipwright Studios—the company that “canceled” Tripwire for having a pro-life CEO—said in their so-called “Moral Compass” statement that they want to lend their “voice to further causes that promote diversity and inclusion.” From a Christian perspective, it’s hard to imagine how they can’t see the irony in claiming they champion diversity and inclusion while canceling a relationship with a company whose CEO has a different view on the sanctity of life.
But once again, understanding cancel culture’s Critical Theory roots sheds light on why people like the Shipwright leadership don’t see it as ironic at all. They believe they have the moral high ground on this issue because they see it as a matter of reproductive justice. Within the framework of Feminist (Critical) Theory, it’s unjust for a woman to not have the choice to have an abortion.
In other words, the pro-life view is seen as oppressive to women.
Shipwright and others like them literally see themselves as the moral heroes and moral protectors of society, based on their own secular standard of justice (clearly, they don’t consider the injustice done to the preborn infant who is killed). When they say in their statement that they cannot “in good conscience” continue to work with Tripwire, they’re making it clear they believe they’re the good guys. And when they say would be doing the industry a disservice to “allow” a fellow industry CEO to have a public pro-life viewpoint, they’re making it clear they think canceling people for so-called oppressive views is actually a moral obligation.
3. Cancel culture will ultimately be at odds with Christianity because it has a different standard of justice.
Cancel culture proponents can make it sound like a good thing given the Critical Theory-based train of thought we just looked at. But Christians need to understand that it will continually be at odds with Christianity because secular culture has a different standard of justice (as we began to see in the last point).
Take, for example, these words from an article by progressive Vox writer Aja Romano: “The idea of canceling began as a tool for marginalized communities to assert their values against public figures who retained power and authority even after committing wrongdoing…In similar ways, both ‘wokeness’ and ‘canceling’ are tied to collectivized demands for more accountability from social systems that have long failed marginalized people and communities…Taken in good faith, the concept of ‘canceling’ a person is really about questions of accountability.”
Some people have tried to recast cancel culture as “consequence culture” to emphasize this idea of mere accountability. But accountability assumes a standard to be accountable to, and therein lies the problem.
As I explain in my upcoming book Faithfully Different (in which I have two chapters on social justice and cancel culture):
“One of the biggest problems with secular social justice from a biblical perspective is that it lacks an objective standard for defining justice in the first place. In secular social justice, oppression is often defined with respect to how people feel about dominant groups imposing their norms, values, and expectations on society as a whole, and that doesn’t necessarily correspond with what would be considered oppressive from a biblical perspective. As a result, people today are often being canceled for stating ideas that are wrong in the eyes of the world but not wrong in the eyes of God. When a person like Romano states that cancel culture is really just about accountability for when people ‘say or do bad things,’ it sounds reasonable on the surface, but it’s actually a very dangerous idea. It implies people are accountable to a mob that’s ready to take action as soon as someone’s words or actions stray from the mob’s own standard of justice.”
The mob’s standard will never be the same as God’s standard.
So where does all this leave Christians?
Given the factors discussed here, we can expect cancel culture to affect us personally and indefinitely. This mentality isn’t going away. We should just expect to be canceled in some way for stating what we believe because we’re seen as the bad guys now.
But that doesn’t mean we should be silent.
In fact, it means the opposite.
We need to be bolder than ever.
Bold enough to speak when people call us oppressors (by their own standard) and cut us off from relationships, positions, and opportunities.
Bold enough to act when people move to stop us in every way.
Bold enough to love according to what God wants for people rather than what they want for themselves.
It’s time for “salt and light” to really mean something. It’s not a cutesy phrase to put on the back of a t-shirt. It’s our calling to preserve truth in a decaying culture and shine light in a dark world. Let’s be sure we fear God more than we fear the temporal cancelation weapons of man.
For more on my upcoming book, Faithfully Different, check out pre-order details here! I wrote it to help Christians gain clarity about what it means to believe, think, and live differently as a worldview minority in a secular culture. Cancel culture and secular social justice are two of many subjects covered.