By: Akos Balogh
Peter Boghossian was a professor of philosophy at Portland State University, where he taught for ten years.
He loved his job.
He loved teaching critical thinking to students. And he was committed to questioning everything, including the ‘Social Justice’ ideology that took over the campus.
But his questioning stance led to push-back from students and staff.
The campus authorities investigated him. Students would spit on him as they walked past. And eventually, this became too much for him. So, he quit.
In his resignation letter, he wrote:
‘While I am grateful for the opportunity to have taught at Portland State for over a decade, it has become clear to me that this institution is no place for people who intend to think freely and explore ideas.’
Boghossian is another victim of what has come to be known as ‘Cancel Culture’: the push to marginalise and make life difficult for people who speak up against the prevailing ideology, which in his situation was ‘Social Justice Theory’.
He’s raising his voice about the dangers of Cancel Culture and the threat it poses to a free society:
The ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. The conformity it breeds among people afraid of losing their reputations and even their jobs.
And it’s a threat many Christians are aware of.
But Boghossian recently shed light on another danger we face from cancel culture. An overlooked danger, but a threat nonetheless.
And it’s a danger Christians should be aware of, lest we succumb to it.
The Overlooked Danger From Cancel Culture
In an interview with podcaster Bari Weiss, Boghossian was asked this question:
‘How do you stop yourself from…saying ‘if they’re not going to play fair, then neither am I…[I will] fight fire with fire?’
In other words, when threatened with cancellation – or when cancelled – how do we keep from fighting outrage with outrage, hate with hate, cancellation with counter-cancellation?
This is the overlooked danger we face from Cancel Culture: not the cancellation itself (although that’s bad, to be sure). Instead, it’s our response to Cancel Culture. Fighting outrage with outrage.
Now some might say we have a right to play just as dirty.
After all, aren’t we in a ‘culture-war’ when it comes to Cancel Culture? Isn’t the future of freedom and Western civilisation at stake? Why shouldn’t we respond to outrage with outrage, cancellation with cancellation?
The Danger of Outrage
There are many problems with responding to cancellation with outrage. While it may feel natural and even appropriate in the moment, it’s dangerous in many ways.
And God’s Word warns us of these dangers:
It damages others through cruel words that tear people down – people made in the very image and likeness of God (James 3:9-10).
It damages our soul, as we’re eaten up with anger toward another: an anger that doesn’t achieve the purposes of God (James 1:20). But risks escalating and inflaming the situation, making it worse (James 3:5-10).
It dishonours God, who commands us to show mercy as we’ve been shown mercy (Matt 18:33).
And at worst, it can fuel a cycle of vengeance. It can Balkanise public discourse. And entrench people into hardened positions. Which is one reason why God commands us not to take vengeance into our own hands, but leave room for his wrath (Rom 12:19-21).
The Unexpected Blessing of Being Cancelled
But on the other hand, cancellation offers a unique opportunity: an opportunity to show the fruit of the gospel in ways that witness to God’s grace.
When we’re cancelled and yet respond with grace, we show our world the power of the gospel. Our actions point to the God of forgiveness.
The God whose Son prayed for those crucifying him, ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34). Our mercy points to the God of mercy, confounding the cynic, and even silencing the critic (1 Peter 3:15-16).