The definition of a cancel culture is a society in which the past or present acts of a person are used to undermine their credibility to silence their voice and even end their career.
While the term “cancel culture” is fairly recent, the concept of canceling someone out based on supposedly scandalous behavior or wrongful ideas is as old as human history. And it has been a particular weapon of religion for thousands of years.
The most prominent example in religious history is the cancel culture of religious legalism that followed a man named Jesus around to dig up dirt on his teachings. Religious authorities fearing for their own positions in society and eager to defend their notion of “tradition” gathered everything they could find on Jesus to conduct a severe cancellation of his message and ministry.
They succeeded in the short term by collaborating with political forces in the Roman world to conduct a cancel culture trial, mocking his claim to be “King of the Jews” while casting blame for calling himself the Son of God. The religious authorities did everything they could to cancel Jesus, and he notably offered little resistance to their aims. That led to the crucifixion now celebrated by the sign of the cross, a holy symbol to Christians the world over.
Many Christian denominations love to lay claim to that cross as a symbol of their salvation. Yet these same Christians in many cases choose to aggressively ignore the cancel culture habits of those who brought that event about.
Legalistic culture wars
As a result, the most powerful branches of the Christian tradition became the one thing Jesus most despised about religion. By the third century A.D., the institution of Christianity was dominated by religious legalists whose adherence to rules and regulations were no less severe than the people who conspired to crucify Jesus in the first place. Anyone that did not adhere to the tenets of Christian religion could be “cancelled” and banned from society outright.
Christianity took cancel culture mentality to its extreme, engaging in pogroms and purges against all those who opposed its authority. The principal target was the Jews, on whom literalistic Christians placed blame for the death of Jesus. That was a necessary and calculated leap in gaslighting the world to distance themselves, at least in terms of perception, from their legalistic forefathers.
The worst cancel in history
Thus the greatest lie in all of human history took over a religion that started with disciples wandering two-by-two and town to town.
As it gathered political power, Christianity became a force for evil through a cancel culture carrying out inquisitions, crusades, witch hunts, and torture to enforce the authority of its traditions and its gathering wealth.
These efforts to suppress or cancel other cultures were “successful” in the sense that they led to the death of millions of people at the direction of the church. Entire nations succumbed to the brutality as claims of providence were veiled behind facetious terms such as Manifest Destiny to justify the cancellation of any culture that stood in front of the Christian Way. The same perverse mentality was used to justify slavery, and the Bible served as the tool to cancel others as well. From homosexuals to women, from immigrants to scientists, Christianity has embarked on cancel campaigns against all of them.
The Holocaust cancellation of Jews
Even that despot Adolf Hilter recognized the irony of these behaviors by the Christian religion. When asked about his vendetta against Jews, he stated, “We are not doing anything to the Jews that the Christian religion has not been doing for 1500 years.” Christians sought to “cancel” all Jews that refused to convert and confess Jesus as the Messiah. The same rage and cancel wars were brought against other religions and cultures as well. From the shrines of Islam to the huts of indigenous tribes in far flung regions of the earth, Christianity sought to cancel those faith systems outright.
The greatest lie in history is that Christianity as a religion was somehow an “improvement” over the legalistic traditions favored by the religious authorities whom Jesus came to resist in the first place. Too much Christian history involves bloodshed and merciless domination of cultures around the world. Let us recall that even King David was denied the right to build a temple to honor the Lord because, as God warned him, “You have too much blood on your hands.” God may work with flawed people, but in the end, there is still conscience to consider.
That brings us to modern times, in which the President of the United States is backed by a Christian cabal all too eager to conduct culture wars to impose their worldview on the nation it claims as its sole possession. With dismissive aplomb, the President engages in daily attempts to cancel out voices and destroy the careers of his perceived opponents. Some of these people served in his own administration. He hailed them for their service when they joined, yet assailed them mercilessly if they left. From his personal attorney Michael Cohen, the “fixer” who did Trump’s dirty work, to men such as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Trump praised them for perceived loyalty. But when they part ways, the sociopathic side of Trump uses Twitter to cancel those he sees as disloyal. All the while, Trump engages in well-documented corruption and collusion with despots around the world.
And predictably, Trump has in his corner a phalanx of highly calculating religious zealots who view it as their right to cancel anyone they deem enemies to the cause. As noted, this approach has a long, sordid history.
John Lennon was right
One of the biggest demonstrations of Christian cancel culture occurred when John Lennon of The Beatles made an accurate yet widely misunderstood statement about the nature of popularity. He wisely stated, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that; I know I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock & roll or Christianity. Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It’s them twisting it that ruins it for me.”
Lennon was right. Across the mainstream denominations in America, Christianity is shrinking because much of the religion and its legalistic foundations are anachronistic. That’s what makes so many religious authorities fearful of future irrelevance. Yet we should recall the response back when Lennon made those cogent remarks. All across the Bible Belt, buzz-haired teenagers and screaming girls threw records onto bonfires in an attempt to cancel The Beatles on the spot.
Fifty years later, The Beatles are more popular than ever. The timelessness of their music and the importance of their social commentary during a time of great social change has grown in significance with the passing years. A deranged fan jealous of Lennon’s fame and talent canceled his anti-hero’s life with a bullet to the head, a haunting reminder that the artist once wrote a song titled Happiness is a Warm Gun.
Smoking guns and gaslighting
So the Christian haters of John Lennon ultimately got their way. How ironic it is that so many hard-Right Christians seem to love and embrace their weapons as much as they love Jesus. Thousands of people die each year from gun violence in America, their lives cancelled by a twisted interpretation of the Second Amendment that ignores the requirement for a well-regulated militia in favor of a selfish claim to bear arms at any cost.
How ironic it is that a religion in its most conservative form celebrates the value of law, yet when it comes to protecting the lives of millions of people in history, it has dismissed the most important law of all, Thou Shall Not Kill in favor of a worldview that says it’s okay to cancel the lives of anyone who stands in the way of imperial or populist religious power.
Christianity is gaslighting the world by claiming loss of religious freedom when its own agenda for millennia has been aimed at canceling the freedoms and rights of people who don’t share the same belief system.
In my forthcoming book Rescuing Christianity from the Grip of Tradition, the issue of religious legalism is dissected and traced back to the earliest words in the Bible, where the Serpent in the Garden of Eden first adopts the Word of God to serve its own purposes.