Monday, September 4, 2023

Cancel Culture Is Nothing New: Examples Ancient and Past

12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.” Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders
--John 7:12-13 (NIV)

While reading from the Gospel of John recently I was struck by the statement highlighted above. They were talking about Jesus, of course. Their response--fear of expressing their thoughts publicly--seemed to encapsulate our moment in history these past three years. People are afraid to speak publicly about many issues out of fear. Jobs have been lost for expressing the wrong point of view on a hot topic. Many are ridiculed simply for having honest doubts.


When I was growing up my mother used to say, "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." Nowadays people are bullied and bludgeoned for questioning the current pop creed. This is not the way people are "won over" to a new idea that goes contrary to their beliefs or experience.

Then again, this is nothing new. Read the story about the man born blind whom Jesus healed. It's found in the Gospel of John, chapter 9. The religious leaders tried to corner his parents, but the parents knew it so they played it coy and gave evasive replies. 

20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” --John 7:12-13

One of the things I like about these stories from the Bible is that the behavior of these characters corresponds with the behavior we see in people today. Insecurity, alertness, political pressure, sorrow, confusion, fear of those in authority... It's nothing new.


Throughout history there have been numerous instances where freedom of speech has been abridged by both governmental actions and cultural norms. Here are some historic examples:

Sedition Acts (1798): The United States passed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798, which included laws aimed at curbing criticism of the government. The Sedition Act criminalized false, scandalous, and malicious statements against the government, leading to the prosecution of individuals critical of President John Adams and his administration.

McCarthyism (1950s): During our Cold War with the Soviet Union, the government's fear of communist infiltration led to witch hunts that cost people their jobs simply by being accused. When you can't express honest doubts or ask honest questions due to fear of repercussions, it's an abridgement of our feedom of speech.

Espionage Act (1917) and Sedition Act (1918): In the context of World War I, the United States passed these acts to suppress dissent and opposition to the war effort. They were used to prosecute individuals who spoke out against the war. Hundreds, and maybe a couple thousand, were imprisoned for expressing anti-war sentiments. At the same time, the government was allocating money to create propaganda in support of the war effort. 

* * * 

To be fair, censorship of free speech has not been limited to the United States. Nevertheless, the degree to which social media and government agencies justified the repression of contrary voices during the Covid lockdowns (and other ethical concerns) has been quite alarming.  


Related Link

He Who Controls the Narrative Controls the People

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