Pastor's pen for 14th March 2021 - Cancel Culture

Yesterday evening we had our running club committee meeting at the pub, because the council staff room we use since our clubrooms were demolished (by the council) had a power cut. Pub's seem quite good places for meetings, because know.

As I was settling my bill a random pub patron thought it would be a good idea to tell the bar attendant a joke. What came out of his mouth was appallingly racist and had no place in any conversation in this century or the previous one. I won't assault your senses with it now. It's amazing what some people think is funny. I would cancel his bigotry if I could.

Dr Seuss has been in the news recently as the foundation with the rights to publish his works has decided to discontinue several titles largely due to dated, racist or inappropriate content. A former children's librarian, I was initially shocked by this, but on further reflection came to the conclusion there remain many Dr. Seuss titles in circulation worthy of attention, and the 1930s ones cancelled were not his finest moments.

I now feel similarly about Hergé, the Belgian author of the Tintin comic books, which I spent my intermediate school lunchtimes poring over. His Tintin in the Congo and Tintin in America contain stereotypical, demeaning portrayals of Africans and Native Americans respectively, certainly reflecting an early 20th century colonialist vibe. However, in later years his comic books were often well researched and appeared to reflect the cultural contexts they were set in more faithfully. Also they were gripping, complex, and promoted reading among otherwise unmotivated youths. The Secret of the Unicorn, Red Rackham's Treasure and Tintin in Tibet stand out for me. Not everything survives the test of time, but some of Hergé's works certainly do.

People get quite exercised about 'cancel culture'. Yet a lot of stuff gets cancelled because it's not very good. I like a lot of 80s music because I'm of a certain age, but a lot of it was rubbish and can stay in the distant past as far as I'm concerned. Let's keep listening to the good stuff.

Taking a theological turn, protestants remember Martin Luther as the founder of the reformation, which has changed the course of church history and when Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517 momentous things were set in motion. He was a courageous man. And yet, Luther's racist, anti-Jewish attitude and writings are now widely acknowledged, and here stated by Rabbi Tovia Singer that "Among all the Church Fathers and Reformers, there was no mouth more vile, no tongue that uttered more vulgar curses against the Children of Israel than this founder of the Reformation."

So in summary, I think as Christians we need to get more comfortable with the grey areas of life and literature. Not all of our heroes said great things all of the time. What we put before the young is critical, as we are shaping attitudes and life trajectories. But the full 'canon' of each of the above writers in both children's literature and theology needs to remain available to the researcher and scholar, lest we cancel our ability to reflect on the past, its subtleties and transformations. We need to be a people of discernment, capable of sorting the wheat from the chaff in many areas of life.

In closing, remember the words of Jesus to the twelve in Matthew 10:16 "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

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