JK Rowling, Cancel Culture, and the Gradual Demise of the West

Real life dementors are swooping around JK Rowling and they’re coming for you too.

JK Rowling has found herself caught up in cancel culture. Both JK Rowling and Harry Potter are currently trending on Twitter. There are 100,000s comments and memes expressing outrage. Indeed many of these tweets are themselves outrageous and even abusive. 

What did JK Rowling say to invoke such anger? She dared challenge the culture’s narrative.

“If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth.”

Let’s be clear, JK Rowling hasn’t said anything controversial. She has simply noted an established fact: a scientific, biological, and sociological fact. Indeed, sex is one of the few self evident truths that has been universally accepted in all human history and across cultures, that is, until the last few years. In today’s Western world, to affirm that women are women and that men are men is to speak heresy. To suggest sex is real is paramount to signing your own incarceration to Azkaban.

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Our societies have been occupied by other important issues of late, especially the COVID-19 pandemic and now racism. The response to JK Rowling is a reminder however that even a pandemic and racism don’t diminish the fervour of those following the latest chapter in the sexual revolution. Again note, we are talking about half a million comments stemming from a simple statement affirming that women are women. This shows us how nothing is to excuse, distract, or dilute, full and unquestioned adherence to the sexual milieu.

While our attention has been necessarily elsewhere, the Victorian Government is still planning to introduce legislation this year that may well prohibit classical Christian teaching on sex and gender. Also, over the past few days, The Australian has published two important articles exposing the wrongful conflation of autism with gender dysphoria. Girls with autism are being misdiagnosed with gender dysphoria and are undergoing treatment to change their gender.

“Professor Attwood, a psychologist based in Brisbane and author of the guide known globally as the “Asperger’s bible”, said unhurried and thoughtful gender change could be a success but he worried about a crash back into depression if trans status was embraced with impulsive and unrealistic hopes of a fix for autism“Once they’ve changed gender, they still have autism and when (gender) transition doesn’t solve their problems they think, Oh no, that was the only option I had, what’s the point of life?,” he told The Australian.

“One of the characteristics of autism is what we call a one-track mind, and sometimes the issue of gender dysphoria (discomfort with one’s body) and changing gender becomes a special interest with a phenomenal knowledge and determination.”

Not even medicine is immune to popular social theory. Our culture’s inability to affirm basic scientific and social truth exposes a growing distrust of authority and a preference to determine moral goodness by personal inclinations. This has the negative effect of harming children and creating greater social disharmony.

As today’s example with JK Rowling demonstrates, hardline secularists preach a message of tolerance that is soaked in hateful speech. They call for justice and acceptance while demeaning everyone around them and demanding their silence. Secularist sermons are as religious as the most ardent fundamentalist. They are as confident as the Titanic sailing from the shores of England and will prove to be as successful.  Except, in this case, the new moral arbiters are not waiting for the iceberg to hit, they are already busy throwing overboard anyone and everyone who questions the decided course, which is to hit the iceberg. That is the agenda. We are not witnessing the rebirth of Western culture as much as we are signalling its gradual demolition.

The project of relativising truth was all along about breaking down society in order to introduce a new and authoritarian truth. This new order exists without reason and grace and it insists on our total allegiance. Gender theory serves as the flagship for the new orthodoxy. The fact that this theory keeps bending and changing every few months is ignored by the most vocal evangelists. Whatever its latest iteration, unwavering conformity is demanded.

Paul Kelly has offered this insightful analysis of the fracturing of Western culture. He says,

“The progressive mantra is that Western liberalism is immoral with its tolerance of colonialism, invasion, racism, inequality, climate cowardice, sexism and patriarchy. While Australians are pragmatic and responsive to sensible changes in the liberal status quo, progressivism demands a new moral order that unnerves and divides the community. It is about power. It sees every issue in terms of a victim class and an oppressor class. It is more interested in power than solutions. It demands people change their values to fit its moral impositions and it is disgusted by how liberalism has tolerated so many reactionary views…”

“…American writer Yuval Levin argued in his 2016 book, The Fractured Republic, that culture was being re-engineered. It was now what the individual preferred it to be. Once your guiding star becomes your own self-expression then, as Levin says, we “recoil from any demands that we conform to the requirements of some external moral standard — a set of rules that keeps ‘me’ from being ‘the real me’, ‘true to myself’ ”.

Such rules were to be discarded. Indeed, they were to be mocked, with the Christian religion top of the list. Such individual empowerment leads to defiance of moral instructions handed down by church, state or nearly any authority. Those defying the authority are applauded because being “true to yourself” is seen as the ultimate morality.”

Jesus declares that the “truth sets us free”. Yet, we see our society abandoning truth on many fronts; not only Christian truths but also universal knowledge. We see it with our attitudes toward the unborn, we see it when society denigrates other races, and it’s evident in our whitewashing of sex and gender. The situation is made more complex because past generations have not always offered a better discourse. Examples abound of where Western culture has previously suppressed self evident moral truth in the name of other ideologies, but this is no justification for repeating the sin of Adam today.

As Paul Kelly suggests in his article, Western societies like Australia are likely to become more fragmented and tribal. One of the byproducts of this is that as we grow weaker, we become more vulnerable. The sun is slowly setting on the West, less because of emerging powers like Communist China, but because like Rome we have chosen to destroy ourselves. At times we highlight genuine issues and then weaponise them to knock each other out. Agreement is often aloof and kindness even more distant. It is telling that as a society we can no longer agree on what a woman is and what a man is.

That there are individuals who believe they are born in the wrong body cannot be denied. That most children who wrestle with this disjuncture find the issue resolved as they grow into adulthood is also a fact. That some individuals continue to struggle with their gender identity does not mean we dismiss biological facts, but it does require us to find suitable ways to love and support them. Indeed, while Christian ethics is largely dismissed by today’s cultural elites, it is the Bible belief that all people are made in the image of God that teaches us that all people matter. We do not leave those aside those who are crying for help, rather we come alongside them.

The West is in trouble. As a Christian, my primary focus is not on keeping the West. However, to say none of it matters is simply naive. With all its flaws and failures, Western civilisation has given the world liberties and life that have not grown elsewhere. Again, the very notion of human equality and dignity depends on Judeo-Christian teaching.  If the West is to be saved, we need to rediscover the very doctrines upon which it was built, and indeed the very same teachings that are now flourishing in many other parts of the world; name Christianity. This exercise, however, requires humility and even repentance. At the moment, there is little appetite for either.

Post-Truth is not so new

Post-truth has been declared word of the year, by the Oxford Dictionary.

I have to confess, I can’t recall ever hearing of the word prior to the announcement, but rarely have I been confused with owning hip, cool, and trendy oratory. I have no doubt though, our cultural frontline linguists know what they are talking about!

The Dons of the Oxford Dictionary define post-truth as, ‘an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.’

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Oxford Dictionary website

There is a drop of irony here, post-truth’s rise to the top coincided with Donald Trump’s victory in the Presidential election. Apparently, the  Presidential campaigns were responsible for a spike in world-wide usage of post-truth, as was the Brexit campaign earlier in the year.

According to the official website, post-truth first appeared in 1992, in an essay written by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich. In 2016 there has been an observed 2000% increase in its usage, thus warranting the title of Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year.

The word may be new, but the concept has had a long run through history.

In the 4th Century BC Aristotle pre-empted post-truth when he spoke of the tripartite art of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos.

Jesus Christ spoke of post-truth. In the parable Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus makes the point, that should a man rise from dead, people will not believe the evidence if they are not also prepared to believe God at his word. In other words, empirical demonstration is important but it is not suffice to persuade a person of what is true and good.

Accordingly, the Bible adds a fourth category to Aristotle’s tripartite art of persuasion: pnevmatikós (or spiritual). Ardent rationalists may scoff at this notion, but perhaps it is the case that their post-truth commitment to naturalism denies them the reasonable conclusion of accepting the reality of Christ, including the overwhelming evidence of his resurrection from the dead.

Post-truth is a word that carries with it an air of elitism and superiority. It is used to denigrate those whom we deem are less rational and intelligent.

In a documentary series marking a trip across the United States, Stephen Fry visited Los Alamos, the place where the first hydrogen bomb was developed. While exploring this once secret location, Fry made this remark,

“some people would think this is a grizzly place, a place of death, but to me I see nothing but optimism, and that’s because I believe in science. Many people today don’t.”

Stephen Fry is an example of a generation who credit science and rationalism as being security for human progress. Indeed, in the recent election a wave political experts and pollsters proclaimed the moral high ground on the basis of their education and they decried the uneducated who followed Donald Trump.

Whether we believe ourselves intelligent or not, and whether we have letters running after our name or not, we have always been post-truth, at least part-time.

The reality is we all need facts and truth to live well, and we adhere to these when these thing conform to our likes and wants. But rarely, are our ethical positions and personal decisions determined solely or even primarily because of what is true.

Today I was reminded of a classic post-truth moment in Victoria this year. Roz Ward has found herself in the media’s eye once again, with a photograph capturing the Safe Schools architect bullying a bystander during an anti-Trump demonstration in Melbourne yesterday. As I saw the photograph I was reminded of Roz Ward’s now infamous declaration, that the Safe Schools program is not primarily about creating Safe Schools but is designed to teach children Marxist values. Despite the repeated admission by this key designer of the curriculum, many politicians and social commentators have glued blue tac to their ears, and pretended the truth had never been leaked. Why? Political and social ideology trumps a confession.

Post-truth is not a 2016 problem, it is a human problem. Our word of the year communicates something about the proclivity of the human heart. Searching for truth is a noble task; as Jesus himself said, ‘the truth will set you free’. But knowing what is true and listening to it requires more than simple assent to objective facts. It requires a posture of humility, whereby we allow truth, especially God’s truth, to penetrate and challenge and restore.