Return of the Puritans

Years ago when I was in college, I remember watching as several Christian groups organized a national protest over the release of a blasphemous movie called Dogma. Ironically, the movie, which told the story of two fallen angels trying to make their way back into a heaven ruled by a god played by Alanis Morrissette, was written and directed by a practicing Catholic. I never watched the movie itself, but I did watch the protests, and even more so, the counter-protests.

Specifically, I remember a host of commentators, columnists, and critics blasting the Christian response to Dogma. "So it wasn't your cup of tea," they said, "don't buy a ticket." While I am loathe to side with blasphemers over any matter of public policy, there was always something a bit concerning to me about the puritanical demands I heard believers making at the time.

I watched Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League and a man with whom I would likely agree on most things political, claim that while free speech is critical, blasphemous speech is something entirely different. From a conscience standpoint, I wholeheartedly agree. As a believer in Christ, I am not "free" to do or participate in those things which offend the nature and character of God. In fact, I rightly recognize that there's no freedom in such conduct; that the greatest expression of freedom I can ever achieve on earth is utter submission to God's way and will. Every other path that departs from that forges fetters that shackle me to the pain and punishments of sin.

But is it incumbent upon me, is it even logical of me, to expect to legally impose a similar understanding on those who are not in Christ? Would doing so somehow bring them into heartfelt obedience with the Master? Is Christianity best spread by legislation, best proselytized through a president's pen?

Libertarian news anchor John Stossel did a special on ABC (yes, the network actually employed a non-progressive and allowed him the leeway to explore non-progressive ways of thinking at one point in their history) where he interviewed one of Donahue's cohorts who proposed new laws that made joking about religion illegal. "It's too holy," she said, "it's our whole salvation."

There's much more I have said and could say about that perspective, and probably will again at some point. But let's simply acknowledge that the religious objection to Dogma had a two-fold result:

  1. It brought far more attention (and therefore profit) to the film than it would have otherwise received.
  2. It allowed secular progressives a perfect caricature to use in their ongoing efforts to portray Christians as hollow, humorless scolds, sullen in spirit and puritanical in public character.

To suggest that the movie spat itself somehow sped along the demise of Christian influence in the culture is probably a bit much, but the prevailing sentiment that it reinforced was unquestionably a significant factor. Embracing Christian influence in the public square became tantamount to embracing a rigid religiosity that was anathema to a thriving, diverse, pluralism in the public square.

It seems that if only my Catholic friends objecting to Dogma could have waited just a couple decades they would have gone from pariahs to popular, from killjoys to conscience keepers of America. After all, how perfectly in line was their puritanical protest to what happened just last week in a Minneapolis, Minnesota performing arts theater.

Comedian Dave Chapelle openly mocks the dangerous anti-reality claims of the transgender political movement. He pushes against the groupthink and insular nature of its public policy demands – demands that threaten the freedom of thought and civil liberties of the civilization as a whole. As a result of his blasphemy against the established dogma (note the irony) of the day, he is cancelled just hours before his show.

Notice the "we hear you" that started the theater's tweet. Hear who? Not the countless millions who agree with Chapelle. Not the hundreds or thousands who had purchased tickets to the show. Not the general population that believes in a pluralistic society. Not even the thousands attempting to respond to the tweet announcement in order to voice their displeasure – First Avenue restricted replies on the post to stop the outpouring of criticism.

What's funny is that progressives once hailed Dave Chapelle as a bold, outspoken, unafraid comic that was bravely pushing back against some of society's golden cows.

As long as those cows were traditional right-wing preferences, he was a hero. Now that it is the progressive cause-du-jour, not so much. And these progressive puritans don't even realize what they've become:

First of all, if this isn't the most obvious example of a "tell-me-you-know-nothing-about-your-topic-without-telling-me-you-know-nothing-about-your-topic" there's ever been, I don't know what would be. Dave Chapelle's entire persona is built upon a pile of "groups" he has mocked, marginalized or otherwise. Oddly enough, this is the first "marginalized" group that is so mistreated, so powerless, that they managed to get his entire show cancelled simply for offending them. If only we all could be so "marginalized."

Second, and perhaps more importantly, look at the statement from First Avenue itself. There's simply no way to parody an organization that crows about their support of "diverse voices" and "freedom of artistic expression" in the same paragraph they announce their decision to cancel a black man's show.

Progressivism is neo-puritanism, and the sooner we all realize it and reject it, the better off our freedoms will be.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Not the Bee or any of its affiliates.

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