Some readers have no doubt heard of the “Mandela Effect,” which is the Internet’s way of describing shared false memories. It’s named for the legions of armchair historians who swear up and down they remember former South African president Nelson Mandela dying in prison in the late 1980s. (In reality, Mandela died a free man in 2013. But many can’t bring themselves to believe it.)
The term has been applied to a panoply of other collective recollections that turn out to have no basis in fact. They include the spelling of Stan and Jan Berenstain’s “Berenstain Bears” children’s books (thousands insist it was once spelled “Berenstein”), the name of the Kellogg’s cereal, Froot Loops (folks swear they remember seeing “Fruit Loops” on grocery store shelves), and even a children’s film called “Shazaam,” starring comedian Sinbad as a genie—a movie that droves of people who grew up in the 1990s say they remember, but which never existed. True to form, the Internet has nurtured conspiracy theories galore about inter-dimensional travel and parallel universes to explain these anomalies. A surprising number of people prefer to blame glitches in the Matrix rather than admit they have lousy memories.
But the logic (or illogic) behind the Mandela Effect is at work elsewhere in our culture. Defective memories haunt progressive politicians and entertainers, for example, who are continually flabbergasted to discover that Christians with orthodox views of sex and marriage still exist. In 2019, I tell you!
We saw this recently when actress Ellen Page (you know her from “Juno,” and “Inception”) called out Chris Pratt (“Parks and Rec,” “Guardians of the Galaxy”) on Twitter for the unthinkable crime of attending Hillsong Church, which holds the view of homosexual acts that Christians have for some 2,000 years (namely, that they’re sin).
After Pratt appeared on the Colbert Late Show to talk about spirituality, Page wrote: “If you are a famous actor and you belong to an organization that hates a certain group of people, don’t be surprised if someone simply wonders why its not addressed. Being anti LGBTQ is wrong. there [sic] aren’t two sides. The damage it causes is severe. Full stop. Sending love to all.”
Set aside for a moment the slim likelihood that Page has any moral reasoning behind this Sinaitic pronouncement. Ignore also her well-worn strawman of Christian morality as “hate” toward some group of people. What intrigues me about her tweet and messages like it is how insulated and amnesiac they sound. “There aren’t two sides” could be taken as a naked power play—an effort to shift the range of acceptable opinions so far leftward that the dominant view of the world’s largest religion no longer makes the cut. I don’t deny she is doing this, too. But I think there’s a little more going on. Taken with the recent uproar over Karen Pence’s art class at Immanuel Christian School, I think Page and those who agree with her are currently suffering from a kind of progressive Mandela Effect.
I say this because it’s difficult for me to imagine that anyone like Page could, with a full awareness of just how brand-spanking-new her social views are, still imagine that disagreeing with them places a person outside the pale of respectable discussion. Were Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Dick Durbin not even worth listening to when, as recently as 2008, they all defined marriage as “a sacred union between a man and a woman”? There isn’t a divine revelation in history that has shifted orthodoxy this quickly. It took the Israelites a thousand years to move beyond idol-worship. Yet Ellen Page and other progressives think the United States has, in eleven years, moved past a view of marriage and sexuality that predates written language.
Obviously, I don’t deny that American elites have fully embraced LGBT+ ideology, or that those like Chris Pratt whose paychecks depend on the approval of those elites may suffer for being two presidential elections behind the times. “Do you now or have you ever supported the Christian view of sex” is a question that should strike terror in the hearts of all who work for woke culture-makers and corporations. Just ask Brendan Eich.
But on the flipside, those same culture-makers are deluding themselves if they think that merely declaring the old view taboo will make it go away. The story of the last three years has been one of bitter backlash against progressive overreach. And Supreme Court victories like the one Jack Phillips’ Masterpiece Cakeshop won show that legally enforcing compliance with the novus ordo secularum is trickier than the Ellen Pages of the world imagine.
And that is what cutting-edge progressives are doing: imagining. Not even John Lennon with all his chemical assistance could have foreseen progress so complete that the footage I just linked of Hillary Clinton feels like a clip from an alternate reality. Surely in the universe where Barack Obama sat down with Rick Warren a decade ago to affirm the sacred, Christian view of marriage, “Berenstain Bears” is spelled with an “ei.” One imagines CNN contributors tacking yarn to a wall like Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind” rather than acknowledge that a view they now treat as the sine qua non of human decency is younger than that film.
So urgent and heedless is the sexual reform project that it has left much of society behind. The upshot is that reformers must demonize even stragglers in their own ranks. Like proponents of Mandela Effect conspiracy theories, they are (or act) shocked to the point of denial to discover that the past was anything other than what they remember, and that relics from that regressive geologic age still walk among us.
But like Mandela Effect theorists, those who treat each new letter in the growing alphabet of sexual identities as a non-negotiable are out of sync with reality. And it’s not because reality has changed. It’s because they’ve chosen to forget, ignore, or block out the existence of bakers, vice-presidents’ wives, churches, and actors with first principles older than many living cats. As I have said before, progressive triumphalism has its limits, and we are presently hitting them at full speed. Yes, there are many in Washington, Hollywood, and Manhattan newsrooms who would like to call Sinbad forth from his bottle and wish away adherents to traditional morality. There’s just one problem: Sinbad never played a genie.
Have a Follow-up Question?
Want to dig deeper?
If you want to challenge yourself as many others have done, sign up below.