IN RECENT YEARS, “cancel culture” has gained a lot of traction. Celebrities, corporations and others deemed culturally offensive are called out, shamed and shunned. Perhaps the most common venue for cancel culture is social media, but its effects are not merely virtual; they are very real. Many victims of cancel culture lose their reputations and their jobs. Corporations in the crosshairs of cancel culture can find themselves bankrupt, and academics who dare to disagree can lose tenure. Social media giants cancel accounts and publications considered out of line.
More than a few commentators across the political spectrum have warned that cancel culture threatens freedom of expression, including academic freedom. Moreover, cancel culture shows no mercy. It hurls bitter and even obscene invectives at those whose ideas and values do not conform to secular orthodoxy. Once it takes aim at a person or an institution, the goal is utter obliteration or unconditional surrender. Perceived flaws nullify any good that a person or institution has done in the past. There is no dialogue, no common ground, no chance to explain or redeem oneself, no way back to respectability. Clearly, this is a dangerous path for our society, and its anger and harshness have infected relationships across the globe.
Happily, though, there is such a thing as a good cancel culture. It does not originate on social media or the airwaves. Rather, the good cancel culture comes from the heart of God: It is the stunning truth that God, in his mercy and love, has canceled our sins. St. Paul puts it this way: “And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven all our trespasses, having canceled the bond which stood against us … nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14, RSV). Indeed, we celebrate this “divine cancel culture” with special solemnity and joy throughout Holy Week and Easter.
‘God in his mercy invites us to turn from our sins in order to enter into a relationship of love with him, a relationship in which he speaks to our hearts.’
How does the “divine cancel culture” differ from its secular counterpart? The two could not be more different. First, God loves and respects every person, even those who have rejected his love, whereas today’s cancel culture reviles those who dare to disagree. God “wills every person to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), whereas cancel culture seeks to destroy those it deems unworthy. God sent his only Son to preach the Good News, to heal us and rescue us from sin and death, whereas cancel culture stirs up condemnation, sometimes anonymously, against its targets. God in his mercy invites us to turn from our sins in order to enter into a relationship of love with him, a relationship in which he speaks to our hearts, whereas cancel culture rejects true dialogue and evokes fear, not love. Most important of all, the “divine cancel culture” seeks only to obliterate our sins so that we might flourish in the eyes of God, whereas the secular cancel culture seeks to destroy reputations and livelihoods.
The “divine cancel culture” goes still further. While the secular cancel culture urges that so-called “offenders” be subject to recriminations and payback, the divine cancel culture urges us to cancel the debts that others owe to us. Our Lord taught us to say, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Mt 6:12). Consider, too, the parable of the servant whose master forgave him his debts but who, in turn, would not forgive a much smaller debt owed him by a fellow servant (Mt 18:21-35). If God has forgiven us our trespasses “according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7), so too must we be ready to cancel, to forgive, the offenses of others against us. Thus do we live up to our principles of charity, unity and fraternity!
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