Dictionary.com defines ‘cancel culture’ as the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures or companies after doing something offensive or deemed so.
It’s a massive problem among Catholics too.
And I tell you what. I can’t stand it. I see a wholesale dumping of things that don’t fit our understanding of the world, or of the Faith.
We reduce people to labels and ideas, and cancel them.
We read clickbait and headlines, and cancel movements.
We take what we don’t know anything about, and cancel it.
This is a problem for two reasons: ideological purity, and interior problems.
This is a personal analysis of my own temptation. A thinking-through of where I go wrong, and why it’s dangerous.
This is the desire to root out and remove anything that isn’t perfect, that isn’t a reflection of the ideal, that isn’t pure through and through.
People who live this way end up like ‘The Handmaids Tale’, or a form of close-minded fascism, like Frollo (Hunchback of Notre Dame). Everything is weighed against one’s understanding of things, or how the party thinks.
There’s no room for error, or change, or development.
We are the Pope.
That was my culture growing up; it had no room for the outer world. We lived in secret fear and wonder of the outer world. But it was not ‘pure’, it was flawed and dangerous and broken and seething with devils.
Everything was sin, flesh, and worldly.
Now much of that might be true. But as Bishop Barron points out, you can’t love a dead thing.
And that leads to the second point.
Constantly telling yourself that the world is dead, dead to life, dead to Christ, is a horrible sin.
Because it automatically creates a counting-down-to-the-kingdom mindset. Instead of building the kingdom.
We don’t check in. We check out.
We don’t feel any responsibility to neighborhood or country or parish.
We feel that we are the guardians of the moral order, and so we hole up in our little meetings, in our narrow homes, and tell ourselves that it is we who are as broad as the sky. And we look down at the sinful wretches in the rest of the world.
Christ said that there’s a danger to expelling a demon and putting your house completely in order. Because that demon will return with 7 friends, and they will enter, and make things worse than before.
Notice, he said enter, not ‘force their way in’. They’ll knock, and it shall be opened, because you think they’re ok.
These are the devils you know. The ones you agree with. The ones you settle for. And when they set up shop, they make things 7 times worse- for you, and everyone around you.
That’s what happens when we decide that the world is Sodom and Gomorrah and we’re the remnant, heading for the hills. We forget that God regularly reached out to Israel’s mortal enemies – such as Niniveh – to save them.
If we deem the world dead, how are we ever going to be present to it? How can we ever hope to bring it life?
What’s the balance?
We forget, that we are not given the task of condemning the world. We are called to help Christ save it.
We are called to be mystics who love something irredeemable, something overtly dead, and sync our voices to Christ and hold out the hoping hand: ‘Lazarus, awake.’
I know what you’re probably thinking, because it is also on my mind.
Do we cultivate an open mind like a hole in the head?
Obviously not. We are to be innocent as doves, and take a cue from the cunning of the children of the world.
We must have right judgement, nurture our sense of right and wrong, educate ourselves on everything possible.
But we cancel precious little. To cancel something that someone else loves, as flawed as it may be, is to burn a bridge. Christ is capable of entering into the narrowest possible spaces in the soul to save someone. He desires that all men be saved.
The perfect example of this problem is the old story of the orange juice with a drop of poison. Would you drink it? But its just a drop!
Or the batch of cookies with a teaspoon of dog doodoo in it. ‘But it’s so small compared to the rest.’
It’s not a fair example. Because the human person will sadly cancel everything, because of a horror of the tiny part. And we forget many don’t know about that part. Therefore, they are cancelled too.
What I have grown to hate about those stories is the underlying assumption of ideological purity.
We throw out the baby with the bathwater. We forget that Christ is at work in everyone’s lives, at every moment.
Instead we must be thinking of the kingdom of Heaven is like a seed, thrown on a variety of grounds. Are we watering everything, just in case?
Are we as compassionate, friendly, and joyful as possible? Are we like mystics, who see Christ (or his fingerprints) in everything the way a new bride sees her husband in everything?
There’s a difference between ideological purity and purity.
It’s a battle between Frollo and St Vitalius of Gaza, who ministered to prostitutes.
The truly pure are centered in Christ, and unafraid to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, or demons, or personal weakness.
The ‘ideologically pure’ are centered in themselves, and afraid that they will be contaminated by everything, and can’t stop exorcising and chlorinating every influence.
The most frequent phrase from God to man in Sacred Scripture is do not fear.
The human person shrivels in the presence of fear. It’s a mini hell, because we have trained ourselves to see the spot of poison, and completely missed the seed of promise.
What’s the answer?
It’s the hardest thing. It’s not the human answer. It’s a divine answer.
And divine answers are bigger than human minds. So we call them paradoxes. Divine answers are made up of 2 powerful truths that seem to be at odds. It is up to us to find our own way to reconcile them within ourselves.
The human answer is to build walls, kill the enemy, condemn and judge for not being in our tribe. Identify the sinner and crucify them as a warning to others and a tribute to our gods, to prove that we are pure (single-focused) in our devotion.
This is how the animal world works.
But this is not how the Heaven world works.
Heaven continues to bring air and sunlight to every human. Offers grace and friendship to every sinner. Inspires each of us to go to the prisons, to feed the hungry, to welcome the stranger.
So even those people that I think are dark dangers to the Church, who secretly terrify me, and who I constantly want to cancel, force me to stop and think.
Weeding out the devil you know is not the answer. Because that first devil is you.
It’s your own shadow side showing. The things you see in others that sicken you, and drive you to cancel culture, are things you fear about yourself.
All the world’s a mirror, and I run around finding myself in everything. I love what is like me, and I instantly hate what I fear in myself.
The saints didn’t. The saints had this unflappable calmness before everything. Because they had moved past themselves. Instead, they saw Christ in everything, either Christ Resurrected or Christ Scourged.
Can we claim the same sight?
So you’re thinking what I’m thinking: “I have a family, or friends, or myself, to protect from bad influences. Remember the world, the flesh and the devil?”
Yes, you’re right. But let’s hold another thought in paradox here; when I was a child, I talked and thought like a child. Now I must put away childish ways.
We tell children to fear the road, fear cars, fear strangers, fear guns, fear the medicine cabinet. This is a critical and necessary way to protect children, especially when we’re not around.
But we should never leave our children in that state. God forbid that they spend their lives in that state.
Good parents teach kids how to safely cross the road, how to drive, how to deal with strangers, how to use a gun safely, how to take medicine when needed.
The answer is not to fear the thing. The answer is to engage our creative and critical faculties, our minds and imagination, to understand and see the purpose.
So to call out everything evil in modern culture is to walk around with a beam in our eye, knocking and smashing everything over as we glance around.
We have to get rid of that beam. We have to find the balance between seeing the sin, and celebrating the seed of goodness. Give credit where it’s due. Because love is patient, kind, and friendly.
No one wants Frollo over for dinner. Most would love Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
In the Old Testament, God would demand kherem to teach his people about ideological purity. They had no idea what it was. They needed harsh lessons to realize that when God said ‘let there be light’, he meant it. Light and dark do not mix.
We don’t live in a kherem world where Samuel the Prophet helps us put our enemies to the sword. Thank goodness. I’d be first on someone’s hit list. In our world, the Kingdom is at hand. It’s a different ballgame.
So we warn our innocent little ones about the dangers in things. But don’t leave them there. Innoculate them. Introduce them to it. Be the lion-tamer who can show the child how to pass through the valley of the shadow of death themselves.
And if you can’t walk through it yourself, then physician, heal thyself.
When we get to the other side, we invariably find that all this sin is just a shadow. A blurring, and obscuring. The mere presence and hunger for a sin in most people is a misplaced hunger for a truth, just badly reached.
Celebrate the truth, redefine the way, always be bringing life.
When can we cancel?
Christ cancelled very few. In public, he railed against Pharisees as white-washed sepulchers. But, he was God, and knew the secret things in their hearts. He knew that they knew what they were doing, consciously turning ancient Hebrew worship into the rituals of Baal, and the legalism of Lucifer. They were far from him.
But when they came to him with questions, he was all clarity and kindness and light.
We don’t have such insight to rail against the firstborn of Egypt. We can’t claim to know like Christ can.
But here’s the thing. If all we can see is the problem, we’re part of the problem.
If all we can see is poison and doodoo in the cookies, we have trained our psyche to shudder at the shadow.
This is not how a healthy human mind and personality works. The human ‘thing’ thrives in sunlight and food and joy.
And this is the Gospel to the world: life is worth living, God loves every human, we must center ourselves in the gravity of Heaven, so that we radiate hope and kindness.
Only then can we start to see like the saints, nurture minds like the mystics, who celebrate good wherever it is found. (1 Phil 4:8)
Like I said, this is a personal meditation. You do what you wish.
Going back to that allegory of the poison in the orange juice… It’s not even a good one. Because one of two things happens with that much goodness vs that little evil.
The implication is the tiny amount of evil will spread and infect the entire thing, and all of it will be unsafe.
And that’s not true.
All the remnant goodness is still worth celebrating and imbibing. Just keep an eye out for the poison, so you can avoid that part.
But if you’re spending your life dumping out all the orange juice because ‘guilt by association’, well then you’ve got other problems.
You’re stuck in a cancel culture rut.
And you can’t grow a healthy life when you’re rejecting everything around you.
Are you big enough to take in the juice and poison, and let the poison pass through without it affecting you?
Other people deal with me every day as it is, and I’m a glass of orange juice shot through with poison. I know I’m a batch of chocolate chip with a dash of doodoo.
I’m sure glad Christ hasn’t cancelled me.
And for that, I pray to never cancel others, or cancel things, without first looking for the hidden good.
And I pray that I will be able to see my blind spots. Because that’s where my beam is showing.