“Cancel Culture” Speaks to our Need for Moral Absolution
The last month has been ugly. Riots and demonstrations continue to abound in the United States amidst an ongoing pandemic. Statues of founding fathers and even abolitionists are being defaced and torn down, and dissenters to the Black Lives Matter movement are liable to get fired or “cancelled” for their opinions. It feels strangely like Orwellian groupthink—only one ideology and belief system is celebrated, and God help you if you don’t join the chorus.
In 2017, University of Oklahoma professor Wilfred M. McClay wrote an article titled “The Strange Persistence of Guilt” for the Hedgehog Review, and his commentary on our cultural moment remain strongly pertinent. McClay recounts Friedrich Nietzsche’s assumption that moral guilt and humanity’s need for “absolution” or “paying off a debt” would disappear once God was proclaimed dead. It turns out that inner guilt and the demand for purity and justice, however, has strongly persisted. But if “God is dead” as Nietzsche proclaimed, how can people purge themselves of moral guilt without an atoning sacrifice such as the one Jesus offers for our absolution? The answer, McClay claims, is in claiming victimhood or through identifying with victims.
Reaching out to actual victims of racism, sexual abuse, and other forms of hatred and bigotry is, of course, completely commendable and even commanded. The exhortations in Scripture to seek justice on behalf of the oppressed and vulnerable is one of the strongest themes in the canon, and characterized the heart of Christ Himself. But what happens when identifying with victims or those with "victimhood status" becomes a method of moral cleansing for the guilty self? What happens when the line between good and evil becomes divided by ideologies and party lines instead of through every human heart, as Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned us against? It immediately becomes a blame game. Seeking out comfort for the poor and destitute gets largely erased by an unmitigated hatred against those seen as oppressors. If we are not educated in who to hate and why, then we are truly lost in the eyes of the "woke mentality." In the name of "equity" and "inclusion," scapegoats are created and crucified, allowing the pure and righteous to parade and riot at will.
Therefore, in a secular “cancel culture,” the chances for redemption and forgiveness are denied. The oppressor remains fated to be so while the victim and his champions walk the streets in triumph, being absolved of their persistent, moral guilt.
McClay’s article is compelling. Never has there been a culture so infatuated with grievances and offenses as ours. This accounts for the proliferation of “safe spaces” on campus and meticulously avoiding “triggers” and “microaggressions” in the typical university setting today. It is not enough to teach charity and respect to our fellow human. We need “diversity training” and whole departments dedicated to what some scholars call “grievance studies,” which hinge predominantly on the Marxist assumption that people always fall into the dichotomy of the oppressor/oppressed. The proper care and concern for the poor and oppressed has largely been replaced by a crusade to dethrone and even depersonalize the oppressor. Trouble is, "oppression" has become an incredibly generic term to the point it has lost its actual meaning. Now, even silence is "violence." But we need to be reminded of the wise words of Brennan Manning, who writes in his spiritual classic Abba’s Child, “If bigots hate African-Americans, and I hate bigots, what’s the difference?”
Far from cancelling the “oppressor” or those perceived to be part of the problem, Martin Luther King Jr. practiced a different approach, one still attached to the notion of an all-forgiving God who is “kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Matt. 5:45). He shared his views with Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy, and ultimately Jesus Christ, who demonstrated perfect love and forgiveness by blessing even those who oppressed him to death. In doing so, he melted the hard heart of a Roman tribune at the foot of the cross. He “drew all mankind to himself.” Through nonviolent protest, Gandhi and his followers separated themselves from the British imperialists. Through loving his enemies, Martin Luther King Jr. brought substantial end to the racist laws and practices of the American south. He understood the power of St. Paul's admonition in the book of Romans:
"Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay....' But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Rom. 12:19-21).
 Manning, Brennan. Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging. NavPress, Colorado Springs. 1994. p. 72.Peter Biles
graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois with a Bachelor's Degree in English Writing and is currently pursuing a Master's of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Seattle Pacific University. He was born and raised in rural Oklahoma and currently lives in Walla Walla, Washington.Copyright © 2020 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/post/religion-wearing-secular-shoes