by Will Deatherage, Executive Director
It is July 5, 1875: a hot day in Memphis Tennessee. Lou Lewis, an African American woman approaches a podium that an old man has just finished speaking from. In her arms is a bouquet of flowers that she intends on awarding to the first White man to speak at the Independent Order of Pole-Bearers Association, an organization composed of formerly enslaved African Americans. In his speech, not only did this man defend the basic rights of recently freed slaves, but he supported their right to vote, an idea still considered radical even after the Civil War. Lewis gives the flowers to the orator, who boldly proclaims “I accept the flowers as a memento of reconciliation between the White and Colored races of the Southern states.” Before leaving the stage to thunderous applause, he kisses Lewis on her cheek, another radical gesture. This man’s name was Nathan Bedford Forest, a former Confederate General who was responsible for the Fort Pillow Massacre and a founding figure of the Ku Klux Klan. A few years before his death in 1877, he renounced racism, pledged his support to radical racial egalitarianism, and converted to Christianity.
When those who had started about five o’clock came,(Mt 20:1-6A)
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
Our world is not very kind to the idea of redemption. In fact, redemption and mercy seem diametrically opposed to our so-called “cancel culture.” This is because we have lost sight of God. Rather than call an invisible and mysterious force our Father, we prefer to cling to people who embody our ideals for security only to tear them down once we realize that they are imperfect idols. This is only worsened by a dialectic understanding of history that has infected the way we evaluate morality. Thinkers like Karl Marx have led us believe that there are “good people” and “bad people” who are locked in an eternal battle that is called “history.” Unfortunately for the latter, once designated a “bad person,” there is no hope for redemption. Anything bad must be demolished to pave way for the new order. After all, why praise a person if they are not worthy of idolization?
One might mistakenly think that cancel culture stems from a Christian concept of justice. After all, the Church prides itself in judging people, right? This cannot be further from the truth. The Church has a God-given duty to guide right action in the light of the Gospel; it does not judge souls, rather it is charged with illuminating the boundaries that Christ mandated for His flock. The precise scope of those boundaries is determined by God alone, but it is the Church’s monumental task to keep its people within a safe and reasonable distance of them. In a sense, the Kingdom of God is like a flashlight. There is no precise point at which we can definitively say that the light of Christ is gone, but there are clearly areas that shine brighter than others and are thus safer for the flock to dwell in. The Church actually condemns knowledge of the fate of souls. It is certainly possible that one can believe they are within the bounds of the Church and still be condemned to Hell. Likewise, it is just as possible that a person who may have rejected Christ on Earth will still be admitted into Heaven if God mercifully bestows His Sacraments on them. It is important to understand that the Church readily condemns the judgment of souls, meaning that there is no person, no matter how evil they might be perceived as, who is unworthy of redemption. An excellent example of this comes from the author of the following passage:
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.(Phil 1:20C-24, 27A)
If I go on living in the flesh,
that means fruitful labor for me.
And I do not know which I shall choose.
I am caught between the two.
I long to depart this life and be with Christ,
for that is far better.
Yet that I remain in the flesh
is more necessary for your benefit.
Only, conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.
Who is this saintly writer who commands us to live according to such virtue? Is it not the man formerly known as Saul who sought the extermination of all Christians? The same Saul who took great pleasure in watching the stoning of St. Stephen? The same Saul who played a prominent role in rounding up Christians in prisons to meet their unspeakable fates? It is remarkable that God chose this despicable man to carry out His divine Word to the nations. Sure, without Saint Paul’s sins, hundreds of Christians would not have been imprisoned and killed, but without Saint Paul’s redemption there would likely be no Christianity today (though perhaps that’s what cancel culture wants).
The increasingly pervasive attitude of cancel culture is a total corruption of Christian justice. It replaces the judgment of God with the judgment of mortals. Modernity’s rejection of God has led to a deification of the human will (see Nietzsche’s Will to Power). Its purpose is not heavenly, but instead works for sanctification of human achievement. Our new religion is history, and it must be purged of all error until its temple looms higher than the tower of Babel. A few years ago, when I was college searching, I asked a professor at a public university if there was a church on campus. He eagerly pointed to the library, enlightening me: “here, we only worship knowledge.”
Our feeble attempts to judge others will only isolate us from true goodness and fulfillment. The replacement of God with the human mind as the ultimate source of morality has yielded a dry and destitute culture that is devoid of any redemption whatsoever. We, like the vineyard workers, insist that every man, woman, and even child be held accountable for their actions here on Earth regardless of their apology or penance. We groan at the thought of a Confederate general expressing sincere regret while we cheer the demise of a humanitarian who made scandalous remarks about women decades ago. We crave judgment and punishment now more than ever. Even death gives no solace, as statues come crumbling down. We neglect the complexities of historical contexts and ethical dilemmas, assume our moral superiority over all time periods and cultures, and reject any hint of redemption that may hinder our new will to power. Cancel culture is out for blood, and it has no problem with dividing perceived wolves from sheep and slaughtering them both. At the end of the day, though, no matter how many statues we smash, children we slander, or sheep we kill, we will perish from this world, and nothing will save us from eternal death except for the very thing that cancel culture opposes so viciously: redemption.