“They swim in mirth, and fancy that they feel Divinity within them breeding wings” (Milton – Paradise Lost).
It’s out there lurking. Lying in wait…for you. It’s taken on celebrities like J.K. Rowling, Ellen DeGeneres, Roseanne Barr, Chris Pratt, and Gina Carano. Nearly all of America’s Founding Fathers have been victimized by it. No matter what side of the Civil War historical figures supported, nearly everyone has been targeted, from all the Confederate leaders to Abraham Lincoln to General (and later president) Ulysses Grant to even Frederick Douglas!
Academicians fare no better. There have been so many people/events/ideas that have been targeted by the “cancel culture” that you cannot find a complete list. You have to go by year. I suppose the running tally is so fluid you would need a Cancel Culture Clock similar to the US Debt Clock to keep up with it.
I realize it is sheer nonsense and I choose not to play along.
On the surface, it is clearly just weak and impotent people trying to flex muscles in society that they only wish they had. The fact of the matter is that the “cancel culture” for all the stink it raises is largely unsuccessful. Celebrities still make money. “Canceled” books tend to sell more. “Canceled” professors find other schools. People are still buying Harry Potter books and watching The Aristocats. So, it’s puzzling that the cancel culture continues to make news and that the average person is still worried about being ‘canceled.’
But perhaps there is more to it than what we see on the surface. Maybe the dreaded cancel culture is actually functioning in a Josephesque way. Do you remember the youngest son of Jacob who was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers (Genesis 37:12-38)? Years later he became the most powerful man in Egypt (second only to the Pharaoh). His brothers were sent by their father to Egypt during a severe famine. When Joseph revealed himself to them they were sure he would kill them for what they had done. Instead, Joseph uttered a couple of rather profound statements:
[I]t was not you who sent me here, but God (Genesis 45:8).
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today (Genesis 50:20).
Selling their youngest brother into slavery and telling their father that he had been killed by an animal was a horrible thing to do to Joseph (and their father Jacob). But God used that terrible event to save the very ones who did it! That kind of forethought and grace are mind-boggling. It is likely that Paul had this very event in mind when he wrote
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).
Today’s cancel culture is both ruthless and despicable as it is accurately described by one person as,
“holding accountable people you never liked, have been waiting to make any mistake, who you couldn’t use, or who you don’t find attractive.”
It’s wicked and evil. But maybe God will use this wretched thing in our midst to bring about the salvation of many people. What if this preoccupation with nullifying others' influence and even existence brings about an awakening to an awareness of the real cancel culture? Not this patently superficial and ineffective thing going on now. You know, the one the Bible calls hell. The cancel culture to end all cancel cultures.
C.S. Lewis described the effect of hell on the individual this way:
“[I]t is ‘the darkness outside,’ the outer rim where being fades away into nonentity."
That, is what being canceled truly means. Today’s cheap imitation of cancel culture seeks to separate people from a paycheck or acceptance or happiness. The real cancel culture separates a person from God, forever. That is the ultimate fade into obscurity and irrelevance. It is eternal so it’s not annihilation, but it is even worse. As Lewis put it: “nonentity.” I suppose it is similar in principle to absolute zero. You cannot go any lower or become any more irrelevant than existing perpetually as a nonentity.
Today’s pitiful cancel culture is ostracization aimed at creating shame and ultimately producing isolation. As I pointed out, it doesn’t seem to be working out as planned. But the hell described in Scripture is and always shall. Jesus often spoke of hell as a place of “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). Every time he used that phrase he coupled it to another: “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Eternal regret. Absolute irrelevance. Forever.
Seemingly gone are pulpit emanations on hell, the ultimate cancel culture. Spurgeon preached “Flee from the Wrath to Come.” Edwards warned of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Wesley wrote “On Hell.” What do we have now? Joel Osteen, who cons people into believing that Christ died so we can be happy rather than saved from our sins. And entire denominations are being led by ministers who change abominations into accommodations so everyone can feel good about themselves.
We need today’s cancel culture about as much as Joseph needed to be sold into slavery. But maybe God can use it like He did Joseph’s slavery for a greater good in the future. Maybe the fear of being socially embarrassed and humiliated will one day awaken a truly legitimate fear. The fear of outer darkness. Of becoming a real nonentity. Of hearing the most terrifying words ever to be spoken to a human being:
I never knew you; depart from me (Matthew 7:23).
That, is the supremely ultimate cancellation. There is no rebound or recovery from that. Ever. Seek forgiveness through Jesus Christ or be subject to the ultimate cancel.