A recent Gospel reading provides us with an early illustration of “cancel culture.”
The evangelist, Mark, describes Jesus preaching in the synagogue at Nazareth. People are surprised at the wisdom of his words, and somehow can’t accept that such insights are coming from a hometown boy.
“Where did he get all this,” they ask. “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary?”
They’re actually offended that he would speak in this manner, and a little uncomfortable with his message. So they refuse to take him seriously.
To put it another way, they “cancel” him, because he’s too local.
In response, Jesus offers the timeless observation: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place….”
This is a perfect scripture passage (Mark 6:1-6) for citing to someone who thinks the Bible is no longer relevant to modern life. Heck, we’re up to our ears in “cancel culture” today. Jesus was ahead of the game.
There’s a human tendency to dismiss the views of people who don’t meet expectations about who’s qualified to speak. This is seen in our cultural preoccupation with credentials. Those highly regarded pieces of academic paper usually trump simple wisdom.
Of course, there are times when professional expertise is essential. Uninformed laymen can do serious harm diagnosing illnesses based on information they’ve “Googled.”
But there are also times when someone’s accumulated life experience — what used to be called “common sense” — is a far better preparation than formal schooling for making sound judgments or offering wise advice.
These days, the primary concern about “cancel culture” reflects how Facebook, Twitter, and other social media are trying to silence ideas that diverge from the accepted views of the progressive left. Add to that how children are being indoctrinated with critical race theory, along with how both government and our leading institutions promote the idea that American society is fundamentally, irredeemably racist.
There’s good reason to fear that anybody might be “cancelled.”
Our society is coming to resemble the world through which Jesus walked in many uncomfortable ways. We have an intellectual elite, including educators, media, and literary types, whose “correct thinking” and “settled science” are every bit as rigid as how the Scribes and Pharisees interpreted the Torah.
We have our masters of industry and technology who are as singularly focused on protecting their business interests as the Priests and Levites guarded the prerogatives of the Temple.
We have politicians and their operatives who are as obsessed with enlarging their sphere of control and protecting their power as were the Roman occupiers of biblical Palestine.
We even have our equivalents to the Zealots in today’s various radical groups. Their devotion to transforming society is every bit as fanatical as that of those biblical revolutionaries.
All of these groups share a common set of assumptions. And it appears they’ve come to a tacit agreement that voices speaking out in conflict with the prevailing orthodoxy must be silenced.
It’s not just a matter of blocking the flow of information. Dissenting organizations have seen their operations challenged by legal action (what’s termed “lawfare”). Financial service providers have disrupted their channels of income. Books, media materials, and other products have been banned by major outlets.
Criminal charges have been brought. Facilities have been subject to attack. Individuals have been threatened, and even physically assaulted.
Churches and religious organizations have felt these effects as well. We haven’t quite reached the extreme levels of anti-Christian violence as other places (several churches have been burned in Canada within the past few weeks). However, there has been vandalism. And religious services have been disrupted.
There have even been occasional church shootings. So far these appear to have been the work of lone crackpots, rather than organized attackers. But that could change.
Jesus was a thorn in the side of the major establishment players of his day. They “cancelled” him because of it.
As his followers, we’re called upon to stand up today for the principles that caused so much consternation back then. And there’s no doubt that’s scary.
But remember, his cancellation didn’t last. In the end, he came back in a big way.
A priest of the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, Rev. Michael P. Orsi currently serves as parochial vicar at St. Agnes Parish in Naples, Florida. He is host of “Action for Life TV,” a weekly cable television series devoted to pro-life issues, and his writings appear in numerous publications and online journals. His TV show episodes can be viewed online here.