Dear members of the Marcellin family

In a recent edition of his Red Hand Files newsletter, Australian musician Nick Cave made some thought provoking comments in relation to “political correctness” and “cancel culture”. Political correctness is a term that’s been around for a while but cancel culture is a relatively new expression (to me anyway) which has a particular voice on social media. The two seem to be related in the sense that cancel culture can be seen as a consequence of political correctness. By cancelling people, symbols, ideas and ideologies that are deemed to be offensive, society seeks to judge its past on what is seen as politically correct right here right now. The response can be anything from publicly shaming someone on social media to even more confronting actions like graffitiing monuments or tearing down statues.

Certainly, a transparent and objective study of our past history, and the promotion of human rights for all right now, are both noble goals which any society should champion. They should also be the pillars of any religious belief we might profess. The questions emerge though when we are confronted by a contemporary response to historical issues. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. 

When asked what he thought about cancel culture, Nick Cave’s response lamented that it seemed to be a refusal to engage with “difficult ideas” – perhaps a promotion of simplistic answers to difficult questions or put another way, a failure to accept the inevitable ambiguity of life. He went on to say: “Political correctness has grown to become the unhappiest religion in the world. Its once honourable attempt to reimagine our society in a more equitable way now embodies all the worst aspects that religion has to offer (and none of the beauty) – moral certainty and self-righteousness shorn even of the capacity for redemption.” Ouch!

There are many passages in the Gospels where Jesus challenges the “moral certainty and self-righteousness” professed by some. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5). 

Conversely, Jesus’ own message was a more inclusive one, focused on mercy, forgiveness and redemption. “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:36-37)

The potential and the capacity for every individual and every society for redemption is surely part of our human condition and is certainly fundamental to our Catholic theology. To have it offered when we fall short of our best, both for individuals and society more broadly, is life giving and healing. Owning our mistakes and failures is one thing but having a path to atonement for them is critical. Jesus certainly offered a clear path and it was built on, not the “worst aspects of religion” that Nick Cave is referring to, but the opposite – the “beauty” part of religion that welcomes all and offers everyone the possibility of redemption.

The calling out of discrimination, any type of abuse or neglect or any diminishment of our human rights is a good thing. Acknowledging and addressing the wrongs of our past is also important. In doing so however, individuals and societies need to carefully distinguish between calling out and cancelling altogether. One leaves open the chance of dialogue and change, the other does not.

God Bless

John Hickey