Long before Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook, C.S. Lewis understood where cancel culture led. In The Great Divorce, his fictional depiction of Heaven and Hell, Lewis paints a picture of serial conflict that leads to further and further isolation in the cities of hell. Lewis had no way of knowing how accurate his description would be regarding our current culture.
Moving Away From One Another
While traveling on a bus going from Lewis’s creative depiction of hell for a visit to heaven, the main character gets into the following conversation with a long-time inhabitant of the hellish city:
“The part of it that I saw were so empty. Was there once a much larger population?”
“Not at all,” said my neighbor. “The trouble is that they’re so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he’s been there twenty-four hours he quarrels with his neighbor. Before the week is over he’s quarrelled so badly that he decides to move. Very likely he finds the next street empty because all the people there have quarrelled with their neighbors – and moved. So he settles in…He’s sure to have another quarrel pretty soon and then he’ll move on again…
“They’ve been moving on and on. Getting further apart….Millions of miles away from us and from one another.”
While we do not have a physically expansive and inexhaustible place like the hell-town Lewis described, we do have the internet. This technology, which does have its positive contributions and capacities, provides a seemingly inexhaustible, albeit two-dimensional, way to separate ourselves from others with whom we disagree or whom we greatly dislike.
Algorithms are not ultimately to blame, though they certainly stoke the flames of our sinful desire to separate and isolate. Left to ourselves in our fallen state and captive as humanity is to the prince of this age, we tend toward isolation when hurt, misunderstood, or misaligned with others (2 Corinth. 4:4). When Paul was contrasting the works of the Spirit with the works of the flesh in his letter to the Galatians, he included “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, and divisions” among sorcery, orgies, and drunkenness as evidence of the flesh (Galatians 4:20-21).
The Enemy loves to divide and separate, while the Spirit seeks to unite and bind. There is, of course, a command to be separate from evil doers and to separate the immoral brother; however, even then, such actions are to stem from a deep desire to see the parties with whom we are in conflict (over clear Scriptural commands) brought to full repentance and restoration (2 Tim. 2:24-26).
The Scriptures have much to say about the dangers of being quarrelsome and quick-to-separate. When people hurt us (which they most certainly will) or when we disagree with a brother or sister on matters of political opinion or conscience (which most assuredly happens on the daily), it is our flesh’s knee-jerk response to want to create distance from them. Distance breeds further distrust and miscommunication. As such, it is easy to recreate, at least in our hearts, Lewis’s description of astronomical distances.
Moving In, Not Away
To live among one another, to hurt and be hurt by one another, to see the world differently even from our own brothers and sisters in the faith, are inevitabilities this side of glory. Apart from the binding, humbling, convicting work of the Holy Spirit, we have no hope.
But with the Third Person of the Trinity, illuminating the Scriptures to us and acting as a search light in the dark recesses of our own hearts, we stand a chance to fight the clarion call of cancel culture. The discomforts of disagreements and disappointments, when we resist the urge to flee from them and the relationships that occasioned them, can serve to press us more deeply into the gospel. Rather than moving out and away, God can use these to press us further down and into Him.
Rather than make the other our enemy, we remember the enemy of our souls (Eph. 6:12). Even more importantly, we remember that we long stood as enemies of the Cross (Rom. 8:7-9), offending and disappointing God. As those who have been forgiven much, we have much forgiveness and grace to mete out to others (Luke 7:47). If God has closed the eternal breach between us and him, he can help us to close much smaller distances between us and those with whom we disagree on secondary or tertiary matters.
Disagreements compel us to move. By the power of the Spirit, we have a choice to move away from one another (following the lead of cancel culture) or to move more deeply into dependence upon God to biblically and sacrificially love those with whom we do not see eye to eye.