November 25, 2020

Cancel Culture: can we still Celebrate the Good done by a “Bad” Man?

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“Cancel culture”—with God:

Rabbi Brian: “God, I have some thoughts I need to work out. You mind me using the artifice of an imagined conversation with you?”

God: “Fair enough. Glad to help. Go ahead.”

RB: “Okay, so last night, I’m watching ‘Family Guy’ with Emmett, and they do a homage to Bill Cosby’s Noah routine. With the bell, then you speaking, ‘Noah, It’s the Lord, Noah.’ And then Noah bumbling ‘Is someone calling me? Where are ya? What do ya want? I’ve been good.’ So I think about having Emmett listen to that, right? But then I think about how Jane gave me the stink eye when I read him Woody Allen’s 1974 piece Fabulous Tales and Mythical Beasts.”

God: “Say more.”

RB: “Well, Bill Cosby and Woody Allen are, we believe, sexual predators. And, did you see Hannah Gadsby’s stand-up show, ‘Nanette?’ She skewers them and admonishes us for celebrating the art divorced from its artist. Like with Louis C.K.”

God: “You like comedians.”

RB: “Yeah. They’re truth tellers. Prophetic. Honest.”

God: “Did you know Voltaire said that about me? ‘God is a comedian playing to an audience that is too afraid to laugh.’ That always makes me laugh.”

RB: “Yeah, but Voltaire, it turns out—horrible anti-Semite. Apparently his writing inspired Hitler. France is now taking down his statues. So, ought I still quote Voltaire?”

God: “You can quote either anti-Semites with impunity or abusers with impunity, but not both.”

RB: “So, do we throw out everything good that someone has done because of their worst actions? My friend James is in prison, and when people ask me what he did, I reply with ‘If you tell me the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life, then maybe I’ll tell you.’”

God: “Defining someone by the worst thing they have done initiates the launch sequence toward treating them as less than human. I don’t like that.”

Lost in my thoughts, I stare for a moment at the computer monitors in front of me.

Who I am? What am I doing with this job title as “Rabbi?” Have I gone finally nuts having a true, fictional conversation with (the) God (of my understanding)?

It’s a combo out-of-body and “I’m-fully-present-here” moment.

I pick up with a joke:

RB: “Shmuelke, the teacher, goes to see the rabbi and says, “Rabbi, it’s not fair. No one in this town goes around saying, ‘There goes Shmuelke, who helped the widow Hulda when her house collapsed.'”

“No,” says the rabbi. “No one says that.”

“And, it’s not fair, no one in this town says to their friend, ‘I just saw Shmuelke who donated so much of his time to rebuild the school after the fire.’”

“No,” says the rabbi, “One doesn’t often hear people about town saying such a thing.”

Shmuelke says, ‘You have sex with one gee-dee goat in this town.”

God: “It’s easier to cancel people than love them.”

RB: “So, you are saying, I’m supposed to love them anyway?”

God: “Of course. You are supposed to love, love, love. And continue to stretch your heart open over and over and wider and wider. But don’t expect to be able to love everyone easily or instantly. Love is a perpetual challenge. If you can love so big that you can love those who don’t seemingly deserve love, then, wow. I’m impressed.”

RB: “And, who doesn’t want to impress you? So, let me explain why I’m bringing this up. A friend of mine, a clergyman, has been accused by multiple people of some pretty horrible things. And I am still texting him and leaving him messages. And the pressure I’m feeling to stand with those who are ‘cancelling’ him is strong.”

God: “A friend is a friend is a friend. Stand with your friend as best you can. He needs you now. More than ever. And if someone tells you that you oughtn’t stand with him, tell them that when they fall from grace, you will stand by their side, as well. You aren’t condoning immorality, Brian. You are standing up for morality. Have them check the Bible and see who Jesus dined with.”

RB: “I think I just got it. If you hate people and make them enemies, it’s over. No possibility of redemption. But if you love people and keep loving them, even if they’re mistreating you or others, upward change can happen.”

God: “Here’s another thing: it’s splitting. When you split people into ‘good’ and ‘bad’—the way people imagine that the devil and I are split—then we can project ‘sin and everything we don’t like’ from us and pretend we are ‘all good.’”

RB: “Why don’t I take the time to teach this to Emmett—explain to him that people are complex, that great artists aren’t always great people. It will take a little longer, but I can set background before I play the Noah routine.”

A bell chimes.

God: “Brian.”

RB: “Is someone calling me? Where are ya? What do ya want? I’ve been good.”

God: “Ask people to celebrate my artistry, no matter what they think about me, the artist.”

RB: “Right.”


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