The New Puritans Don’t Do Forgiveness

In an interesting article in The Atlantic, Anne Applebaum decries modern cancel culture, pointing out that some feel trapped in a world of unforgiveness. Who’s trapped?

  • An editor of the New York Review of Books that “was not accused of assault, just of printing an article by someone who was—Ian Buruma discovered that several of the magazines where he had been writing for three decades would not publish him any longer.” 
  • Daniel Elder, a prizewinning composer (and a political liberal) posted a statement on Instagram condemning arson in his hometown of Nashville, where Black Lives Matter protesters had set the courthouse on fire after the killing of George Floyd, he discovered that his publisher would not print his music and choirs would not sing it.
  • Alexi McCammond was named editor in chief of Teen Vogue, and then people discovered and recirculated on Instagram old anti-Asian and homophobic tweets she had written a decade earlier, while still a teenager. McCammond apologized, of course, but that wasn’t enough, and she was compelled to quit the job before starting.
  • One former journalist told Applebaum that his ex-colleagues “don’t want to endorse the process of mistake/apology/ understanding/forgiveness—they don’t want to forgive.” Instead, he said, they want “to punish and purify.” But the knowledge that whatever you say will never be enough is debilitating. “If you make an apology and you know in advance that your apology will not be accepted—that it is going to be considered a move in a psychological or cultural or political game—then the integrity of your introspection is being mocked and you feel permanently marooned in a world of unforgivingness… And that is a truly unethical world.”[1]Anne Applebaum, “The New Puritans,” The Atlantic, August 31, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/10/new-puritans-mob-justice-canceled/619818/.

Applebaum calls the self-righteous mob the New Puritans, and they are professional shunners. When “sinners” offer the apologies demanded, they know they won’t be accepted. They truly are trapped in a world of unforgiveness.

Unbelievers talk about forgiveness, but mostly just to say that something or someone cannot be forgiven. Cancel culture is just the latest example of unforgiveness, but we have been an unforgiving people from the beginning. Outside of Christ changing us, how could anyone forgive a debt—and that’s what forgiveness is. An offender has a debt that only the offended can write off. How can anyone do that? Only believers can, and only believers that recognize they have sinned greatly against the King and inexplicably been shown mercy (Mt 18:23-35).

So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. Matthew 18:26–27 (ESV)

If you don’t understand and appreciate the gospel, you will never be a forgiving person. We who have been so generously forgiven, must generously grant forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an exclusively Christian virtue. I’ve seen marriages invaded by adultery fully restored. Not left in an uneasy truce, not left weakened and ill, but completely reconciled and whole. I’ve seen daily verbal assaults and general selfishness of a spouse forgiven. A marriage that should have so much distance after years and years of sin has become a glorious example of Christ’s love for the Church. I’ve seen siblings reconciled after incredible hurt has been done. Again, I’m not describing holding the offender at arm’s length after proclaiming forgiveness. I’m describing real reconciliation. Can your religion—or irreligion—do that? I don’t think so.

Have you ever thought about whom[2]Meaning, which person? All of our sin is ultimately against God, Ps 51:4 you’ve sinned against most in your life? For me, it’s easy. I’ve been married 29 years, and while I’ve sinned against my parents, my siblings, and my own children, I’ve sinned most against my wife, and it’s not even close. Yet she is the one person I am closest to in this world. We are best friends. How? God has forgiven her, and therefore she regularly (often daily) forgives me. That’s the only explanation. So many marriages eventually crumble under the cumulative weight of each other’s undealt with, unforgiven sin. Why is ours stronger than it was before I started sinning against her almost three decades ago? There is only one answer—Christ-honoring, God-glorifying, Gospel-motivated forgiveness.

Real, genuine, biblical forgiveness is amazing. The world has nothing like it. They have no way of healing broken relationships. They continue to harbor bitterness. Only God could come up with forgiveness. The New Puritans don’t do forgiveness. They don’t do grace. They don’t do mercy. Aren’t you glad that God does all three, and because he does, we can as well?

References

References
1 Anne Applebaum, “The New Puritans,” The Atlantic, August 31, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/10/new-puritans-mob-justice-canceled/619818/.
2 Meaning, which person? All of our sin is ultimately against God, Ps 51:4
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