One effect of social media is that the world seems increasingly to resemble a giant courtroom with the combatants shrieking at each other, “J’accuse!!” I accuse, I accuse, I accuse.
“J’accuse!” was of course the opening salvo, in an open letter by Émile Zola to the president of the French Republic, of what came to be known as the Dreyfus affair. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish officer, had been accused of treason by the French army.
Nowadays, colleagues spy on co-workers, friends rat out friends, political leaders at the highest level bully, name-call, insinuate, gossip, and slander. News is so biased, depending on the outlet’s audience, that we hardly dare hope for anything remotely approaching the objective truth. Egregiously substandard behavior is foisted off as the fault of deranged “libs,” some form of “identity discrimination,” or the egregiously substandard behavior of one’s enemies. “You can’t accuse me! I accuse you!”
No communal, artistic, spiritual, or human venture is exempt from this curdled vision. Thanksgiving: an oppressor’s holiday. Marriage: indentured servanthood. Children: a monstrous burden. Thoreau’s cabin: tainted because, as a recent Washington Post piece explained, “until very recently, there has been little acknowledgment that Walden Woods was first occupied by Black people whose experience of self-sufficiency was harrowingly different from Thoreau’s two-year experiment.”
It’s as if the secular culture, with neither God nor theology, has come up on its own with a twisted notion of the Fall whereby half of humanity is by its nature violent, greedy, hateful and irredeemable; and the other half is by its nature sinless, pure, gentle and blameless, and therefore needs no redeeming.
A quick review of a few “Best Books of 2021” lists reveals that a good 75% of them—nonfiction, fiction, poetry—are based on a variation of this oppressor-victim paradigm. Everything must be unmasked. Everyone must be exposed.
No accident, of course, that one name for Satan is The Accuser.
People are fawned over, championed, and supported as long as they’re on the correct side of the ideological divide, whether that happens to be right or left.
But no-one is loved. No-one is admired.
This adversarial stance has obviously bled into the Church. Rads, trads, Pope-haters. People who refuse to attend Mass because they can’t receive on the tongue during a pandemic. People who refuse to attend Mass because they can’t bear “the hypocrisy.”
How different all this is from the approach to our brothers and sisters actually modeled by Christ.
We followers of Christ don’t tear people down; we build people up. In The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, Dostoevsky imagines paradise as a place that couldn’t be farther removed from the hell we have made of our public spaces:
“They sang the praises of nature, of the sea, of the woods. They liked making songs about one another, and praised each other like children; they were the simplest songs, but they sprang from their hearts and went to one’s heart. And not only in their songs but in all their lives they seemed to do nothing but admire one another.”
We followers of Christ pray the Litany of Humility: “That others may be praised and I unnoticed. That others may be chosen and I set aside. That others become holier than I, provided I become as holy as I should.” Not because we’re not worthy of notice—and nor do we hide our light under a bushel—but because to insist upon being first leads to a life of bitterness, frustration and self-pity.
What are we trying to evangelize people to if not this astonishing good news: that if you want your joy to be complete, be strict with yourself and easy on everyone else. Develop a sense of humor. Start letting people off the hook.
Yield the limelight. Let someone else sit up front.
As Abbé Henri Huvelin, a 19th-century mystic and theologian, noted: “Christ took the last place so completely that no one has ever been able to snatch it from him.”
Gazing at the monstrance during a recent Holy Hour, I thought of a God so humble that entered into history and time in the form of a baby who could not yet even speak.
I thought of a God who came into the world to a people under siege; to an illiterate mother so poor that she gave birth in a barn.
I thought of the Holy Family, the shepherds and oxen and asses, bathed in unearthly light, all gathered in wonder and exultation round the manger.
I thought of every Catholic altar in the world draped this month in royal purple, and of the Wise Men bearing their gold, frankincense, and myrrh, following the star in the East in order to fall on their knees and worship before what the world to this day sees as this tiny nobody of a King.
The follower of Christ doesn’t accuse (except himself). The follower of Christ adores.
5 Replies to “J’ACCUSE!: ON SNITCH CULTURE”
“Everything must be unmasked. Everyone must be exposed.” Yet how ironic that everyone has to go around with masks on their faces. I can hardly recognize people.
Possibly the most forgotten Commandment is the 8th: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Yes, Ron, it’s astonishing–people I thought I knew suddenly appointing themselves moral arbiters of the universe and demanding my credentials as a decent human being because I failed to mouth certain catch-phrases or slogans…people who shape their day by picking fights where none exist…To my mind the culture, right and left, has ceded responsibility for its attitude towards life and everything in it to the media. If the media says we should be terrified, we’re terrified. If the media demands that we hate a certain group, we hate that group and band together with others who hate that group. If the media directs us to be outraged, we adopt a blanket sense of outrage.
I don’t watch or listen to any of it–I read, so I have a sense of what’s going on, but I refuse to believe that I have a moral responsibility never to emjoy or celebrate anything because someone, somewhere, is suffering or has suffered or will suffer.
Ironically, that’s the viewpoint of one deeply-in-error misinterpretation of Catholicism, which the secular culture has attacked and criticized (with good reason) for ages. Now all on their own, they’ve adopted this grim, Puritanical way of thinking themselves, and are turning it on each other…inevitably, such a stance is profoundly anti-life. People who REALLY care, are REALLY enlightend, the thinking goes for example, would never bring a child into this dreadful world…So there’s a real sorrow there, and a real tragedy. Because in turning against our neighbor, as you say, we are obviously really turning against ourselves…
Heather, thanks for reminding us of what should be our Christian witness. Here’s a quote from Camus that seems pertinent, too.
“. . . I make myself remember that everyone has a rendezvous with himself: that he knows it and will doubtless be keeping it soon. Immediately he seems like a brother once more; solitudes unite those society separates.” – Albert Camus
You keep ’em comin’, dear Heather! Outstanding “rules” of a chosen life! Am on my knees prayerful to remember……when I do not!
Thank you, Glenda! Oh right, lest I forget! On our knees is the best possible place from which to seek the truth…Here we are at December 17th and the O antiphons and 8 days until Christmas. So beautiful, so exciting…