In this culture of constant outrage we’re cultivating…you know the one…
The one in which we spend a lot of time analyzing who did/said/believes what and how to make them pay for disagreeing with us…that culture…
The one in which we feel we can’t hire anyone to work on our teeth or bag groceries for us if they don’t share our political beliefs…
In this culture of constant outrage, we are finally running into unintended consequences. Here is the biggest: We are becoming less honest. How so?
HOW “OUTRAGE” IS MAKING US LESS HONEST
- We are becoming less honest in how we portray those we disagree with because of the caricaturing instigated by social media and media at large. We can see this in the great dexterity with which we retweet, repost, and like articles we haven’t even read because we like the headline—which is often misleading. My personal favorite is when someone writes an angry response to something they read in the Onion or the Babylon Bee—not realizing those “newspapers are satirical and the article is false.” The most recent case was the Babylon Bee’s story on the supposed waterslide baptistery installed at Elevation Church. Highly-educated, well-meaning (I think) people who hate megachurches or Steven Furtick pounced in outrage and sent the article forth with their own self-righteous commentary—only to find out it was a joke. We aren’t at our most level-headed and accurate when we’re angry. So, we label extremely quickly, and…
- We have come to view whoever offends us as a perpetrator and ourselves as their victim, which absolves us of any responsibility for our response to what they say. Edwin Friedman pointed this out as a characteristic of a chronically anxious society in, A Failure of Nerve, decades ago: “One of the most extraordinary examples of adaptation to immaturity in contemporary American society today is how the word abusive has replaced the words nasty and objectionable. The latter two words suggest that a person has done something distasteful, always a matter of judgment. But the use of the word abusive suggests, instead, that the person who heard or read the objectionable, nasty, or even offensive remark was somehow victimized by dint of the word entering their mind. This confusion of being “hurt” with being damaged makes it seem as though the feelings of the listener or reader were not their own responsibility, or as though they had been helplessly violated by another person’s opinion. If our bodies responded that way to “insults,” we would not make it very far past birth. The use of abusive rather than objectionable has enabled those who do not want to take responsibility for their own efforts to tyrannize others, especially leaders, with their “sensitivity.”
- As we label things racist, homophobic, etc., and make these the cardinal sins—we tend to view ourselves more proudly than we should–and create blind-spots in our spiritual formation. In his fantastic little book, “I Told Me So,” Craig Ten Elshof writes: “In the recent history of developed western society, though, racism earned a well-deserved promotion in the ordering of vices. This is all to the good. But with that promotion came an increased emotional cost in the recognition, “I am a racist.” If racism is worse than we thought, then it’s harder than it used to be to admit to yourself that you’re a racist. And it is at this point that life offers us the self-deception deal. You can experience the satisfaction that rightly belongs to the person who steers clear of the vice of racism if you can but convince yourself that you’re not a racist. Unsurprisingly, a great many people take the deal. What’s surprising is that they’re able to pull it off. And what’s alarming is that if I’ve taken the deal, it will seem to me (as it does in fact seem to me) that I have not. So, whenever a particular vice gets a promotion in the ordering of vices, the temptation to be self-deceived about the fact that one exhibits that vice increases.” (11).
- We are becoming more vindictive. It used to be getting fired for words took something exceptional—one must curse out their boss in a molten lather of anger…something of that sort. Those days are long gone. It can be using the wrong word on Twitter that will get it done.
- We are forgetting how to apologize to others and repent before God. If making a mistake means I’m labeled for life, I’m black-balled, or lose my job—why admit anything? Instead, we’ve created a faux-apology formula. It sounds something like this: “I apologize for unintentional mistakes I may have made unknowingly without my knowledge.” Any other kind of apology might admit you did something wrong; and in the public square, that could mean—”You’re fired.” We then bring that timidity to the throne of God’s grace–forgetting He already knows all we actually did and is willing to forgive in ways that transcend the cheap forms we experience elsewhere.
Is this really the world God envisions? I doubt it.
- One less honest in how we portray others, absolves us of responsibility for response to offense?
- A world in which we unintentionally absolve ourselves of things like racism because of our “thank you God that I’m not like that man…” posture?
- A world characterized not by grace but by vindictiveness.
- A world with less authentic apologies and repentance?
Christians shouldn’t think so. Proverbs 19:11 says, “Sensible people control their temper; they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.” James adds: “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” (James 1:19–20)
Christians, of all people, should be the quickest and most lavish dispensers and receivers of grace—and should encourage everyone they can get their hands on to do the same.
Let’s stop playing the world’s games, and be honest. Let’s be honest in how we portray those we disagree with. Let’s be passionate for what God is passionate about–but not outraged in the way James speaks of it–the kind that doesn’t produce the righteousness God desires–but helps you get promotions in this world.
We will never change the world through shame or outrage. We have a much better shot through truthfulness and grace.