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violence

The Dangers of Outrage

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It’s hard not to be outraged by news on the Internet. Sites dependent on advertising revenue use just a few tricks to drive user engagement (measured by time on site, likes and shares on social media, and clicks to related content). Headlines framed as questions (Is Google the New Evil Empire?), links that tell readers how they will feel (You will be shocked…), and, of course, content designed to provoke outrage are all angling for your attention. So much of what passes for news on the Internet seems to be aimed at our reptilian brains—provoking fear, anger, or lust.

The further you get from established, mainstream news, the more likely you are to see content framed in such a way as to provoke outrage. If you are a Facebook junkie like me, then you already know which of your friends can be counted on to share the most outrageous articles. Outrage is a response; sometimes it’s easy to forget that it’s not the only response.

Outrage is not a benign response. It may raise your blood pressure or make you hot under the collar. It may elevate your stress level, but there are more pernicious effects. To feel moral outrage, especially, requires a belief in one’s own decency, a belief that starts with, “I would never do…” or “How can anyone…” Implicit is the belief that I and my tribe are morally superior. Those people who have done despicable things are from a different tribe, perhaps different enough that they don’t deserve humane treatment.

This is where outrage becomes really ugly. Not content with denouncing bad behavior, I may even condone violence done to avenge it. This may take the form of hateful speech or comments or mere silence when I see “those people” getting what they deserve. Will I speak up for them if their own rights are trammelled? Outrage leaves little room for mercy.

The greatest danger of outrage, however, is that it accomplishes nothing. Sure, I might share a post about some miscarriage of justice, and it’s gratifying to find that my friends agree with me, but it takes real work and sacrifice to correct and prevent injustice. Outrage feels like enough, but it isn’t.

 

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The Significance of the Cross

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Then He said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. -Luke 9:23

The church—and Christians—doesn’t talk about the cross as much as it used to. You used to hear Christians talk about “bearing their cross” usually nothing more than an inconvenience. Perhaps there was a neighbor who wasn’t neighborly or a teenage daughter who was rebellious. “It’s just a cross I have to bear,” the complacent saint would say. This isn’t anything like what Jesus meant when he spoke to would-be followers.

To first-century disciples, the cross represented public torture and execution. It was reserved for the most heinous crimes against Rome. It is possibly the most cruel and violent form of execution ever devised, designed to kill slowly and tortuously and very publicly. The condemned were typically made to carry their own cross to the place of execution, so when Jesus says his follower must “take up his cross daily,” he has in mind only one destination: death.

Jesus tells his followers they must embrace their own death every day. In this way, they will always be prepared to die if need be for what they believe. For the way of Jesus’ followers is the way of love. They are to be like Jesus, offering themselves up to torture and death to secure life and liberty for others. They are not to use violence or try to force people to comply with their demands. They can persuade. They can reason. They can do good works. They can pray for their enemies. But they cannot curse. They cannot bribe. They cannot use force or coercion. At times, when the church has been politically ascendant, this command has been forgotten, and Christians have even tortured and killed other Christians in the name of Christ.

There is nothing Christlike about the use of force. Jesus never compelled; he invited. He spoke out harshly against the oppressors, especially when they pretended to speak for God, but he did not attack them physically*, and he did not resist when they attacked him. He expects his followers to behave as he did. He urges his followers to make a point of daily facing their own death and assures them that death is not final. This attitude of love with nothing to lose is what has made the church uniquely powerful in the world. It is a power not of force or violence but of totally committed people who will speak out against injustice and let themselves suffer and die for what is right.

* Of course there is an incident where Jesus confronted moneylenders in the temple with a makeshift whip of knotted cords. He was, however, severely provoked, not as some think by the greed and dishonesty of the moneylenders themselves, but by the tacit understanding that certain people could be excluded from God’s presence. The moneylenders set up their tables in the court of the Gentiles, the only portion of the temple open to foreigners, women, and invalids. The authorities did not arrest Jesus because he had exposed a policy they themselves knew to be wrong.
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On Voting

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Voting forces you to take a stand. All the arguments, no matter how nuanced, come down to a Yes or a No. You can’t pick Yes with certain exceptions or No with personal provisos. You can’t vote for one candidate with a little of another candidate thrown in. You have to make your choices and live with them. Voting also forces you to trust the political process, even when it seems that the issue at hand does not have a political solution. You cast your ballot and hope that most of your fellow voters think as you do. If they don’t, then you hope things will work out anyway, since you’re in the minority.

In a sense, every vote cast, regardless of the candidate or the issue, is a vote against violence. The act of voting says, “Change can occur without bloodshed.”

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