Much of social media exists to answer the question: “What are we outraged about today?”
If I open Facebook, I can find the cultural flashpoint that is angering at least half the nation. Perusing Twitter, I see the political issue that supposedly warrants not simply my attention, but all my emotion as well. I must be offended and I must be outraged.
The invasive outrage culture has been relentless. From coffee cups to Donald Trump (all of him), 2015 was the year of perpetual outrage and the new year seems to be more of the same.
But why is that? Why are we so consumed with feeling indignation or claiming offense? In a sense, outrage is cultural super glue, binding together individuals quickly and strongly over shared dislike and disgust. It is a shortcut to developing community and finding purpose.
A study by a social psychologist at the University of South Florida found close friendships most often centered around mutual negative feelings toward others. The study also found people believed they were much more likely to develop a positive relationship with a stranger if they both had the same negative opinion of someone else.
Commenting on this at The New York Times, Teddy Wayne writes:
[O]utrage is lavishly rewarded on social media, whether through supportive comments, retweets or Facebook likes. People prone to Internet outrage are looking for validation, Professor Martin said. “They want to hear that others share it,” he said, “because they feel they’re vindicated and a little less lonely and isolated in their belief.”
Notice what people gain from participating in the outrage: Vindication and community, a purpose and a cause. Outrage grants meaning to life. I exist to defeat this ideology or political persuasion. This, above all else, demonstrates why Christians should avoid the outrage culture — it’s a false idol.
Outrage sets itself up as a false god demanding your time, energy and devotion. It promises the right people will accept you and you’ll challenge the thinking of those who are wrong. It whispers in your ear to yell louder and be offended … for a good cause.
Yet, the Christian already has a cause—the cross. We don’t need acceptance or validation from others, as we have already been granted those through Jesus. Community does not come from a shared outrage online, but shared service in the body of Christ. We seek to advance the kingdom of God, not a political ideology.
But just like any other idol, outrage sneaks in our life and slithers out in our ear, “Did God really say … to rest in Him? To seek peace? To love your enemy? To trust His plan? To find your identity in Christ and your community in His church?” Far too easily we succumb. Far too quickly do we reach for the fruit and sink our teeth into the flesh of another person created in God’s image.
Like most idols, however, we often worship outrage unaware. As we slavishly follow outrage, we mistakenly believe our service is to Christ. Recognizing this human temptation long before the Internet, C.S. Lewis addressed this temptation and provided a helpful test in Mere Christianity.
Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one’s first feeling, “Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,” or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.
There are times when outrage can be warranted, but it cannot be deserved all the time. The more we succumb to it, the more dangerous it becomes. Many Christians are unwittingly constructing online and around themselves a “universe of pure hatred” where outrage reigns supreme and grace is conspicuously absent.
Don’t give into the outrage today. Demonstrate that true meaning and community are found in Christ, not in being offended. That’s the type of counter-cultural Christianity society desperately needs.