Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Rush to Outrage

The Church of Christ blogosphere has been "abuzz" (that's putting it lightly... some were practically frothing at the mouth!) in the last 36 hours over the news that Harding Professor Mark Elrod's blog is going private. Mike Cope wondered out loud whether Harding University has any sense of academic integrity. My buddy Bob mourned the loss of an internet locale where open dialogue was allowed to flourish. Harding Professor Frank McCown noted that this is an example of how speaking on controversial topics inevitably brings out the yahoo's. And this guy I don't know blasted the Harding administration, but then retracted his scathing rebuke.

So, clearly, I add my commentary on this issue at the risk of saturating the web with more conversation about the seemingly insignificant development of a blogger deciding to be more selective about who reads his writing. Nevertheless, I have some things to say.

I'm troubled that we live in an era of sensationalized news. It disturbs me that we allow larger voices (whether famous bloggers, talk radio hosts, or even news organizations) dictate to us what we should get upset about. We wring our hands over Senator Obama not wearing a flag pin on his lapel or John McCain deciding not to work on weekends. And sometimes this rush to outrage affects lives, as it did with Duke Lacrosse Rape Case.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone. I let myself get lathered into a rage and can write critically & harshly about a subject as if the world is coming to an end. Go look up the blog label "My Diatribes" and there are plenty of examples of this.

I wonder what fuels this rage, in me and in others. I wonder if this misplaced anger is just angst over our discontent with the present -- with moral depravity & the long wait for the fulfillment of God's Kingdom. At least one blog humorously pondered that it may be sociological. At "Stuff White People Like," someone posited that Being Offended is a unique characteristic among Caucasians. An excerpt:

[...] many people develop a thick skin and try to only be offended in the most egregious and awful situations. In many circumstances, they can allow smaller offenses to slip by as fighting them is a waste of time and energy. But white people, blessed with both time and energy, are not these kind of people. In fact there are few things white people love more than being offended.

O, satire... how unveiling you can be!

I'm not saying we should never get upset. Ecclesiastes 3 teaches us that there is a time for all things. Righteous indignation has its place. But I find it supremely important that we be sober in our wrath. We would be wise to heed James' suggestion that we "Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry." Some of the comments in Mike Cope's blog were fiercely critical of Harding University. Though Preacher Mike is often tempered in the words he uses about the more conservative element of our fellowship, it appears that the comments section of his blog is a haven for a more caustic brand of hypercritical talk. And even though Dr. Elrod issued a statement on his blog explaining that he chose to do this & was not forced to do so by his academic employer, Harding remains slandered.

I often think about those Duke Lacrosse players & the stigma they will live with for the rest of their lives. Their employers will always wonder if the men they hired really were rapists. And how about their wives? Won't there always be some lingering, remnant doubt that maybe, just maybe, the men they sleep with really did rape those girls?

Outrage-induced stigmas don't just go away...

Obama doesn't wear a flag pin on his lapel! Despicable! (Translation: Obama is not patriotic. And that stigma won't go away no matter how often the Senator wears a flag pin between now and the end of his life)

McCain doesn't work on weekends! Doesn't he realize what's at stake?! (Translation: McCain is old and has lost his work ethic. And that stigma will remain in the back of people's minds between now and the election)

And Mark Elrod is making his blog private! Harding should be ashamed! (Translation: Harding is like Big Brother & doesn't really care about institutional integrity. And that stigma will continue to stick with people when they remember this event months from now)

Thus are the casualties of a rush to outrage. The words people write, the opinions people form -- you can't un-ring that bell.

And these "offenses" ... are they really that egregious? Are they THAT despicable? One of the early creeds of our creed-less Restoration Movement was that we wanted to "speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent." I've used that as a guide in my own theological dabbling by thinking that "I want to make a big deal out of issues that the Bible makes a big deal about, and I don't want to make a big deal out of issues that the Bible doesn't make a big deal about." In a news culture that sensationalizes small issues and rushes render judgment, I think we would all do well to take a step back, examine ourselves, and carefully consider what is really steering our passions on a given subject.

Otherwise, we all become drops in an ocean of mob mentality. And we become pawns for the personal ambitions of immorally manipulative people -- useful idiots for their selfish purposes. Pray that we wouldn't resign ourselves to that sort of existence.


Anonymous said...

Well said. So many assumptions and so little basis. People speak so strongly about things that don't really know are true. By the way, why is it even a big deal that Elrod chooses to make his blog private? It would be a big deal if he woke up and his blog had somehow magically been converted to a private blog by the Harding administration against his will. Elrod is choosing to make it public. He is the one doing it! Yet Harding is to blame. That is so shallow, short sighted, and ignorant. To put it lightly.

Anonymous said...

I meant to say choosing to make it private.

Jordan said...

I like that your diatribe against diatribes has the label diatribe...