Fathom Mag

Outrage Culture

Learning to question the point of our protests

Published on:
March 14, 2018
Read time:
4 min.
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If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”

Given the conviction we invest these phrases with, and the shape our world is in, they have the ring of holy words, of canon.

But comb through the Bible and you’ll find them in the same place as “God helps those who help themselves.” That is, nowhere.

Outrage is a gift from God.

We live in a culture that is perpetually outraged, often with good reason. With every new revelation of sexual abuse, every school shooting, every racist dog-whistle, every grift, there is this feeling of being shaken from head to toe. Any and every ounce of righteousness inside us is disturbed and carried to the tip of our tongues.

Of all God’s attributes, his outrage at injustice—with all its wildness and fiery breath—is among the hardest to wield with integrity.

“This isn’t right!” we scream from our rooftops or, more likely, our social media platforms.

There certainly is a sense in which we should embrace, then exhale these feelings. They are there for a reason, to voice out loud God’s grief over injustice and his desire to make people whole.

However, it does our hearts—and, ultimately, our purposes—good to stop sometimes and ask, “Are we just adding to the noise?” When outrage is all the rage, can God’s people find a way to be distinct? Is it possible to be in the outrage culture but not of it?

Of all God’s attributes, his outrage at injustice—with all its wildness and fiery breath—is among the hardest to wield with integrity. Anyone who says they know how doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

But we’re not left to our own devices. If God is the giver of true outrage, surely he has ideas about how we express it.

Four questions have served me well in my attempts to measure my outrage. And every time I ask them I’m convicted by how little I naturally heed them. Posing them to ourselves regularly, I’m convinced, would nudge us closer to living truly outrageous lives.

Question 1: Am I outraged by sin?

There are two layers to peel back here. First, we must pit sin versus preference. I might not like the way someone does something. It might even repel me. But if it doesn’t stoop to the level of offense against God—the truest object of our sin—it’s best that I save my energy for the truly outrageous.

Inherent in all of this is the notion that I should be far more outraged by my sin than anyone else’s. If I’m so busy raging at specks in other eyes that I forget the plank in my own, something inside has become unhinged.

I should be far more outraged by my sin than anyone else’s.

This doesn’t mean we beat ourselves down and let serious offenders slide. It does mean we have work to do if we want to be outraged in the same manner and by the same things as our God.

Question 2: Can I avoid becoming like those who rightfully outrage me?

The spiritually, physically, or sexually abusive. The fat-shamers and the slut-shamers. The profiteers who make their money off the backs of the poor while keeping a foot on their throats. Those who objectify people, and those who overlook them.

All these and more deserve our ire. But I fear, like a pianist slurring one note into another, we too easily become like those who outrage us.

We dehumanize the dehumanizers. We chuck schoolyard taunts at the same pundits and politicians we accuse of lacking compassion and class. We harden our hearts in opposition to those we feel contain no softness.

Outrage does not merely rattle or respond. It should be the first in a series of calls that demands something better. Outrage sees beyond the surface. Outrage imagines. Outrage is only sustainable or renewable because it believes in something better.

When we let those who trouble our souls steal that from us, what we’re left with isn’t outrage. It’s something weaker, something that will corrode our spirits too.

Question 3: Who am I spending my outrage on?

Our Facebook walls can never damn us before God. But they will in the eyes of others.

People who are struggling, who have been shoved to the margins, who need an ally or friend—or will one day—are watching us. They see how we spend our outrage, and it tells them everything about whether or not we are for them.

If we only spend our outrage on pet causes or personal grievances, if we only get worked up when we feel like someone is sticking their hand in our wallet or reaching out to grab our guns, we can’t be surprised when few come to us for aid or shelter.

If we spend it on others, we’ll have more than enough outrage to go around. If we spend it primarily on ourselves, we’ll find ourselves bankrupt in more ways than one.

Question 4: Am I outraged by grace most of all?

Am I outraged by grace most of all? There is nothing more outrageous than the cross. There, God plows the killing field to level the playing field. Our sins lie on the same plane as those who sicken us most. We both are offered life from one cup.

We feel the push past reason when we believe or, better yet, watch God extend grace to the vile and unloving.

Knowing this shouldn’t quell our outrage. To guilt-trip or Jesus-juke someone into suppressing righteous outrage is a critical mistake and denies something God-given. Yet as creatures driven by the hope of redemption, we should sigh with longing for even the worst of sinners to stop in the middle of the road and turn around.

Outrage Fueled by the Hope of Reconciliation

It’s here that we are offered two ways to understand the word “outrageous.” We can, like Jonah or the prodigal’s older brother, be truly offended and repulsed by the grace God offers our antagonists.

Or we can lean on these definitions: “bold, unusual, or startling,” “beyond reasonable limits.” We feel the push past reason when we believe or, better yet, watch God extend grace to the vile and unloving.

To really be outrageous in an outrage culture is to see this as the point of our protests, exclamations, and expletives: What is wrong isn’t only worth wailing about—it’s worth being made right.

Aarik Danielsen
Aarik Danielsen is the arts and music editor at the Columbia Daily Tribune in Columbia, Missouri. He is a writer, editor, and curator concerned with the intersection of faith, culture, and human dignity. Follow him on Twitter or read more from Aarik on Facebook.

Cover image by Pawel Janiak.

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