Jesus and Outrage Culture: Introduction (part 1)

Did you know that after Monday 25 April 2016, the Lone Pine Anzac Day Ceremony at Gallipoli will be axed! Federal opposition leader Bill Shorton said this is “sacrilege” to war veterans, deeply disappointing to war widows, and a move which would outrage all Australians.


Did you know that earlier this year, Kanye West tweeted that Taylor Swift was a “bitch”. But he has come out and followed that up with a series of other Tweets that say:

“I did not diss Taylor Swift and I’ve never dissed her”

“First thing is I’m an artist and as an artist I will express how I feel with no censorship”

“2nd thing I asked my wife for her blessings and she was cool with it”

“3rd thing I called Taylor and had an hour long convo with her about the line and she thought it was funny and gave her blessings.”


These two stories have attracted public outrage and angry media attention. And depending on your politics and ‘care factor’, they range in legitimacy from serious to ridiculous.

The media responses to these stories are examples of Outrage Culture at work.

The West is becoming a shame culture where outrage is the weapon for the self-righteous, fuelled by the 24 hour news cycle and the explosive power of social media.

Slate Magazine tracked American outrage for every single day of 2014. And for each case  they gave a rating of “Truly Outrageous” through to “Totally overblown.” Because, let’s face it, some times we get all in a fizz over nothing, whereas on other occasions, outrage is totally justified.

New York Times writer Tim Kreider came up with the very poignant description, “Outrage Porn,” to describe what he sees as our culture’s insatiable search for things to be offended by. He says that we feed off of feeling right and wronged. “Outrage Porn” is like porn in that it aims for a quick thrill at the expense of another anonymous person, without any relationship, accountability or commitment.

One reason Outrage Porn is destructive is because it can escalate into the public shaming and ruining of reputation. Those who are ‘right’ mob together to label and belittle those are ‘wrong’. This is the ironic consequence of the success of the neo-Marxist philosophy of Critical Theory that, as German scholar Max Horkheimer wrote, seeks “to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them.” These supposedly liberating doctrines of Critical Theory have been made absolutes in popular culture. So if you are caught mislabeling another’s gender, sexual orientation, race, economic status or religion, you better duck for cover.

I do not have a problem with Critical Theory as such. My PhD was in the field of Postcolonialism – which falls under this general scholastic umbrella. Like most humanities students from Melbourne University in the late ’90s, I also studied other Critical Theory subcategories: Feminism, Queer theory and Cultural Studies; scholars such as Focault, Gramsci and Adorno. What many of us predicted was that this broad field of scholarship which sought to expose the politics of culture and society, would soon become a kind of an absolutist force for social marginalisation. This has already started.

New York Times writer David Brooks has been observing for some time now the emergence of Shame culture on campus. If you don’t hold the right views, you will be publicly shamed. There must be, according to Brooks, a set of absolutes that University students are holding to – where have those values come from?

“Some sort of moral system is coming into place,” Brooks says. “Some new criteria now exist, which people use to define correct and incorrect action.”

In the Atlantic article The Death of Moral Relativism, Jonathan Merritt pondered on this new morality,

America’s new moral code is much different than it was prior to the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s. Instead of being centered on gender roles, family values, respect for institutions and religious piety, it orbits around values like tolerance and inclusion. (This new code has created a paradoxical moment in which all is tolerated except the intolerant and all included except the exclusive.)

Don’t misunderstand me as pining for a return to conservative 1950s values. Rather, for this blog post, I’m simply acknowledging these tectonic cultural changes. And I am suggesting that Outrage Culture is a problem that needs a gospel response.

Outrage and shaming occurs with ease on social media: the angry blog post, the critical tweet, the vicious comment on Facebook. Whatever the method—people try to hurt people. As Relevant Magazine writer Scott Sauls has said, “Sometimes the shaming escalates into a mob, a faux-community that latches on to the negative verdict and piles on.”

We walk around with the messaging of Outrage Culture effecting our world: it pervades our conversations. You might have been talking at work or at a party and had someone give you a death stare for holding the wrong views. You are so liberal! So conservative! So something-phobic! Perhaps you are just wrong according to the outrage machine?

How do we respond to outrage in grace? How did Jesus respond to the outrage directed at him from religious people?

What do we do when we feel outraged? Should we avoid the mob? Should Christians ever dump on others for whatever reason?

What about if you are the target of outrage?

[End of part one]


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