“Did you see the comments on my latest piece?” I sighed to myself after reading a concerned writer’s email to me. No, I hadn’t read the comments on her article, because I’ve found that reading every comment on every post I run is a great way to put me in a perpetually sour mood.
Don’t get me wrong: I love working in an online space. The opportunity to connect millions of people to important stories and relevant news is one of the most amazing things about the digital age and my job. But with the Internet has come this weird phenomenon where we are outraged all the time about all of the things. Last year, Slate ran a pretty amazing digital piece called The Year Of Outrage 2014: Everything You Were Angry about On Social Media. If you go to the piece, you’ll have the chance to scroll over all 365 days and see what people were up in arms over. Every day the Internet gives us something new to be angry about.
At it’s worst, this perpetual outrage can lead to trolling, cyber bullying and stalking, vicious arguments and public shaming. And Christians are not immune. Relevant.com writer Scott Sauls has written an excellent piece (read all of it here) on how our “insatiable search for things to be offended by” has lead us to search the Internet for these type of stories the way we would for porn.
Quoting New York Times writer Tim Krieder, Sauls remarks at how many of us are addicted to “Outrage Porn” the way we are actual pornography. “’Outrage Porn’ resembles actual pornography in that it aims for a cheap, temporary thrill at the expense of another human being, but without any personal accountability or commitment to that human being,” writes Krieder.
What’s worse, these types of articles have led us to have an almost trained response of outrage, even to the most benign stories we see online. We are essentially conditioning ourselves to respond in outrage to everything we read.
As Christians living in the digital age, we have a responsibility to recognize our tendencies to seek out this type of “outrage porn” and to restrain ourselves from participating in the online mob mentality. We should instead communicate in a way that aligns with the Bible’s commands on loving speech that is full of grace and promotes peace.
Sauls writes, “As a Christian who is active on social media, I often remind myself that each image-bearing name is sacred. The ninth commandment, which warns against bearing false testimony of any kind about one’s neighbor, must remain in the forefront.”
But what do we do when we read stories of people or corporations who are clearly in the wrong, or when we read about issues that clearly go against our religious beliefs? Is there still any reason to pile on shame and condemnation? “Even when this is the case,” Sauls writes, “humble restraint and self-reflection should be the starting point.”
Crosswalk contributor Daniel Darling writes this about the limits to outrage:
“There is such a word here for Christians. A word for me, particularly. While it is good and right to be outraged at injustice in the world, we can't live on outrage. While it is good and right to roll up our sleeves and make a difference in the world by our lives and our actions, we can't live on activism. You see, the narrative of the Scriptures is not just about what's right and what's wrong in the world and in our own hearts. The grand story is that there is good news available… The power of sin and death, which so strangles the human soul, which ravages the planet, which obscures the glory and grandeur of our great God--this has been defeated, and like a helium balloon, is dying a slow death. Evil, my friends, is not winning. The story of the Bible is that there is hope in the death, burial, and resurrection of the Perfect One, the Son of God.”
Will we be known for speaking hope, or will we be known for speaking outrage? Listening, empathy and understanding are much harder to learn (and more humbling to practice) than anger, judgment and righteous outrage. But as Christians, we have a responsibility to speak hope, not hate.
If you think you might have an addiction to “outrage porn” and struggle with restraint when it comes to what you read online and comment on, here are a few verses on which you should meditate:
“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:34-37
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” Proverbs 15:1-2
“With [our tongues] we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” James 3:9-10
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.” 1 Peter 3:9