While watching the Today show a little while back I was caught by a phrase from Salman Rushdie during an interview with Matt Lauer. In the interview (you can see it here), Rushdie opines that we are living in an age of outrage and that "people seem to define themselves by their outrage." Incidentally, he also describes the internet movie at the center of this controversy in an almost lyrical way as "an outrageous, disgraceful, little malevolent thing." Poetry.
The legitimacy of this outrage on the part of Muslim residents of North Africa and the Middle East is not the discussion I wish to engage here. How we, as privileged westerners, tend to define ourselves by outrage is the discussion I'd like to take a stab at.
Some will object to my use of privileged but only the narrowest of viewpoints will support any other assessment of middle-class citizens of the USA. People who do not worry about the existence or timing of their next meal and have a dry, temperature-controlled place to sleep rank as wealthy by almost any scale that accounts for the world as a whole or across an even moderate scope of history. To include the number of vehicles, mobile phones, or computers owned by most of us only furthers the point. How can I or any of my peers claim a justifiable outrage?
It turns out it is easy enough in practice. Anytime some one encroaches on our rights or gives us a perceived slight we are quick to notice and, usually, advertise. To be sure, most of us are sympathetic when we see someone "less fortunate" than us but how long does that stay with us? How often are we genuinely thankful for our blessings? I have noticed that a hurt, no matter how insignificant it is, tends to stick with me far longer than any sympathy for another or thankfulness for everyday blessings.
Of course, this only points to how much I am focused on me. The old formula for JOY (Jesus first, others next, yourself last) seems to be best represented by Y . . . . . . . . . . . JO in my life far too often. I know when I have been hurt all the time. I am keenly aware of my wants and needs and frequently confuse the former for the latter. I spend my time defining myself, no matter how quietly, by what I don't have rather than what I do have. This is the beginning of outrage. "I deserve better!"
If I'm right on the problem, then the solution is easy enough but we'll have to be honest with ourselves. No matter how good the reason sounds (Christians who groan about the persecution we face here in modern America, I'm looking at us), we simply need to focus outside ourselves. My dad had a quote on the wall of his workspace for as long as I can remember up to his retirement. "If all the problems of the world were piled in a heap and everyone had to take an equal share, most people would be content to take their own and leave." Amen.
P.S. Specifically for Christians: What if the world saw us as people who were overwhelmed by our blessings rather than those who were defined by their outrage like everyone else?