Life in the Angry Era
I’m not on Facebook.
It’s a conscious choice to maintain my sanity and keep me from one more snaring distraction. I know, I know; I’ve heard and considered all the arguments for being “relevant,” “connected” and “with it.” Perhaps I’m just a nonconformist. Perhaps I’ve just got my head in the sand.
Then again, when I am privy to the occasional social media conversation through my better half, I find myself in agreement with columnist Gordon Clark of Vancouver’s The Province, who has decided to start calling it “antisocial media.”
Recently, my wife and I followed a conversation on Facebook regarding that horrible online drinking “game,” Neknomination (which is proving once again that people are not simply messy but occasionally downright stupid). The online banter between people who could have literally driven down the road to debate over coffee, even among kin who eat together, degenerated into profanity between child and parent and into a bashing of churches and their legions of hypocrites.
What began as the impassioned concern of an adult for youth not to do something disastrous unravelled into anger and belligerence – and this among people who presumably care for one another.
Susan Whitbourne, a University of Massachusetts Amherst psychology professor, calls anger “the dominant socially expressed emotion” of our era. This is rather bizarre given that the dominant social value of tolerance should presumably lead us in the other direction.
Instead, it seems that tolerance (i.e., you need to put up with me) combined with the unquestioned freedom of individual rights and a detached communication tool like social media produces a vitriol cocktail. Which takes us back to Gordon Clark’s newspaper musings: “Too often, no one will apologize, back down or even listen to the other party’s point of view. Instead, the popular tactic in today’s Age of Narcissism is to aggressively defend our positions, as if conceding a point to the other side makes us lose. We’re more interested in ‘winning’ than in resolving disputes, which we are also far too quick to get into with others.”
In an age where self trumps all, there can be next to no genuine dialogue about truth. This justifies pure anger and antisocial behaviour when we’ve been wronged or had our feelings hurt because someone has confronted the small kingdoms we now rule over. This disturbing and dark undercurrent shapes our politics (which rarely involves true debate), our moralities (where we now claim justification to dehumanize those who don’t cheer our choices) and even our closest relationships (where a child demeans parents for the world to see).
No one can be corrected, challenged or engaged in true debate without rage rising within us. It’s like playing a game with a child who throws a fit if they lose. We have come to believe it is our right to never lose, which makes true community impossible, truth truly irrelevant and temper tantrums inevitable.
Shine like stars
How then shall we live? At the risk of being over-simplistic, I am increasingly convinced the church of God in Western society has an almost unprecedented opportunity to shine like stars. The apostle Paul reminds the Romans that it is the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Romans 2:4). God’s anger against sin is turned toward himself.
We who are swift to judge and foam at the mouth should recall that kindness is powerful. It is what changed our hearts and should ultimately change the way Christians live in the Angry Era.
Could it be that the opposite of being angry is not actually being happy, but being kind?
And, what would happen if the followers of Jesus would be known as the most kind of all, since that most beautifully reflects our Father in heaven?
How might this shape our conversations with those who disagree with our convictions?
How might this shape the way we function as churches: communities that certainly must become the crucible for unlearning our angry ways, not simply justifying them with God-speak?
How might a mission of kindness – not just random acts thereof – become our way of life in an antisocial age that is becoming SlapInTheFaceBook?
—Phil Wagler is married to Jen, is the father of six, a pastor with Gracepoint Community Church, Surrey, B.C., and author of Kingdom Culture.