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A Right to Outrage?

We live in an age of outrage. It’s on the left and the right. People seem to be easily appalled, shocked, dismayed and insulted, and they seem to want others to know it. Many people promote outrage, urging others to feel disrespected by some event or words.

It’s common to see partisan headlines, especially in the social media, that scream, “Where is the outrage?” People seem to get off on seeing and reporting the “outrageous.”

“One reason inequality today seems to thrust us into an endless cycle of outrage and revolt,” writes Tom Deignan in the National Catholic Reporter, “is because too many people on all sides have convinced themselves that whatever fresh outrage dominates Twitter on a given day is not only apocalyptic, but unprecedented.”

Natural Responses?

But shouldn’t we feel outrage? Considering what’s going on in society, and in our world, shouldn’t we feel indignation, even anger? Aren’t those natural responses? And doesn’t the lack of outrage signal emotional and ethical necrosis?

Maybe. There’s no doubt that believers, people searching for God and people of good will should resist evil and speak up against injustice and falsehood. And you have to feel it to resist effectively and speak up sincerely.

But how much outrage is necessary, and how does excessive outrage square with the search for God?

I would say that we should have the amount of outrage necessary to get us to act, because the outrage itself is only valuable as an incentive to action. And I believe that excessive outrage may massage our egos but change very little.

One of the Leaders

I’m reminded of the book of James, one of my favorites of the Christian Bible. Though there is some doubt about authorship among some scripture scholars, the consensus seems to be that the author was the James described in the gospels as “the brother of the Lord” and one of the leaders of the early Christian community.

James’ is a message about the importance of action, even going so far as to say that faith without action is “dead.” And I like his definition of “religion.”

“Pure, unspoilt religion, in the eyes of God our Father is this,” he writes: “coming to the help of orphans and widows when they need it, and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world.”

In my view, people of faith often pray to God to solve problems God expects us to solve ourselves. “O Lord, eliminate poverty and war and bring people together,” we might pray. Or, we blame God for problems that we haven’t solved.

“God’s ‘will,’ ‘plan,’ and ‘messages’ long ago became excuses for personal failures, natural disasters, embarrassments, wars, cancers and lost football games,” writes Tom Missett, a letter writer in the same edition of NCR.

Abandonment of Responsibility

“Implicit here is a belief that God orchestrates what (we assume) God wants and ‘allows’ what God does not. Blaming God is an abandonment of our responsibility for our own planning and performance. It is a convenient and sorry copout to excuse inaction, procrastination and our apparent inability to live with disagreeable consequences and uncomfortable complexities.”

So do we have a right to outrage? We do, I believe, and not only a right but an obligation, as a citizen of the world and as people searching for God. If we are “made in the image and likeness of God,” we have to be God-like and the Bible is full of references to God’s outrage at human behavior.

But that means not just feeling outrage, but doing all we can to make the world better.

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