Once I read an online article on the topic of guns and ammunition. If you don’t know anything about guns and ammunition, fear not – the topic isn’t really my point. In essence, the author was making a case through careful analysis, reasonable use of studies and statistics, and a dose or two of common sense that a certain handgun cartridge had come along to the point of being roughly comparable with another, traditionally favored round. He started off by saying there are a lot of preconceived notions out there and asked the reader to approach his conclusions with an open mind, that technological advances in recent years had closed the gap between the two that in ways that challenge conventional wisdom. His opening was very apt, as many enthusiasts have an emotional or knee-jerk reaction to the calibers they prefer. It was also quickly forgotten, as the first comment was a profanity-laced tirade attacking the author as an idiot and the story as a waste of everyone’s time.
Do you think that commenter would have batted an eye at another article confirming his preconceptions, even if that article were filled with logical fallacies, bad data, and grammatical errors? We’ll never know for sure, but my assumption is no. So often our outrage is limited to things that challenge (or confirm) the ideas we had beforehand.
We see this in how people respond to news and current events. There was major outrage when US border enforcement used tear gas. Seemingly, however, this outrage was less about the humanitarian issues and more about the event as it confirmed people’s notions about Trump. The same things happened under Obama and there was no coverage, let alone outrage. We hear about “Baby It’s Cold Outside” being banned for insensitivity this Christmas. And, well, there’s outrage on both sides, with people either applauding the decision or scratching their heads why this song gets banned but so much modern music gets a pass. Makes little difference to me… forget the social justice implications; I hate that the same lines keep playing over and over in my head every time I think about it.
What can we learn about ourselves when we consider our own selective outrage? Some would lament the lack of any true willingness to debate issues, how we sound off in the echo chamber of social media to a chorus of AMENs from those who think like we do. Some would locate this discussion in the realm of things-ain’t-what-they-used-to-be. But I think we can trace selective outrage back a couple thousand years at least. During Jesus’ ministry, people followed Him by the thousands to see and hear what would happen. Yet His own neighbors (Luke 4) rose up to kill Him because of the things He said. The crowds honored Him on Palm Sunday, but five days later they cried “Crucify!”
Consider Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr. He came to faith in a time when “the disciples were increasing in number” [Acts 6:1]. Yet he came under fire when he found himself challenging preconceptions people had about God. After laying out a strong defense of the idea of Jesus as Lord, the crowd became incensed. Look at Acts 7:57:
“But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse.” [NASB]
As we read on, the mob killed him by stoning. How terrifying to think of them covering their ears as they murdered a man whose only crime was challenging their thinking.
As we approach Christmas this year, we live in a world that is increasingly outraged by the claims of Jesus. Most of us are not in fear for our own lives, but we do wonder how to live in light of our times. I think Peter’s words for us are no less relevant than when he wrote them in the first century: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect… do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal… as though something strange were happening to you.” [1 Peter 3:15, 4:12, NIV, emphasis added]. It’s right there, friends. Be ready to give gentle and respectful answers about why you’ve placed your hope in Christ. And of course, don’t be surprised if the whole topic results in a bit of outrage. It’s part of the world we live in.