Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Social Action and Guilt

So I was back in church on a Sunday morning for the first time in a month, as I've finally cleared my schedule of trainings, conferences, and assorted things which wanted to take over the first morning of the week. It was good to be back, though the fact that the old people that irritate me so who sit behind me finally know my name is upsetting for a whole variety of reasons.

The sermon was the second part of one two weeks ago, and since I hadn't listened to the podcast (Sorry pastor!) I felt a little lost. I was posting a couple of my pastor's quips on my Twitter feed when the folks whom I follow started to comment on points from Pete Wilson's sermon at CrossPoint Church in Nashville. Jonathan Acuff then tweeted the following:

"26k kids starved to death yesterday & I got mad emails cause I'm in a Taylor Swift video? Christians are bored" 

Now, I have to say that I really like Pete Wilson and his book Plan B. However, the tweet didn't sit well with me, so I immediately shot back a response that I thought the comment was begging to receive.

Just to play Devil's Advocate, but 26k kids starved while he was in a Taylor Swift video. Statements like that can backfire. 

Before I go on, I think I should toss some caveats out there. First of all, I had to google whom Taylor Swift was (No, you're not surprised). Second of all, it's not that I disagree with the entire statement per se, as I think that Evangelical Christians are world-famous for majoring on minor issues and blowing them all out of proportion. However, the tone of the statement smells suspiciously like it's meant to elicit a response via guilt, which just rubs me the wrong way. Because I didn't hear it firsthand, I'm going to err on the side of caution and assume it sounds a lot better in context. However, that won't stop me from using it as an excuse to talk about social action and guilt, which is something I had to deal with the past couple of weeks.

In the past decade or so, Evangelical Christianity in America has moved with society in general to be more interested in social causes than it used to be, which is in no way, shape, or form, a bad thing. It's really encouraging to see young people get fired up about working in the community and abroad to make a difference instead of solely blindly consuming the latest in Pop Culture. Unfortunately, this raised awareness has created an army of people who are so driven for their causes that they are literally incapable of understanding that someone cannot be as obsessed about said cause as they are.

In Evangelical circles, I blame this solely on Francis Chan and his book Crazy Love, which essentially said that if you weren't spending your entire life trying to help the poor or in some sort of social action (preferably abroad), you don't love Jesus, and if you don't love Jesus, that, my friends, is a Very Bad Thing. Of course, after polemicizing for 200 pages or so, he backtracks at the conclusion that maybe we're not all called to treat foot fungus in Ethiopia like one of his examples, but apparently I'm the only person to have noticed this comment when reading and discussing this book. 

Having sat through two (Two!) studies of this book, I admit I groaned silently and rolled my eyes as either the book itself or a wide-eyed ideologue lectured me on how because I don't spend every penny and every waking moment helping the poor, hungry, disadvantaged, oppressed, etc., I'm either some baby-eating non-Christian or some soulless corporati. Of course, in the latter's case I didn't help things one bit by slipping into a rich vein of passive-aggressiveness and began singing the praises of unfettered corporatism and consumerism. But what can I say? No one's perfect.

I think it goes without saying that this view on life is flawed to say the least, and people who want to guilt you into following their pet social cause with the same alleged intensity runs into trouble. First of all, if I'm going to take your cause as seriously as you want me to, I need to quit my job and sign up at the nearest monastery, as that is the logical conclusion of your rhetoric. And with all due respect to my Catholic friends and readers, the last thing a monastery needs is for me to show up to join their order.

This leads to the point that when someone is this fervent about the totality of their cause, and is busy guilt tripping you into aiding their cause, it makes it easy to poke holes in their arguments. For the angry ideologue, I asked why he was sitting at home playing video games instead of solving problems abroad. For the quote from Wilson, I merely asked what taking a part in a country music video would do to help the 26k kids who starved while he took part in said video. Is pointing things like that out a bit out of taste? Yes. But then again, guilt tripping people into helping your pet causes isn't exactly great either.

I'm pretty sure by now you're sitting smugly in your seat wondering if I actually do care about anyone but myself. Well, if you want to be honest, I have a real soft spot for helping out gifted kids in pretty much any way I can. Yes, it isn't helping people with foot fungus in Ethiopia, but to blow off gifted kids' needs is as callous as I'm often accused when I don't swoon over the latest cause in need of my assistance Right. This. Minute. As events in the UK showed this past week with the mysterious murder of a GCHQ cryptanalyst, gifted people often grow up into solitary individuals that people look at quizzically, only to remark that they are "extremely polite and amiable" without doing much else. As someone who tends to have people look at me and say that I am "extremely polite and amiable" without doing much else, I see needs that I have a unique understanding and toolkit to take care of. Does that make my cause less important than starving kids 3/4 of a world away? For some people, yes, but for the rest of us, we know better.

To sum this all up, we can't save the world all by ourselves no matter how hard we try, but instead of trying to get as many comrades-in-arms for our cause-du-jour via guilt and peer pressure, let's just realize that some people are busy saving their corner of the world so you don't have to also.

Until next time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Oh Loren, you bash the guilt trips, but they've worked out so well for so long! You'd better say you're sorry! ;)