This time last week the Internet was abuzz with widespread denunciations, head-shaking, and finger-wagging over Miley Cyrus’ performance at the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, August 25. By all accounts, both secular and religious, it was an over-the-top, beyond the pale, unabashedly lewd performance. No, I haven’t seen the video, and won’t be seeing it. Thanks for asking, though!
I read several responses (and responses to responses) on blogs and Facebook; some were thoughtfully written, others were less helpful. “Twerking” was introduced into the vocabulary of those of us who live somewhat culturally sheltered lives. On a lighter note in this serious discussion, Cyrus’ VMA incident elicited a mention on NPR’s Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! on Saturday. Host Peter Sagal explained, “Twerking, for all you Public Radio listeners, is a kind of suggestive dance that’s big in the clubs right now. But, it’s the same sort of thing we’ve had for years. It’s what our parents would have called a grand mal seizure.”
I both can and can’t understand the level of response that Cyrus’ performance precipitated. First of all, anyone who willfully chooses to watch the MTV Video Music Awards has implicitly forfeited any right to be morally shocked, offended, or outraged. Don’t plead ignorance here. MTV? The VMAs? You were expecting a Scottish Highlands sword dance, maybe? Secondly, I’m confident that multitudes of conscientious, moral people intentionally viewed the performance after the fact, fully aware of the nature of the content, just so they would know exactly how upset and incensed they should be. “I can’t comment on it unless I’ve seen it!” Really? You should probably unscrew the cap on your home’s sewer clean out line just to make sure it stinks. Check it out and let me know!
Don’t misunderstand! I’m not at all questioning whether or not the performance was morally offensive. I am, however, concerned about our near constant state of moral outrage, how it is affecting our spiritual well-being, and what is being communicating to others who are “listening” to us on social media.
As if anticipating the Miley Cyrus flap, the September issue of Christianity Today features a wonderful editorial by Katelyn Beaty entitled, “Hungry for Outrage.” It is subtitled, “Indignation is the discourse du jour on the Internet. We can do better.” Below are a few excerpts.
“Call it the tart deliciousness of moral outrage. From mayors’ sex scandals to pastors’ oddball comments to judges’ incoherent rulings, we are reminded 24/7 of the extent of human folly. If anything, a nonstop news cycle gives us nonstop proof that sin pervades every person and institution.”
“When justice is dashed and human dignity is maimed, anger is our right response. But what we do with that anger is the line between wisdom and our own folly. Increasingly, it seems, many of us are using it to show our social media and blog followers that we are on the right side of contentious issues. Who knew that being offended tasted so good.”
“I wonder if at the root of our Internet outrage is the need to show that we are righteous – specifically, more righteous than others.”
God created us with the capacity for moral outrage. Such indignation serves the global village, as well as our local communities, by crying out against reigns of terror by despotic dictators, human trafficking, the insatiable greed of white-collar criminals, political corruption, senseless violent crime, and general, societal moral decay.
However, the technology of our age has created relentless exposure to an endless array of potential targets for our anger. News of evil, injustice, and immorality is instantaneously available to us from sources that literally span the globe. We can barely process one before we are informed of the next. Many websites and Internet news feeds seem to exist for the sole purpose of fueling an already raging fire, keeping us perpetually “fed up,” agitated, and primed to sound off on the matter. We are suffering from “indignation overload,” and I don’t believe that we were wired to perpetually bear that kind of emotional burden.
Because the news of events is communicated instantly, we feel compelled to respond in the same way. We have to weigh in with extreme urgency and immediacy; precious seconds are ticking away. People need to know where we stand. Our silence will be interpreted as apathy, at best, or as agreement and endorsement, at worst. The result is often a “ready, fire, aim” response which lacks the benefit of all of the facts and the helpfulness of insights that come from slowly distilled, thoughtful reflection. I know! “Ain’t nobody got time for that, Tim!”
I fear that outrage has become an addiction for many people of faith. I’m caused to wonder if certain endorphins are released when we feel anger over a just cause; an emotional, pseudo-spiritual “rush” that just keeps us coming back for more. In order for us to feel “righteous,” has it become essential that “indignation” be an inseparable companion? “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers… twerkers.” Reread the context of Luke 18:9-14 to be reminded of why Jesus told this parable.
The more I am consumed by moral outrage, the less time I have to dwell on those things that are “true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute; things that are excellent and worthy of praise,” (Philippians 4:8).
Last week’s outrage? That particular bubble seems to have already burst. A scan of my Facebook news feed resulted in nary a mention, and a Google search indicated that the tsunami of articles had subsided by the weekend. Oh, of course! College football was in full swing by then! Who knows what fresh outrage the coming week will bring?
I hope that there were as many prayers offered for Miley Cyrus as there were laments over the fall of Hannah Montana. In light of the accompanying bashing that was directed toward her parents, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving on behalf of the rest of us that the moral failings of our own children are not broadcast globally for public derision and condemnation. For that, we can truly be thankful.