The New Opiate of the People

Karl Marx once called religion the opiate of the people. Today, I’d argue that it’s outrage. When we channel our time and energy into the tripartite American outrage industry (social media, news media, partisan politics), we become drunk with self-righteousness. And like drunks, we become insensitive and impotent. Lashing out at those who disagree with us. Numbing ourselves to the pain of an off-kilter world instead of doing something within our own spheres of influence, however local, to set the world right.

Feeling and spewing outrage relieves us of the pressure to actually do anything. Snappy tweets and posts satisfy our internal yearning for rectitude. If I launch my moral outrage into the blabbosphere, I have Made My Stand. I have planted my flag on the “right” side of this or that issue and shaken my digital fist at those dirty so-and-so’s on the “wrong” side.

All this outrage is one modern manifestation of something the Bible calls “fretting.” Kind of a quaint word, isn’t it? Today, we use it to mean worry—and mild worry, at that. But the biblical meaning of the word isn’t mild at all. Instead to fret is to be hot and furious—to burn with anger. Psalm 37, which has a lot to say about our response to evil and to those who perpetrate it, prohibits fretting. “Fret not…over the man who carries out evil devices,” David wrote. “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath.”

Why? Because anger and wrath lead only to…wait for it…evil.

In other words, by indulging in anger, we become what we behold. And eventually, those dirty so-and-so’s, the ones on the “wrong” side of the battle lines, become our enemies. Not just rhetorically. Actually, as is increasingly evident today in the form of evisceration and even calls for the death of ideological opponents.

I suspect that the Enemy of our souls is enjoying all this very much.

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