Monday, June 29, 2020

Victimhood Isn't Virtuous


Earlier this month I posted the following to social media: "Being a victim of another's sin is a tragedy, not a virtue. Don't pursue opportunities to be a victim; rather, seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God."

Some members of my incredibly modest social media following scoffed at the post, writing it off to be some reflection of white supremacy or privilege. Given the ever-changing current events in America, it seems appropriate to further explain the theme of my 29-word post.

Victimhood as Tragedy

A basic definition of victim is, "a person a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action." Victimhood, then, is the state of being harmed because of someone else's actions. And it's currently the hottest trend sweeping the nation.

In the book "The Rise of Victimhood Culture," Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning explain that those who are perceived as victims are increasingly granted high moral status in American culture, thus incentivizing people's efforts to be perceived as victims. Those seen as sufferers will often get a "pass" regarding their behavior and speech. They are frequently considered untouchable in terms of judgment, merely due to the fact that they've been hurt in some way, shape, or form.

The phenomenon is clearly seen today on social media, as hashtags and trends constantly lend themselves to appeals for sympathy. If you can be labeled as a victim, you're seen as pure. To keep it pithy, "Victimness is next to godliness."

Beyond that, those who are awarded victimhood are also given extraordinary power and freedom. To varying degrees, they are often exempt from typical standards of rationality, accountability, and expectations. The major "Exhibit A" that illustrates this is the angry mob that's been allowed to storm major U.S. cities in recent weeks. They're vandalizing property both public and private, attacking other people (sometimes to the point of death), and taking whatever they want -- not to mention their total rejection of the CDC Covid-19 safety directives -- all without consequence. They hold the seat of power (see CHAZ) and have the most freedom of all citizens currently living in this nation.

Yet, based on the initial definition given above, victimhood should be first and foremost understood as a tragedy, not a virtue that opens the door to advantages over others. 

Consider a mass shooting. After one of these events we recognize that, as a whole, the whole ordeal was tragic and, at the same time, everyone who was harmed truly suffered a personal tragedy, no matter the details of each one's background. Just as God causes the sunshine and rain to fall on the good and the evil alike (Matt 5:45), He ordains that both the good and the evil will suffer tragedy -- sometimes at the same place and the same time.

When image bearers of God live through such a tragedy -- a true tragedy -- there needs to be time and attention given to weep with them, comfort them, and seek to provide for their needs. And they need the gospel. At the same time, it would not be right for them to be granted a status as the new moral authority in the culture, who may burn down businesses on their local Main Street just because they have suffered. Common sense is a good fence that keeps us from giving people license to act like barbarians simply due to the fact they lived through a tragedy. Care for them with gospel love? Yes. Let them turn the local town square into Planet of the Apes? No.

Yet today, the United States is getting this all mixed up. The common secular counsel says to let those perceived as victims throw a fit because it's what they want to do, and, after all, they can do no wrong. Truly showing gospel love and care for them will only re-victimize these victims, so please step aside while they burn down that barber shop and pull down that statue of some guy who lived as a white man in the 19th century.

Now, because these perceived victims get to do whatever they want, everybody wants to be a victim. It requires little to no effort to get the label and it comes with a load of perks. 

This is not the way it should be.

Think about the Jews who were victims in Nazi Germany. They suffered as victims and that is undeniably tragic. Additionally, the tragedy those Jews suffered as victims of the Communist regime should not have been sought after, as though it possessed in and of itself some sort of virtue. Instead, it's reasonably recognized that for anyone to be harmed by another person's sinful decisions is thoroughly devastating, period. Despite the person's status as good or evil, becoming a victim of another's transgression is a sad product of the fallen world and no one in his right mind would desire it.

Can you imagine if those Jews in Europe who were never persecuted by the Nazis took to social media to claim that they were just as oppressed as those encamped at Auschwitz? You can imagine it, actually, because that same type of scenario is playing out over and over again in our current moment in history. Many people are seeking identification with the oppressed, regardless of the actual existence of said oppression, because that's where the power, freedom, and authority all lie. We've made victimhood a virtue; therefore, it might as well be at the top of the list found in 2 Peter 1.

Vengeance Disguised as Justice

It's a myth that perceived victims are harmless. In fact, the constant awarding of victimhood status to individuals only perpetuates the major issues the United States is facing today. Writing for The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf rightly stated, "There is no end to conflict in victimhood culture."

Victimhood doesn't exist without conflict; therefore, if victimhood is pursued, conflict must be called out, created, or conjured up. Once the current dispute subsides, another squabble must be found if a person is to remain a victim. Can you see the problem with this? No one ever truly moves on from tragedy. Instead, life is just one tragic event after another, requiring those with the victim badges to receive constant attention and all that power, freedom, and authority I mentioned above.

Pursuing victimhood is no different than lust or greed. There's never a point of contentedness. The ones who want to be seen as sufferers will never "arrive." They will always need a new quarrel so that they can call out another oppressor and be given more advantages in the culture. 

And what are these people doing with all that power, freedom, and authority? Their hand-painted cardboard signs say that they're seeking justice -- and undoubtedly some of them are seeking a form of it. But the reality of it is that victimhood culture is dominated by getting revenge on marked tyrants. Why else would Minneapolis residents thoroughly destroy a Target store, a liberal company who has invested much into that city and bent over backwards for the secular movement? It's because vengeance, not justice, is the motive. By looting and destroying a Target, these perceived victims are seeking to reward themselves and punish the oppressor, taking matters into their own hands.

In the Christian world, believers are called to a standard of living that stands in stark contrast with that of the world. Romans 12:19-21 says, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord. 'But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Any movement that claims it is for justice while actually being all about vengeance should be rejected by God's people. It's a fallen, evil, and blasphemous way to live. It rejects God and elevates man. 

It should also be noted that the smoldering crater that used to be a Target is not the only place where vengeance in a justice mask shows up. Every time a victim, whether real or fake, seeks personal gain for the sake of getting back at the perceived oppressor, we've got vengeance on our hands. Many who claim to be victims desire to become oppressors themselves. They don't really want justice and equality, they want to win.

A Better Way to Live

In that original social media post, I offered a biblical alternative to pursuing victimhood. Micah 6:8 says, "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" 

In our current culture, pursuing victimhood has to do with self-elevation. It's all about gaining more power, freedom, and authority. But God has given us a different way to live. Those who know Him are called with act justly, while maintaining a spirit of kind humility. 

When Christians live this way, both individually and corporately, some issues start to take care of themselves. Each and every day, if our personal motives are governed by the gospel and this one verse from the Old Testament, we're going to have to deal with our own sin and folly first as we seek a life that honors the Lord. This is best place to start, as our salvation and our judgment both occur at such a personal level.

Some issues take place on a bigger scale, though, and require the collective actions of the redeemed. The justice we seek on earth must start on a small scale, played out in our day-to-day lives; however, that's not where the justice we seek should end. There are times when Christians should come together to affect change in the culture for the promotion of justice. And that can never be pursued apart from kind humility.

What's happening in America's struggles today is a cluster of competing worldviews, connected to each other by pride, defining terms in different ways and seeking different results. The end of this can only be destruction. Ideas have consequences, and the dominating evil ideas of this day must result in more evil. As Doug Wilson recently stated, "Now a fool can be saved from his folly, but a fool cannot evolve out of his folly. Nothing will serve but a new man."

If this is true, it means that only the gospel can serve to fix the destructive victimhood culture we live in. Those who have lived through tragedy need the gospel. Those who are merely feigning victimhood also need the gospel. It is the answer.

From there, justice can be pursued as a collective effort of the redeemed. We'll start in the church and address the culture as the Spirit leads us. We'll leave room for God's vengeance and we'll spur one another on to kind humility, imitating our common Savior, Jesus Christ.

Doesn't that sound better than torching a Target?

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