Righteous (adjective) 1. free from guilt or sin 2.arising from an outraged sense of justice
BOYCOTT UNITED AIRLINES! MAKE THE PRESIDENT RELEASE HIS TAX RETURNS! BOMB SYRIA! DON’T BOMB SYRIA!
We are living in a golden age of righteousness. Righteousness: the conviction of moral superiority human beings sometimes feel and express, when we see what a person or entity does (or does not do) and so we judge them. Weigh in with an opinion. Even label the perpetrator as guilty, a sinner, a wrongdoer, just out of line.
It’s now the norm for social media and the press and politicians to be filled to overflowing with moral outrage and red hot righteous anger. Like about the recent treatment by United Airlines of a passenger who was violently removed from a flight. Or about a President who stubbornly refuses to release his tax returns. Or our nation’s decision to attack an air force base, after Syria used poison gas against its own citizens.
Google “United Airlines” and “doctor” and you get 37,400,000 results! Angry Twitter feeds and flaming Facebook news and skewering opinion pieces and wicked comedic satire. The controversy about the President’s tax returns exploded in protests on tax day, April 15th, as hundreds of folks in U.S. cities took to the streets. And less than 24 hours after American bombs rained down on Syria, sides were sharply drawn in the debate about the rightness of the U.S. intervening in a civil war.
It’s a very human response to feel righteous: to get riled up in the face of injustice or cruelty or stupidity or stubbornness. Heck I’m in the righteousness business, as a preacher and an opinion columnist. If I had no strong idea or ideals one way or another, I’d be out of a job! If we as citizens were just “Meh” when it comes to the most important issues and events of the day, we’d be guilty of civic apathy.
It is a shock to watch the video of that poor doctor from Chicago being dragged out of a plane. It is awful to see images of innocent civilians being attacked. It is frustrating that our Commander in Chief is unwilling to do what all other Presidents have done in the modern era.
Yet still there is also something about the tone, the swiftness of judgment and the lack of nuance or thoughtfulness, which so often marks our collective righteousness. Part of it comes from how we now witness and express outrage: instantly, live, as it happens; raw and unfiltered. Often with no context, nothing about “before” or “after”.
United should absolutely pay the price for its ineptitude. But there was something troubling, weird, kind of creepy, that so many passengers on the plane just whipped out their phones and filmed the event and then shared it instantaneously with the world. Am I in the minority in being bothered by this? In the seeming passivity of the witnesses? In the fact we got to see it right away but…is this really always good? Or right? Do we absolutely have all the facts, every last one, to make informed, thoughtful judgments?
I’m not so sure.
Or the bombing in Syria and our quick response as a nation. “Yea!” for quickly striking back, right? They deserved it! And yet: does this mean we will now become a part of the conflict in Syria, another complicated and convoluted war thousands of miles away? Do we send in planes next? How about ground troops? Is this a “just war” that cries out for a righteous response? The strike back was instant and bold, but the choice to go to war is morally complicated, difficult to parse, fraught with so many possibilities. Would we be so righteous if our son or daughter was in the military?
I’m not so sure.
Even the whole tax release issue is interesting to consider. Protestors: did you all pay your fair share of taxes, every last dime? Are we taxpayers without “sin” when it comes to all of our deductions and income reported and charitable contributions? Would we be willing to share that information with our neighbors? I do think we should see the President’s returns. It’s only fair and right. But I always look with a somewhat jaded view when fingers point towards the other and not towards one’s self as well.
To be so darn righteous when it comes to the actions of others. It feels good. Sounds good. Seems good and yet…is righteousness always the best response, the right response, the thoughtful response?
I’m not so sure.