Yesterday I posted a link to Dream Theater’s video for the song “A Rite of Passage” off of their upcoming release, Black Clouds and Silver Linings. The songs speaks of living under a new world order. The video depicts what appears to be some sort of ritual, something which might be considered pagan or cultic. The lyrics to the song evoke, at least in my mind, images of secret societies like Freemasonry, among others. I can’t say exactly what they’re about – it’s hard to tell without hearing from the authors themselves. As far as I know, it could be purely creative writing with no particular reference to any cult, religion, or secret society. Creative writing is after all, what John Petrucci, guitarist and one of the lyric writers of the band, has mentioned about lyrics of the past (most notably on their most recent release, Systematic Chaos) .

I understand that the imagery in the video could possibly be offensive to some viewers. I’d like to take a minute to comment on this possible offensiveness.

I’ve been reading David Dark’s new book, The Sacredness of Questioning Everything. He has a great chapter on questioning our offendedness. Part of his argument is that our easily-offended nature ruins our opportunity to be engaged in the genuine give-and-take of conversation. He says we “might be in danger of becoming impenetrable to wisdom, immunized against the sensation of sympathy, resistant to the pleasure of being amused by our own ignorance, and closed to the joy of being wrong.” (58)

I’ve never read a book that I thought everyone should read. However, in Dark, I feel I have found a book that EVERYONE SHOULD READ. And I mean, EVERYONE. It’s so down-to-earth, so authentic. He says things out loud (well, in print, but still) that we’ve all wanted to say but never had the guts to admit we thought in the silent darkness of our inner-selves, much less actually say. So buy it, and take it in slowly, chapter by chapter. It’ll change the way you think.

Here’s more of an (extended) excerpt of his thoughts on the fact that we’re easily offended:

The feeling of offendedness is invigorating. It might even be an effective way to bend a population toward a tyrant’s will. But we must never settle for it. We must not confuse an accelerated pulse for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We must interrogate our offendedness, hold it open for question. Complaining about Harry Potter or getting worked up over The Golden Compass (Philip Pullman’s literary response to the damage done to people’s imaginations in the name of religion) or pitting ticket sales of Narnia films against Brokeback Mountain is a much less complicated call than that whole business about loving neighbors, to say nothing about loving enemies. If we’re more opposed, for instance, to what we take to be “bad language”  and nude scenes and films about gay people than we are to people being blown up, starved to death, deprived of life-saving medicine, or tortured, our offendedness is out of whack. We have yet to understand the nature of real perversion. We aren’t as deeply acquainted with our religion as we might think.

Feeling offended is a reassuring sensation. It’s easier than asking ourselves if the redeeming love of God is evident in the way we communicate with people. It’s easier than considering our relationships with the huddled masses throughout the world who find themselves on the wrong end of our economic policies and other forms of warfare. Perhaps our cutthroat ways bear some resemblance to our confused notions of God. Maybe we think God, as an intergalactic economist, is a survival-of-the-fittest type. And if we think [that] version of God is the only God out there, we might even think that being offended and angry and on the defensive is to be more firmly aligned with the Almighty.

…Is this nightmarish God-view the root cause of our rage?…The threat of violence is a strong persuader. Flying off the handle might feel a little Godlike when we notice how powerful and effective one can be when having a little available rage. One might even call it authority or gravitas. Someone’s got to show those people what’s what. Someone’s got to have some standards.

While there is no lasting security in the dubious affections of [that kind of] God, who is a whirlwind of hatred and offendedness, he does have a way of simplifying things. Who’s in and who’s out is never a question. Getting right with God is a matter of believing the right things and keeping your questions to yourself. By this logic, we can’t view ourselves as interpreters of truth or members of a pilgrim species learning their way through life. We are instead holders of absolute truth, possessors of the saving knowledge of God (as if it’s our knowledge that saves) who hold to copies of the scriptures even though we aren’t inclined to read them too closely. We feel most in line with the faith when we are most afraid. We view as a threat those voices that don’t easily coincide with what we think we have to believe to be saved. They aren’t safe voices. Music, films, and literature that don’t fit our categories might cause us to lose whatever hold we still have on our religion. It’s as if [God] is just waiting for us to slip up–by way of wayward imagination, an unsafe thought.

To keep it all simple and safe, we often become selective fundamentalists. We know where to go to have our prejudices explained as just and sensible, our convictions strengthened, our group or political party reaffirmed. We process whatever already fits the grid that is hardwired (or re-hardwired) in our heads. It’s difficult for anything else to get through. We’re easily offended. Maybe we’re looking to feel offended, which can make us feel better about ourselves. Feeling offended summons a sense of being in the right, a certain strength, a kind of power, an espresso shot of righteous indignation. And if the image of God hardwired into our nervous system is easily offended and put off by certain people and their offensive behavior, there’s a feeling of being that much closer to the winning side, that much more likely to be numbered among the elect, the saved, the documented.

We can live, if we choose to, with a kind of Styrofoam casing around our imaginations, an informational echochamber. We can and do surround ourselves with people who think the same things we do, people who won’t challenge us, and people who’ve learned to avoid certain topics while in our presence. It’s a natural, understandable, deeply human need to have our thoughts and opinions mirrored to us in verbal exchanges. We all need positive reinforcement.

But if we feel deep affection only for people who tell us we’re right and only give high fives to the like-minded, all we’ve done is joined a club. We risk becoming incapable of the give and take of genuine conversation. If all our friends and news sources require of us is a “Ditto” and “I think what you think,” we might be in danger of becoming impenetrable to wisdom, immunized against the sensation of sympathy, resistant to the pleasure of being amused by our own ignorance, and closed to the joy of being wrong.

We seek out and even pay for our own hypnosis. Via television, radio, the Internet, and print, we receive our news product fashioned and delivered by people who tidy up reality for us. If it isn’t sufficiently tidied up, prepackaged and shrink-wrapped to fit our fearfulness, if our minds don’t click into place quickly enough to satisfy our stunted attention spans, we change the channel and move to another site. We move swiftly from scenes that might call into question our exclusively saved, right-thinking status.

Contrary to the [incorrect] image [of God] of our worst and most violent impuses, the God [whom] tradition calls Immanuel is both with us and for us. The God in whom love and justice meet, the God whose love radically exceeds whatever low definitions we settle for when we think we’re loving God, is the God who is most present among us when we’re having a go at that complicated practice of loving one another well. You’ve probably seen the God-talk on T-shirts and stickers that draw from dairy product promotional imagery by asking, “Got God?” It should probably be observed that, in the deepest sense, nobody’s got God. God can’t get gotten. And Jesus’ gospel is never at our command, under our copyright, or contained within an -ism, an ideology, or any well-intentioned human construct.

The question is always whether Jesus’ rare ethos has gotten hold of us in any discernable way. To answer that question we must stop defining ourselves by all the things we’re against. We might also ask what, other than getting saved in the shallowest sense, we actually stand for.

If we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that our angry mass emails or conversation-stopping talking points serve as a ministry or carry out the purposes of God, we need to slow down and take a breath. Are we merely perpetuating violence, anger, and alienation through the way we talk? In our proclamations and posturings, our offended feelings, what are we bringing to the table? When we go public with our convictions and opinions, are we up for countertestimony? Or have we developed a habit of rendering hasty verdicts? Do we find some people inadmissible? Have we made space in our heads for a wide variety of hearts and minds? Do we want fellowship or submission? Do we remain capable of conversation? (56-60)

It’s possible that the you, the reader, at this point are feeling pretty good about yourself. In reflection, you find you’re not like the kind of person Dark is describing in these few paragraphs. You’re open-minded and generous. If that’s what you’re thinking, you don’t get it. Read it again.

It’s also possible that you, the reader, are feeling pretty offended right now about what Dark had to say, or about what I just said two lines ago. You feel like there’s a certain appropriate place for offendedness in the Christian life. We can’t go around acting of there is no right and wrong; people can’t just say and do what they want just for the purpose of genuine conversation. Nor should I, the writer, be able to tell you that you “don’t get it.” And maybe you’re offended that I did. If this paragraph describes you, let me just say you don’t get it. But don’t just go read it again. Here’s a little more from Dark to help you understand where I’m coming from (lest you become purely enraged at this point and miss out on the whole idea behind this post):

Have we lost the habit, the skill of listening for anything more than a breath or a pause so we can jump back in with our own argument? Are we listening, or are we just planning a response? Can anybody get through to us? (53)

To speak about being easily offended is also to speak of being reactionary. I’m convinced that we’re too reactionary, myself included (see, don’t you feel better?–I’m not just sitting here silently implying that I’ve got it all together). I offer these thoughts not to provoke some reaction. If you’re merely reacting, you don’t get it. I offer these thoughts not for reaction, but just as Dark does (and I quote him for so long because he says it so much better than I could), for reflection.

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