It's Cool to Be Cruel

It’s easy to be cynical. Sarcasm seems to come quite naturally these days, even (or perhaps I should say especially) among Christians. It’s really easy to sit back and criticize what others are doing, especially if they see the world through a different lens then we do. What concerns me more than the ease, however, is how “cool” it has become. Television, radio, and the internet are overflowing with people who have built careers and amassed millions by being angry and exploiting our anger and playing on our penchant for the cynical, the sarcastic, and the satirical. And we eat it up. And we emulate it.

I realize that sarcasm, satire and even righteous anger have their proper place. Satire has been used for centuries to expose hypocrisy and other criticize the evil practices of people of power, (e.g. Saturday Night Live, The Daily Show). Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel in the big showdown over who the true God was (See 1 Kings 18:20-40). Jesus frequently criticized the hard-hearted religious leaders for their self-righteousness and their abuse of the Mosaic law. Jesus even turned over a few tables in the temple.  Again, it has some legitimate uses, but far too often we. The apostle Paul used a little sarcasm when he told the Galatians what he thought the legalists should do to themselves (Galatians 5:12, beware, it’s PG-13). These examples seem to be the go-to responses of Christians who are criticized for being too harsh toward other Christians with whom they disagree. It’s not that they don’t have their proper place, but they are used far too often to mask our own cruelty, hypocrisy, and judgmentalism in scripture.

I think humans have a natural proclivity toward sarcasm and satire and anger (or we learn it at a very early age), which is why they can be such effective and powerful tools (or weapons). This is also the very reason we must be so careful with how we use them. We should speak words of comfort and hope and encouragement far more often than words of anger or criticism. When I was a kid we were supposed to say three nice things about a person for every mean thing we said. That might not be such a bad idea for adults either.

The Bible repeatedly emphasizes how truly powerful our words can be. Proverbs 18:21 says that death and life are in the power of the tongue. James 3:9 points out the irony that with the same tongue we use to praise God we also curse people who are made in the image of God. Ephesians 4:29 instructs us to only speak those things that build people up and give grace to those who hear. The words we speak, write, text, or tweet have the power to either build people up or tear them down, we get to decide which that will be. Bible Gateway is an excellent resource for searching and studying the Bible. I’d encourage you to check out their keyword feature and search for words like “tongue” and “lips” and “words;” it’s a very enlightening study.

It’s easy to criticize. It’s much more difficult and uncomfortable to try to see those with whom we disagree as real people who are doing the best they know how to do and to honestly try to see the world from their perspective. That means I have to step outside of my comfort zone and consider that maybe there is more to life (or Christianity) than my limited perspective. It’s cool to be cruel. It’s much less hip to be compassionate and kind and charitable, even in disagreements.

We’ve got enough division; we need more unity. We have too much hate; we need more love. We’ve had enough cynicism; we could use more compassion. We’ve spoken enough death, let’s speak more life.


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4 Comments

  1. Hey Thomas,

    Great post brother! This is an incredibly important issue among nearly every Christian circle. I think that the “It’s cool to be cruel” mindset has its derivative in “I like to be right” attitude. How many people really see anything wrong with pointing the finger or exposing a wrong belief with a little derision on the side? I would figure that even if people would raise their hand and affirm that something is wrong with it, they are guilty of it in practice. I believe there is an undue, detrimental spirit of pride that accompanies inappropriate loyalty to a church, ministry, organization, group, or religion that fuels a separatist ethos which in turn is manifested as an elitist ideology. We see this disposition predominating in conversations where people enjoy highlighting how “I am right and you are wrong,” or “I have the rightly-divided truth and you don’t.” And there is a smug grin on their face like they just one-upped you.

    When people are proud and want others to know that they belong to the “right” church, denomination, organization, or religion, it is a small step to attach a snide comment and dejection of the other person as a means to exalt and promote your position. Check out the psychological issues associated with these tendencies.

    “Social identity theory argues that humans have a basic psychological need for ‘positive distinctiveness.’ In other words, people have a need to feel unique from others in positive ways. As humans naturally form groups, this need for positive distinction extends to the groups we belong to. That is, we tend to view our in-groups more favorably than out-groups (groups we do not belong to). And as a consequence, we tend to see people who are not part of our group less positively than people who are. This is especially likely to occur when there is competition between the groups or when people feel like the identity of their group has been challenged.” ~Nathan Heflick, “Why Are People Mean? Part 1,” Psychology Today, June 29, 2013.

    It is not only the social distinction that many people are seeking but it is an issue with their self-image and the desire to increase their self-worth. Unfortunately, many people do this by putting the other person, group, church, religion or whatever down to make them feel better about themselves. Egos play a big part in our self-esteem and when we feel threatened or do not feel that positive about ourselves, our group, our church, or our religion, a nurtured defense mechanism is to bring the other party down to our level or below. We can feel proud about what we believe, what church we are a part of, or the religion we profess, but sometimes we are all too sensitive and not confident enough. As Nathan Heflick further states:

    “When our self-esteem is threatened, we are more likely to compare ourselves to people we think are worse off than us, to see other people as having more negative traits, to degrade people who aren’t members of our groups, and to become more directly aggressive towards people in general.

    When you insult or criticize someone else, it may say more about how you are feeling about yourself than the other person.

    Insecurity over ourselves drives much of the cruelty in the world.”

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  2. Brother Thomas,
    You nailed it. If only we Christians could tame the tongue, I mean put it to a more profitable use…In doing thus we in the church could be an example to those who live beyond its borders…

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  3. As of late, this topic has been on my heart quite a bit. I have never been able to speak I’ll of some person or institution and not instantly regret it. I’ll walk away and think to myself, why do I envy this person or what have I done or am doing that is causing me to feel this way? Even if I don’t speak critically, but still think evil I have to ask myself, “Why are you feeling so hurt and angry?” I think part of it comes from comes from a constant stream from outside media sources seeking a reaction rather then a thoughtful reflection that challenges my view point. However, I have to ask myself, why can these sources trigger anger in me so quickly in the first place? The problem with cynicism is it is such a bitter and acrid condition for the soul. It doesn’t come from a place that inspires change; it inspires defeat and apathy. The cynic is just a heart broken idealist.

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  4. Really wonderful article! But one thing that I’ve noticed that has been creeping into a christian believers lifestyle has been the “righteous anger”. The “Jesus got pissed which means I can too! Even if it’s towards other believers, it’s justified because Jesus got pissed too”. The simple problem with this mindset is not understanding the meaning behind it. So for example, when Jesus Christ turned the tables over it was because he was upset at “the sin”, not the people. Even when Jesus criticized the hard-hearted religious leaders it was “the sin behind it” that he was going head to head with and standing boldly against. Remember that Jesus Christ exposed the devil and even gave his disciples power to drive out or cast out devil spirits….not cast out “people”.

    It’s a spiritual warfare and too often in our day and time christians want to cast out people or have righteous anger towards people and since Jesus did then I can too… where as Ephesians 4:9 among many other places in the church epistles tell us the complete opposite. And whenever there is any ounce of anger or fight thats for the church now its against the spiritual and not the physical as words do hurt and can bring death or life as you mentioned from James. Really enjoy reading these articles! Thank you!

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