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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Spice Up Your Life”

Today’s episode was what I personally felt was one of the more timely episodes of the series, especially in our modern culture and with our modern fandoms. In this episode, we meet Zesty Gourmand, a Canterlot eatery critic. While she’s infamous throughout the entire city and almost everyone hangs on her every word to approve or disapprove of local eating establishments, refusing to give any place a try that doesn’t meet with her approval, it is eventually revealed that her personal tastes, which she grades everything by, are rather unique and not shared by the majority. Yet rather than recognize those tastes as unique, she not only sets them as a universal standard but gets so outraged when they are violated that she can’t understand why others would even try a place she didn’t approve of, and refuses to even try a place that doesn’t meet her preconceived standards.

Why was this so timely? Because there seems to be more people like this in the world all the time, and most of them are a lot worse than Zesty Gourmand.

In recent years, I’m astonished at how polarized and hostile most people have become in regards to their opinions. The old maxim “everyone’s a critic” seems to be coming to life, and not in a good way. Certainly this is most pronounced in the political arena, but really it’s happening everywhere. Movies, TV, sports, local news, (especially) fandoms…people seem to not only be growing more opinionated but more fiercely defensive and antagonistic regarding their opinion. More people nowadays can take their opinion on something, anything, and not declare it so much their opinion but an objective moral truth of being either right or wrong, and anyone who disagrees with them gets met with such hostility that it’s borderline madness.

I don’t claim to know why this is the case exactly, but what I point my finger at the most is the rise of Internet culture. In high school the Internet was almost exclusively the domain of younger people, but now it’s become so ubiquitous, accessible, and prolific that everyone is into it in one capacity or another; especially in regards to blogging, twittering, and other forms of social networking. When I was a child you had to look to editorials, journals, and the occasional opinion column to get anyone to dissertate or something. We clung to certain columnists and pundits for opinions and discourses. Now anyone in the world can, at any time, make their voice and opinion known all around the world. Everyone can, in theory, make their thoughts and feelings have the same exposure as anyone who is nationally syndicated.

What seems to have happened as a result, at least to me, is that people have started to put more value in their opinions than what they’re worth. After all, everyone likes it when their comments get “likes”. Everyone likes it when their blogs get “hits” (myself included). And my guess is most people who tweet hope that they’ll make the one comment that will go viral. Since the Internet is so vast and international and yet so vague and ephemeral, people now value their status on the Internet by how much their comments (and, hence, their opinions and feelings) are liked, admired, and approved. In other words, how much attention they gain from those opinions. The thought that hundreds or even thousands of people around the world are paying attention to what you are saying.

Because of that, we have a great deal of Internet “trolls” nowadays–people who make comments specifically to incite responses, usually negative. Those are still “wins” to Internet trolls because they still command the attention of thousands of people, even if it’s only to vent anger or hatred of them. Yet in truth everyone really subscribes to the same idea. Everyone wants the same attention and the same quantity of responses if not quality. Hence, when anything comes out that we have a strong, or even reasonable, opinion on, we rant, rave, snark, and/or go off on it in long-winded litanies to hope to create something that resembles being profound or poignant so that people will flock to it. And if we can shoot down the opinions of others, proving them to be invalid at the same time, that only enhances our prestige and guarantees more reaction.

And that, to me, is what has given rise to our modern polarized culture. Obviously, we’ll garner more attention and sound better if we orate on how something is the “best thing ever” or the “worst thing ever”, because no one really cares so much about someone who says something is “alright” or “has its good and bad parts”; and certainly no one will be convinced to take our side or another in that case. We’ll also gain more attention and audience members if we tear down people of the opposite opinion, especially in a clever, biting, or humorous way. However, it’s likely those people are trying to do the same thing, only to us, and both sides are likely failing and succeeding at points and keep trying to come out on top. A feedback loop begins, and as it continues, more often than not, tempers flare and the comments stop being cordial and start being angry, hostile, and finally vicious. It begins to degenerate into insults and hate-mongering, and playing off of anger and hate to try and win arguments by demonizing the other side while “sanctifying” our own; making everything look like a black and white issue and, as a result, the world is split into smart saints(me) and stupid fools(you). Soon everyone gets so emotional and into it that the opinion no longer really matters so much as making the more “clever” or “biting” comment that silences the other person. That, of course, is equally futile as responding to a comment on the Internet takes almost zero effort on anyone’s part, so things keep escalating. Especially since this is rarely a one-to-one argument but usually is groups of people raging against other groups of people. And that’s really bad because then hate and anger becomes collective rather than to one individual in particular.

We’re left with a world of people taking stronger and stronger opinions about simple things, creating stronger animosity and polarization, and all due to sinful pride: the desire to be more watched and admired, ironically, in a forum designed to give all people the same weight to their voice.

There are many things the average American Christian does that is exactly the same as the secular citizen, but I think this one is the saddest. Like everyone else, we’ve been lured into the trap of wanting our opinions to have the greatest value–even in regards to sharing the Gospel. We’re so concerned about looking smarter and more knowledgeable than other people and pointing out fallacies in their thinking that it all becomes about enhancing our own wit, sophistication, and “glory” rather than God’s. Especially when we do the same laughing and mocking of our opponents that everyone else does about everything else.

And I’m sure all of us have encountered a Christian who will go off on a chain of insults, make a comment like “LOL” about how the other person can be so foolish…and then have the audacity to end their comment with something like: “Have a nice day! God bless!”…as if that somehow nullifies all of the above.

Our Lord Jesus Christ did His share of public speaking where He condemned others and their practices (Matthew 23:13-36, Luke 11: 39-52). Yet He never did anything, great or small, for His own glory. It was all about giving glory to the Father (John 5:30; 8:50, 54; 14:10; 17:1-5). In the same way, Christians are called to speak forth boldly (Acts 28:30-31), but we are also told to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8). To me, those seemingly contradictory statements are made clear when we get our priorities in order. When we speak out and challenge others, the ultimate motivation has to be to give glory to God and the Kingdom; to do his will first and not our own. When we start doing so out of a desire to win an argument or prove someone else to be a fool, then our priorities are toward enhancing ourselves. Then it not only stops being about God, it might actually be sinful.

My challenge for this devotional isn’t anything new or sophisticated: just think before you speak or comment. Ask yourself if you are trying to upset or unnerve someone whenever you speak, whether in person or not. If you are, ask yourself if what you are trying to upset or unnerve them about is something that truly merits getting someone angry or incensed over. Finally, if that is also true, then ask yourself if ultimately it’s because you believe that it’s important to God, or if it’s just to “justify yourself”.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you for all the times in which you have granted me the bravery to make a stand for the Gospel or any other worthwhile issue and to speak boldly in your Name. Please grant that whenever I do so it is always for your glory and kingdom and not for my own. And whenever I am about to give my own opinion on something, especially to persuade others, or in anything I say, I ask in the words of the Psalmist to “set a guard over my mouth, Lord” and “keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3), so that I can always use my words for building the kingdom up and not in breeding wickedness or evil. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”