Healing Toxic Victimhood
Look to Christ the True Victim
“…the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.” (Matthew 11: 5b-6)
Part I: Internalizing Oppression Where There is None
The words haunt to me to this day, when I reflect on my snappy response to a correction from my parents: “Why do you hate me?” I should say that these words both haunt me and offer me a moment of hilarity at the childishness of such a statement. At the very reprove of my parents, where a fault was pointed out, I would find myself immediately vilifying my parents, thus situating myself into the narrative of victimhood. It was mostly an unconscious and impulsive statement, likely meant to manipulate them into convincing me of how much they love me by changing their mind to something closer to my own agenda. It was also a way to insulate myself from criticism, and deflect attention to their apparent wrong-doing. It was gaslighting. The irony was that by such a display of selfishness it was not they who were hating me, but I who was hating their licit, valid parenting styles, and roles as parents.
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I offer this reflection principally to highlight and draw all people, including those of the woke ally-movement towards an honest examination of conscience. Consider for a moment the anecdote from my own life – what if a wounded psychologist projected his negative experiences of parenthood on my own narrative of my parents corrections. He would instill in me a vision that I was truly a victim of bad parenting. Subjectively, I would internalize their good behavior as evil, and I would then experience a type of alienation, resentment and woundedness. Today many would call that subjectivism or internalization or interpretation as “my truth.”
Now consider those who are trained to believe that you hate them if they do not agree with what you believe about yourself or others or the cosmos, or instruct you to live differently, or will not adopt your sexual anthropology by way of formally cooperating in the usage of a pronoun. In all such cases a person has been trained to interpret or internalize such disagreement as though it were nefarious, hateful, and Nazi-like. As a result, the very psychological experience of trauma could occur, even if the objective assessment of such events is actually entirely incorrect. The question is, in such cases, who has done the harm to such individuals? There are two people involved here – if the person with good motives seeks the good of the other. The first is the person who has sold them a lie that a philosophical or theological view is inherently hateful, and the second is the person who has chosen to agree to that narrative.
However, if the case is that a person has spoken truth or error with nefarious intent, and a lack of concern, then they too share in this accusation of oppression. And the one who internalizes it as such may experience a complex type of responsibility in becoming offended. The victim experiences some blame only if exaggeration of injustices do occur. How often does one “retell” or altogether “make up” a story of how they are victimized by the actions of others? If a person lies to themselves about what was done to them, this can often be an attempt to get people to understand the gravity of what has taken place. Yet, they escalate that gravity, and come to wound themselves beyond the actual facts. And yet when a person comes to believe their own exaggeration they have subjectively vandalized their own affect with an injustice that to such a degree has not actually taken place. An honest victim is one who says no more and no less than what has happened to them - and is even willing to cautiously examine what happened with an objective lens. But this is incredibly difficult to accomplish when we are hurt.
Consider that the Nazi’s considered themselves victims of the Jews for economic reasons. At the very least this is their narrative, but it was soaked up and sold. Jews were not the victims in the mind of the Nazi’s, but the non-Jewish German people were. The Jews were dehumanized in order to validate the horrors that took place. We sometimes impose our contemporary values on our reading of history – and look at the Nazi’s as these rage filled and hateful people. They were. But they were also subjectively perceiving themselves as victims who wanted to take-back the world. Making such comparisons today tends to illicit a reaction that would prefer not to consider the woke-movement resembling any such matter. But I am appealing to a universal dimension to sin that exists in every sect, woke, Christian, and so forth. There is undoubtedly a group of Christians who seek martyrdom as a type of self-adulation of greatness rather than seeking to lift others attention to God’s glory.
All of this is to say, that even when we are an actual victim of an injustice, we tend to not deal with it perfectly. Exaggerations or even down-playing things can occur as poorly conceived coping mechanisms. There really is only one Victim we can look toward who did it perfectly – Jesus. Any victim who does not turn to Him as the example par-excellence will undoubtedly victimize others. Thus, such wounds need to be addressed, but not in a manner that excuses a mob or horrific evils.
For the Church, there is a need to address any type of wound, even those self-inflicted by false narratives (“my truth”). Thus, we cannot look on those who have internalized the Church’s teaching as “hateful” or “homophobic” as to be merely experiencing this on the level of ideology. It is more than likely a great deal of shame and self-hatred has subjectively been roused up within them as a result of the Liar and Ally. The ally may too easily endorse that others have been wounded, thus wounding them by that narrative. Then they proceed to offer the cure: that by consigning themselves to their own sexual anthropology, they will be healed. Such deception both wounds and seeks to heal in what is not good or true.
Part II – Sociopolitical Ramifications
Why is victimhood a preferred subjective narrative? Typically one who is a victim needs to be “saved” by another. Well, I suppose from this point, the Church would say we are all to some degree in need of being saved - since all of us are victims in this vale of tears. Yet we look to a type of narrative of a savior for the oppressed from an evil tyrant, extrinsic to ourselves. This typical way of framing relationships is classically identified as triangulation. It’s a rather common, but juvenile reduction of complex realities that fail to conceive of a nuanced approach to conflict and dialogue. This victimhood however does not exist for the sake of unity – but rather a diabolical or divisive approach (Noelle Mering, Awake, Not Woke, 110). A mob of victims is still a mob – and the nature of a mob is to make more victims. Another intrinsic dimension to the mob, is that they cannot think, or discern with the only thing that sustains our reason from absurdity: meekness.
“When Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt attended the trial of Adolph Eichmann, the architect of the Holocaust, she expected to see in him some incarnation of evil. Instead, what she found was more disconcerting: he seemed ordinary, even banal. There was nothing about him that would lead an observer to detect the monstrous and demonic atrocities which he had orchestrated. What she did discern in him was something else. ‘It was no stupidity but a curious, and quite authentic inability to think’…. ‘her point was that Eichmann showed no will to think beyond the clichés-the memes, bumper sticker slogans, and hashtags-of his day.” (Mering, Awake, 149).
It’s in the unintelligibility of this pattern of discernment that the dynamic between oppressor and victim is discerned. That is to say, there isn’t necessarily an actual interest in the object of justice (righteousness) – rather there is more of an existential thrust toward validating a preferred narrative around right and wrong based upon its utility toward some socio-political agenda or individual interest. Marxism seems to best fit this macro-approach to victimhood, whereby the oppressor has to exist in the minds of the people in order for him to be overthrown. Religion was of course one of the oppressors because it placed its principles as coming from what transcends the state (or mob). Thus, in our day, religion that conforms with the state is a nominal way to maintain the same approach as Marx, because the religion is only nominally as such, but is categorically caused/subordinated (in its ideology) from/to the state. It is, therefore a product of the state, only nominally pointing toward the transcendent.
The temptation for Christian communities is that they are given incentive by secularism to adopt various values that run contrary to the gospel. When they do they receive the “applause” of secularism, and believe they are therefore “building a bridge” to the culture. This bridge, if it isn’t a genuine extension of the hand of Jesus Christ, ends up becoming an Exit sign, rather than an Entrance. That is, when the Church is seeking the applause or acceptance of the state or the secular, it is no longer seeking as its highest priority the glory and affirmation of God. This latent tendency will then direct others to do the same, and thus the state denigrates the Church as such to spiritually subordinate itself to state-funded oppressor-victim-savior complex. The oppressor is religion, the victim are those who identify as victims, and the savior is the benevolent state.
The very opposite of applause, today, can best be described by the mob seeking to cancel those who have a differing view on matters than their own. I’d like to say something very direct about this approach – it is malicious and it is the spirit of murder. That said, the spirit of murder exists in all of us – Jesus himself says this:
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. (Matthew 5: 21-23)
In all of these examples that Jesus gives of unholy anger, they share a type of connotation of cancelation. The difference between my experience with the Woke culture is that they react to the horror of shaming (real or not) by shaming. They react to historical violence by more violence (Antifa). Whether we “beat out” (the meaning of Raqa), or cancel someone by dismissing them without engaging their reasoning (i.e. calling another a fool), or simply murdering them (literally stamping them out of existence) – all such approaches demonstrate something spiritual: a hatred for the existence of another person. The Woke approach remains unaware of their self-contradiction because they escape introspection through accusation and scapegoating. It takes maturity, and a great deal of introspection to understand that this disposition exists in all of us to some extent – and that this disposition is actually the very meaning of the spirit of murder. Christ wasn’t satisfied in simply avoiding murder, he sought to change the whole heart and mind of man, for our own Good. Likewise, when the Church authentically does this, we work against the current narrative that we are “hating” others. Yet because we submit to what St. Ignatius would call the voice of the world, we internalize ourselves as the oppressors (sometimes without discernment of where this has been true and where it hasn’t). Thus we turn to a hyper-focus on inclusion, diversity, social-justice and all other values the world already agrees with to demonstrate we are apparent allies. These marketing techniques are used as ploys rather than a love for the good, and Christ – and become the Exit-Bridge of the Church. They side-step the matters we find ourselves unreconciled with others with. The culture is our accuser, and how do we respond if at all?
In some ways, we may take the approach to let it all burn-down and self-destruct. The natural law does seem to imply that when living contrary to such law, one merits his own destruction naturally. As a result civilization falls, and learns by way of destruction. Jesus states “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste, and no town or hose divided against itself will stand” (Matthew 12: 25b). On the other hand, in such a flippant abandonment of the lost, an apathy too easily can creep up, whereby we no longer search out those who need to be saved from this Wokeism. That is to say, the Christian cancels the cancellers, becoming wedded to the very spirit we condemn. The Church needs to have a hunger for souls: the lost! Where does one find the missionary zeal that confronts a tendency to insulate ourselves from the toxicity of a vicious mob of self-identified victims? We must consider the exploitation of woundedness. “Woundedness is exploited and exacerbated for the sake of making tribal loyalties more militant and resentment more calcified” (Mering, Awake, 129). Yet at the same time, as that wound is calcified, the temptation is to address it with our own calcified resentments of the mob. Jesus as the Divine Victim teaches us that this isn’t the way. In some ways, such a derogatory notion of the mob, seeing it while dripping with resentments, is part of the problem - and its part of our problem. Remember, people who see themselves as victims (when the objective criteria for injustice never occurs), are still nonetheless victims of self-harm often enabled by the so-called allies.
If we ascribe to an equal yet opposite type of mob-mentality we play the same game. Its for this reason that I think in some cases, turning the cheek may be a simple matter of silence. Silence on pronouns, on names, and on demands for an explanation of our supposed reason for hope. Please don’t think I am encouraging a cessation of apologetics, of responding to questions, or evangelization and the proclamation of the Kerygma. Such possibilities couldn’t be further from my mind. Yet the proclamation of the Gospel, when amongst an electronic or real mob is vastly different than when addressing open-minded people. In one situation we face traps, invincible victim-narratives, and gaslighted interpretations of our own words. Furthermore, we are not dealing with the mere pretense of wounds, but actual wounds, regardless of causes. The question, to me, comes down to the propositional notion of our faith, and enforcement of those laws which ought to be imposed for the sake of the common-good. These two dynamics help us shape our approach, but perhaps I’ll add a further nuance. We must respect the freedom to dissent in each individual – without approving or affirming it directly or indirectly. Conversion and repentance in the Kingdom of God are acts done freely and in charity of God and neighbor. If one rejects this call, we cannot become resentful of them. Rather, like Christ, we are to weep over Jerusalem. It is a sad thing to witness, and sometimes that sadness is a manifestation of Christ’s body.
Finally, in order for us to pastorally love those who too quickly internalize victimhood for whatever reason, we must see ourselves as arbiters of the same sin. We must understand how enticing this can be, and therefore have compassion on those who do the same. It is a very alluring dynamic in our culture, infiltrating the Church, and ultimately it is the age-old logical fallacy of appealing to emotion. It may be a weak way of approaching ideology, but it is a strong force in the mob that necessary lacks meekness. We must in that spirit of meekness also be open to the possibility that approaches contrary to the Church’s good teachings and loving disposition have occurred. Thus we cannot dismiss all victimhood as a counterfeit or deception. To do so would be inflict and compound one’s suffering. Victims who were not believed for arbitrary reasons experience real trivializing grief. The object of this post however is about a counterfeit type of victimhood - a toxic kind that is manipulative and self-harming. And for anyone who is truly concerned for victims of real injustices, they ought to abhor and speak out against any perversion or exploiting of such injustices. These lies, exaggerations, in the end only lead to exploiting and mimicing the very real or others who suffer for personal profit.
“In their failure to make themselves innocent, they have two strategies to deflect from personal guilt. The first is by maintaining the status of victim in order to emphasize the guilt of the other. Raising the moral status of victimhood increases the incentive to publicize grievances and makes the aggrieved more prone to highlight their victim identity. Of the moral stature assumed by victims today, sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning state, “Their adversaries are privileged and blameworthy, but they themselves are pitiable and blameless.” (Mering, Awake, 111)
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