Rightness on the Defensive

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The current Chick-fil-A debacle prods me to reflect upon the phenomena of angry rightness because that’s what I think the hubbub is all about. For many in this land, it has always seemed right to be white, Christian, heterosexually oriented, married, somewhat educated (but not too intellectual), and successful to some degree or at least on the way toward some measure of material success and financial independence. It has also been righter to be male, but a right-kind of woman has been able to participate in that male rightness by belonging with a right male and knowing he needed her.

Since the late 1960’s, the standards of rightness have been questioned and sometimes even scorned and mocked. The right people have heard suggestions that they should be at least somewhat ashamed of the very qualities, achievements, and entitlements they had believed made them the right people. Because their points of pride were, to their ears at least, being branded shameful, they reacted with anger that is presently being pushed over the line into highly defensive and often irrational rage.

The fuss about freedom of speech is a red herring tossed into the fray to sanctify the righteous indignation of the Chick-fil-A defenders. Of course, Mr. Cathy has freedom of speech. If he did not, I would never have heard of him or his obnoxious crusade. What the Constitution does not grant him is immunity from criticism.

The right people have always expected praise and admiration from those they have regarded as their inferiors. Often, when they have received the admiration they believed their due, they have been willing to soften and become benevolent toward those inferiors, but only when “those people” have kept to their lower places in society and showed proper deference toward the pride of the right people.

So, now we are witnessing the chicken uprising: the attack-other, shamed pride of the right people, justified (very transparently) by appeals to freedom of speech and of religion, neither of which is threatened. Call people’s points of pride irrelevant to rightness, and they will feel shamed (but probably not admit it). Make people feel their pride is being threatened, and they will attack. Or they may choose to rethink their security in their identities and make room for others, but that mature response requires empathy and a more secure sense of self not so rigidly based upon belonging to the group of the right kind of people.

Should I feel ashamed of being white, male, Christian, heterosexual, married, fairly well educated, and reasonably stable financially as I begin my retirement? No, not at all, but neither do I feel a right to pride in any of those things. Why should I feel proud or ashamed of being heterosexually oriented? I had no choice in the matter, any more than I chose to be white or male. That I am Christian attaches to a much longer and more complex story that is ongoing, but let it be enough to say here that it is to me a continually developing matter of God’s grace, not of anything I have done or deserved, and so not cause for pride (or shame unless I attach it to pride). Education is a gift I resisted in my youth but received anyway. What financial security I enjoy falls under the category of the saying, “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn once in a while,” much more than under any proud label I might claim for stumbling and landing on my feet, and I am thankful for and somewhat astonished by it.

This final paragraph is for Christians. Jesus has told us to treat people as we would wish to be treated in their circumstances, to show respect for all (including those whom society does not respect and those who do not respect themselves), to be servants of all (especially if we find ourselves entrusted with leadership), to speak as though we were the youngest present (the least entitled to deference), and never to assume the role of benefactor in which a supposedly higher and better person reaches down with charity or philanthropy to supposed inferiors, expecting their gratitude and admiration. People called to live by grace cannot justly regard themselves as the right people and so can be set free from the kind of pride that feeds on prejudices and boils over in rage when challenged.

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