False Victimhood and True Victimhood
A few years ago, two sociologists published an insightful article called “Microaggressions and Moral Cultures.” It documents and analyzes, in a scholarly way, the recent increase of persons claiming victim status based on what seem to be minor slights. More and more websites are available where people can report microaggressions, and which contain lists of standard microaggressions. The sociologists in question, Bradley Campell and Jason Manning, argue that this modern publicizing of microaggressions should be seen as a form of social control. Persons publicly air their grievances, seeking to attract “attention, sympathy, and intervention of third parties.”
This victim mentality is extremely tempting and popular today, not only on college campuses, where it seems to have originated, but in the world at large as well. Today, claiming the status of a victim grants one status, power, and the moral high ground. It conveys the moral certainty that one is automatically right, and that one is even entitled to publicly seek redress that may even involve harm to the supposed victimizer. Campbell and Bradley go so far as to suggest that we should see the modern world as having developed a “Victimhood Culture” that has supplanted older Honor and Dignity Cultures. In the later, previously more common in the Western World, one bears one’s trials and difficulties quietly, and with, well, dignity.
Not so today. Now even the smallest offense is trumpeted all over social media. Claiming the status of the victim is extremely popular (not actually being a victim, which few of those claiming the status could stand for five minutes) and conveys power and privilege. One becomes an unpleasant mix of extremely entitled and extremely unforgiving. Even mild or merely awkward remarks are interpreted in the harshest way possible and aggressive attacks on the purported victim. Asking “Where are you from?” saying “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” saying “You should speak up more,” or even “your hair looks nice” all become interpreted as vicious attacks on the victim. In turn, these must be trumpeted and the micro-aggressor publicly “called out.” There is to be no suffering (such as it is) for the victim, in silence or dignity. There is only power, and the desire to punish and hurt.
And yet, in victim culture, one is struck by two things. First, that the victims are so often false victims. A person is hardly a victim because someone compliments his or her hair or asks where he or she is from. These supposed “victims” are often themselves highly privileged people, who have the support of persons in power and authority. One is struck by another aspect of their victimhood. They do not suffer for others, only for themselves.
How different from the true victimhood to which Christians are called. With the Easter season upon us, many Christians will have sung at Church’s across the world, the Easter hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” This traditional hymn contains the lyrics: ‘For the sheep the lamb has bled/sinless in the sinner’s stead. And in another hymn, “At the Lamb’s High Feast,” we hear the lyrics, “Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed/ Paschal Victim, Paschal bread…” as well as hearing Our Lord called “Mighty victim from the sky.”
The image of Christ as victim runs throughout the Christian theology, hymnary, and scripture. Yet, how different from the false victim status so much sought by the modern world.
First, Christ was a true victim in what he suffered. He did not suffer from someone commenting on his accent, or his hair. He did not claim victim status when one of his apostles initially sneered at His humble origins and asked “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” On the contrary, he suffered the worst and cruelest death the Roman Empire could devise (and the Romans were good at devising cruel deaths).
Second, He suffered for others. For the sheep, the lamb has bled. He called Himself the Good Shepherd and said He would lay down His life for His sheep. And then He did it. The modern victim suffers nothing for no one except himself. The smallest slight becomes a reason for seeking revenge.
And yet Our Lord called no one out. In a third contrast to many modern “victims,” He suffered in silence. Pilate even prodded Him, urging Him to denounce or contradict his accusers: “Have you no answer, do you not hear what they are testifying against you?” (Mark 15:4) Pilate invited Our Lord to proclaim His innocence, and Our Lord would not do it. Many years earlier Isiah prophesied this moment when he spoke of the Suffering Servant, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Isaiah 53:7).
Finally, most strikingly, perhaps, He forgave His enemies. Even at the point of death, He did not denounce them, nor proclaim His innocence. He did not demand their cancellation, nor even the just retribution that they deserved. He only prayed, “Father forgive them.”
I joke with my own children and my own students that they are not victims, typically when they complain about some mean thing I’ve done like giving them homework, or not letting them hit their siblings. But, of course, in a real sense, the Christian is called to accept true victimhood, and with humility. We are told we must take up our crosses and suffer with Our Lord. And not only with Him, but like Him. As parents, spouses, children, brothers, sisters, and friends, every Christian is to be a victim. To be willing to suffer for others, to forgive, and to do so quietly and with dignity.
This is very different from the false victim culture of the modern world, a culture which encourages self-pity, public vengeance, and attention-seeking.Certainly there are true victims in today’s world, but they are rarely those who are able to make their victimhood public: children slain in abortion, Christians murdered around the world for their faith, and many more. But false victim culture would rather draw attention to the person offended at the smallest unintentional slight.
While the Christian victimhood offers a truer model of victimhood, and a far more difficult one to bear, it also offers far greater, and everlasting, reward: the reality of the Resurrection and the joys of Easter.
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