Charisma is a magazine and online outlet that caters to Christians. Its slogan is "Empowering Believers for Life in the Spirit," which admittedly sounds like someone drew three nouns and a verb out of a fishbowl full of generic Christian buzzwords. Right now there's a piece running on the Charisma website that features a stock photo of three bro-ish 20-something guys holding beers and expressing unrestrained enthusiasm as they point to something off-camera that could be a TV showing the winning touchdown of their favorite team or could just as easily be a stripper finally peeling off the g-string. The column itself is called "Beer, Bubbly and Libation Lies -- But God Is Not a Buzzkill." You get the picture here: It's practical Christianity. As practical as an intractable belief in Bronze Age superstition can be, anyway.
Two days ago, Charisma published a quick column that tried to answer a question that one would have to imagine is of great concern to outspoken Christians these days: what to do about the ongoing heretical rants of Bill Maher. You'll remember a couple of weeks back Maher upped the ante in his crusade against religion by going on a tear on his show, Real Time, in which he said that if God truly had wiped out every man, woman, and child on the planet save for Noah and his family simply because he was angry with the life he'd created, he was nothing more than a petty thug and a "psychopathic mass murderer." It was certainly pretty vicious stuff, although it shouldn't have been surprising to anyone who saw Religulous.
In the aftermath of Maher's challenge to God to basically strike him dead on the spot, several of the usual suspects within the conservative Christian media complex shrieked like banshees about the torment that ultimately awaited Maher for such blasphemy. Perpetually unhinged radio host Bryan Fisher fought back a shockwave of cognitive dissonance and tried to figure out why exactly God was letting Maher get away with that level of insolence. (The best he could come up with is that God gave Maher freewill but will inevitably toss him into the lake of fire, so, you know, all's well that ends well.) The clown show over at NewsBusters says HBO should stand for "Hell's Box Office." A pastor in the cosmopolitan city of Shreveport, Louisiana practically roasted marshmallows over Maher's burning soul, saying that if Maher goes his entire life without repenting for his sins, "There will be no laughter. There will be no jokes. There will be no applause. Only darkness and despair. God, not Bill Maher, will have gotten the last laugh."
Charisma's take on the whole thing, though, is kind of surprising. It's surprising because it's in some ways everything you would expect and in many more ways nothing you would expect. In the piece, writer and media consultant Phil Cooke calls Bill Maher "an incompetent theologian, a fairly hateful person and an average comedian." But Cooke does concede that Maher is a "master communicator" and says that what he's essentially doing is nothing more than your average shock comic shtick -- that he's merely looking to antagonize Christians in the name of getting a rise out of them which can often translate into ratings and media attention. This is admittedly a somewhat simplistic way of looking at Maher's motivations given that it's the sacrosanct status God and religion hold in our culture that leads him to attack both with such venom, in essence treating the notion of God as if it were of no more consequence than any other subject. Maher believes God doesn't exist, so why should he in any way pull the punches he's trying to land on his name?
But regardless of what Maher's actual thinking may be, the way that Cooke suggests believers react to Maher is refreshing for its lack of fire-and-brimstone doomsaying and manic name-calling. In fact, the way Cooke says Christians should respond to Maher would make a great blueprint for reacting to any kind of perceived slight in the age of perpetual social media outrage.
So how should the Christian community respond the next time Maher says something shockingly inappropriate or over the top?
Don’t. That’s right, don’t respond at all. It’s the pushback that keeps him in the public eye. It’s the angry blog posts, outraged responses and talk show fodder that keep him on life support. Certainly his loyal cult following will keep watching, but they don’t get outraged by his statements because they already agree with him.
Stop the response. Let the crickets chirp. You can’t keep offending people who refuse to be offended. After all, we have bigger fish to fry than being upset by a cable talk-show host. As the old saying goes, “The dog barks, but the train keeps on rolling.”
That last paragraph -- that's the money shot: "You can’t keep offending people who refuse to be offended. After all, we have bigger fish to fry than being upset by a cable talk-show host." Imagine for a minute if all those times one idiot Twitter-user or another instinctively hit the quickfire indignation button and perpetuated the offense-outrage cycle in this country instead ended with everyone just shrugging it off and going about their day. Phil Cooke is a person who believes that Maher is insulting the creator of the universe and he's saying that those offended by that should just, well, get over it. Turn their attention to offenses that truly matter and aren't concocted for the sole purpose of satisfying some need to pitch a hissy fit because it makes them feel good about not feeling good and having others join in the pile-on.
It's rare that an atheist would describe a Christian proposition as "reasonable," but that's exactly what this one is. It's measured, level-headed and, yes, reasonable. Some things are worth getting angry over in this world; there are affronts that truly are a form of oppression and which really do qualify as an injustice. But there's very little a comedian generally says or does that rises to that level. To lash out as if you've been personally wronged by the words of a comic is almost always a big waste of time -- time that could be spent fighting far more serious battles. But whether it's a joke or shocking line from a comedian, a tasteless Halloween costume someone wore and posted to Twitter, or a politically incorrect statement made by someone in good faith, we're always ready to unleash hell upon those we perceive to have wronged us. We've come to believe that we should never be offended and we've lost the ability to just shrug it off when we are. We need to re-learn the fine art of, as Phil Cooke says, not reacting.
Sometimes it's not only easier to do nothing, it's better. For everyone.