Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
--Psalm 1:1 NRSV
Is it me or are there a lot of news stories lately about teachers and coaches saying awful things to their students? A number of cases have occurred in the KC area in recent weeks, and it seems like most if not all of them are white men. When white men in leadership situations with young people use the “n-word” or put down LGBTQ people or criticize someone of a religion different than their own I wonder what was going on in that man’s head? Was it a temporary slip that they didn’t mean? Did they always hold these views but their filter wasn’t working? Or did they imbibe too many hours of what I call the “hate machine”—caustic, negative and rage-filled talk radio, cable news and social media?
Clearly, ignorance and idiocy occur across all boundaries of race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, politics and every other kind of boundary. White men don’t have a monopoly on acting badly or misdirecting anger, yet it seems to me the “hate machine” is operating at a level never seen before to get white men enraged. In a cynical bid to profit from people’s sense of outrage, everyone from billion-dollar corporations down to a guy running a podcast out of his basement are seeking to monetize people’s rage. An outrageous headline gets us to click on a manipulative article because it makes us mad, meanwhile they profit from every click on their web site. We stick around through a commercial break because of a teaser about the next segment sure to raise our blood pressure while they raise their advertising rates. It’s a nihilistic game that holds to no clear value system other than profit.
The number one target for the “hate machine” seems to me to be white men. As more than ever before people groups who were denied a say in the public sphere are finding ways to make their voices heard white men are told they are victims. Without stopping to consider that white men have pretty much controlled everything in this country until fairly recently, we white men start to feel like we are losing something rather than simply having to share our influence, power and megaphone with others. It’s so much easier to get hacked off than humbly consider experiences different than our own. It’s easier to play the victim than to share control with others.
In Psalm 1, the way of the righteous is differentiated from the way of the wicked. One phrase really stands out to me about the age we are in: “the seat of the scoffers.” It’s an evocative image variously translated as the seat or place of scoffers, mockers or scornful. This place is different from one where a person studies the “law of the Lord” or better translated the “teachings of God.”
In the context in which Psalm 1 was written, studying God’s teachings was never a solitary experience but a community exercise. In order to study God’s teachings effectively one engaged in discussion with others who held different interpretations and points of view. As opposed to the “seat of scoffers,” which separates one from the rest of community with an arrogant mockery, studying God’s teachings involves listening, humility and community.
When I read about inappropriate outbursts especially by white men but not limited just to them, I wonder was that person in dialogue with anyone else? Were they in a friendship or relationship with people different from them in regards to politics, race, sexual orientation, religion, etc.? Or were they falling down a rabbit hole into a bubble of like-minded outrage that promised wisdom but delivered only senseless anger? Take in a diet several hours a day of cable news, talk radio and social media posts that tell you how much you’re being wronged and how enraged you should be about it and pretty soon one ends up a manipulated seething pile of pointless ire (while the ones selling this rage make their money and care nothing of the consequences).
More than ever, we need people, especially white men, to dig deep into the teachings of God and avoid the seat of the scoffers. God teaches about humility, meekness, wisdom, self-control, grace and mercy. When God teaches about anger it is always anger about the mistreatment of the least powerful and never about the powerful viewing themselves as victims. We need people who will pause before speaking and posting, treat others with compassion and exercise enough self-control not to vomit up hateful ideas just because it feels good in the moment.
“The Hate Machine” is a seductive and addictive movement that says humility, self-control and grace are for losers and dehumanizing others of a lower social status is admirable. It is not an easy thing to quit and those who produce it know that fact better than anyone else. Yet, people who wish to find the way of the righteous refuse to sit in the “seat of scoffers.”
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
We're Park Hill Christian Church in KC MO. We seek to follow Jesus by praising God, loving those we meet and serving the vulnerable.
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851