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The Titan submarine implosion has been in headlines around the world and at the center of much online discussion, outrage, and derision. James Cameron gave his two cents, many on twitter blasted his input, others defended his credentials surrounding his research in making the classic movie Titanic. Memes everywhere. But one bit of content stayed with me. 

This TikTok (linked here) sits comfortably at 3.3 million views and made the front page of Reddit, and I can see why. The TikToker Joshua shares a well-articulated reason why many people were laughing at the deaths of these billionaires in the Titan submarine explosion. 

At just over two minutes it’s worth a watch. His basic claim is that billionaires have been robbing us normal folks blind, their greed has made our lives so difficult, and therefore it makes sense why we wouldn’t feel compassion for these rich people whose lives clearly have not been about compassion, only greed. 

On the surface, it’s a compelling argument. It clearly landed for so many of us. It reminded me of how many people jumped on Kim Kardashian when she famously complained about how people didn’t want to work anymore, and the vitriol flung at her because those words coming from a reality star felt a bit much. People in glass houses and all that. 

Well, the sentiments shared in the video have also popped up on my feeds, moral outrage focused on the difference between the attention the submarine implosion received worldwide while the plight of refugees losing their lives on boats, trying to make it to a better life, is almost never talked about. 

The difference between the attention received only highlighted the injustice that prevails in the concern shown towards those with cash and the numb indifference to those the media decides aren’t worth much.

And indignation everywhere. Memes and heartfelt and passionate posts on instagram. 

This is where I want us to pause and consider how we as Christians engage these tense and important moments. Because we’re not called to be swept up by the currents of fashionable pop morality, rather we are to consider and reflect what happens in the world and our lives through the lens of our faith in Jesus.

The present discussions of the Titan submarine implosion reveal how readily our discourse falls into the trap of self-righteousness, a condition Jesus spends a lot of time warning about.

The self-righteous trap

This theme of self-righteousness has been on my mind especially after reflecting on After Babel, a substack by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and author of the classic Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid. 

In his writings, Haidt argues for the corrosive nature of social media, how it essentially kills off compassion, fosters and helps flourish ‘us vs them’ binary thinking with no room to process (you know the drill: “choose the right side of history now or you’re a bigot/snowflake”, the term depending on your political allegiance). He writes a lot more on this and I encourage y’all to check it out. 

This is how his analysis plays out in the current situation, the dangerous cocktail we’re offered in four steps: 

  1. the news of the Titan submarine implosion is broadcast widely on social media, which leads to
  2. our processing this event on social media platforms that, by design, reduce complex moral moments into simplistic and digestible moral posturing that
  3. galvanise us to funnel these easily arrived at moral narratives into a posture of self-righteousness,
  4. which is a posture of the heart that corrodes our souls and disconnects us from God and each other. 

I’ve been seeing it everywhere, post after post deriding the billionaires for a mistake that cost them their lives, simultaneously self-righteously condemning the attention the submarine received in the face of a serious world-wide refugee crisis. 

Sure, there’s probably real concern being voiced on behalf of beleaguered refugees, but the self-righteousness of so many of these posts evince a serious lack of self-awareness and that’s the danger. Because we are all in glass houses. And as Jesus says to us:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Matt. vii. 3, 4, 5

The speck in my eye

Apple has announced that by 2025 they will be using 100% recycled cobalt in its devices. This comes at the heels of reports that the tech giant has been using cobalt from mines where children in the Congo have been forced to work under terrifying conditions and there has been no way to ensure that the cobalt in widely sold Apple devices haven’t come from these mines. 

Pause here, because it’s easily missed: the iphone devices we use have cobalt, a necessary ingredient for our phones to work. And if we have these phones, we are supporting a company that, by their own admission, has used cobalt mined by child slave labour.

That last paragraph is truly uncomfortable because of how indiciting it is of our culture that depends on these iphones and how integrated they are in our lives to the point that it seems impossible that we wouldn’t use them. We are culpable before we know how deep we’re complicit and then once we know we feel trapped because we don’t see a way out.)

It’s tempting to say at this point: ‘Seth, I’m an android user’. 

And if you’re feeling safe, probably don’t do that because I don’t think that works. It would be to misapply our reasoning in the extreme if we decided this was purely an Apple problem and not symptomatic of the world we’ve created around ourselves and are beholden to. Because if you begin a cursory investigation beyond Apple and  on the clothes we most readily wear, or the conditions under which our food is made and provided us, or scratch the surface of just about anything that furnishes the life we live, it gets gross really fast. And we’re implicated.

To sum up so far: there are real world tragedies that reveal moral depravity in our world, but these are mediated to us via social media platforms that lead us to moral self-righteousness, a posture of the heart that deliberately keeps us mum about how we participate and support the systems that perpetuate oppression and evil in this world.

So now what?

So what, are we just supposed to say and believe nothing because of the speck in our eyes? I don’t think so. In fact, as Christians we are supposed to recognize and fight against injustice in our world, internationally and here at home.In fact, here’s a lot that’s been shared that I can readily agree with. 

For example: A system that allows billionaires to exist is a fundamentally broken one. Just look up ‘millionaire vs billionaire visual scale’, and then remind yourself that you’re not a millionaire and it will begin to land: this is a broken reality we live in. No one person should have so much when so many have so little, full stop.

And yet we play into a system, shaping our lives to mimic the success that some few have parlayed into billions of dollars. And even though most of us don’t reach that level, our lives are functionally warped in the same shape by the unlimited desire for more.

The move here is to recognize that we aren’t supposed to uncritically absorb the simple narratives readily available on social media platforms or other sources that deny the complexity of the situation and our complicity.

We are not to engage in nor perpetuate discourse that allows us to reduce those we disagree with into the cartoonish simplicity of ‘us vs them’, the good guys and the bad guys, that conveniently puts us on ‘the right side of history’ and the rest easily labelled ‘bigots/snowflakes’.

To continue in this way is to perpetuate a recursive pattern that alienates us all to each other, and at least that is not the way of Jesus. 

But to understand the fix, it matters to consider why we always end up here.

The lady doth protest too much, methinks

Why do we so readily fall into this trap? I think for at least two interconnected reasons:

  1. We fail to grasp the complexity of tragic moral events that inevitably implicate us and our way of life; we confuse lack of understanding with moral clarity and therefore easily and loudly denounce the guilty other, oblivious to how we don’t actually inhabit the moral high ground we think we do.

  2. Or we actually do know, or at least sense, that we’re guilty too and the way to suppress the guilt is to make sure that others know just how good we are.

At this point you could understandably point out: “well Seth, the important thing is that you’ve found a way to be above both groups.” And you know what. Fair.

Because I am self-righteous. And If you’re sensing it in this write up, you know what, I don’t want to react defensively because isn’t that the problem too? 

Yes, I am infected with the same problem that I’ve been to easily pointing out about others because I am you. 

At any given moment and more than I care to admit or am able to see, I’m smug, I’m self-righteous, I greedily protect my ‘well-earned comforts’.

And I’m telling you there hasn’t been a more freeing confession than admitting that I’m the problem too. Because the end of human ability is where God meets us and saves us in exactly the way we need.

You see, most folks are self-aware enough that they’re part of the problem and therefore make two moves: they double down on a certain social justice issue and go hard in the hopes that that balances out the way they break the world with phones, sweatshop clothes, don’t call family, etc. 

and/or they give others a pass on their moral infractions as a strategy to absolve themselves of how they contribute to injustice and harm.

But the way of Jesus is so different, and so good for our souls. Because a follower of Jesus is precisely a person who admits that they are part of the problem and they need help.

The hope

A Christian recognizes that they are deeply broken, trapped in systems of injustice that they also benefit from, and that they’re not simply victims of this injustice but recognize that their own hearts are the garden where human suffering is born. Our endless appetite for comfort and ease at the expense of our global neighbours is a real part of who we are and we’re in desperate need of help.

We call that Confession. Admitting who we’ve been and handing ourselves over in the hands of the living God is both project justice and perfect mercy. 

And when we arrive here we begin to apprehend the work of God in human history. That God, being perfect Justice, judges the evil in the world we’ve helped flourish and we’re found guilty.

But the same God comes to us in Jesus and he bears the weight of our sin and makes it right on the Cross. Jesus pays the price for selfishness, complacency, greed and when we trust him he wipes away our guilt because already paid for it.

So a Christian doesn’t have to pretend they’re not guilty, in fact, our greatest strength is revealed when we admit who we’ve been, because only the sick can be healed. When you speak the truth and admit you’re the problem, you’re at exactly the spot where God’s healing love found in Jesus can meet you and heal you.

And you’re healed and given a new identity: forgiven in order to forgive. You’ve received compassion and now compassion defines how you engage the world. 

So when you encounter moments like the Titan submarine implosion, and you see how your neighbours and fellow humans are making a mess, you can address it with passion because God is justice, but also with compassion because God is mercy. 

And that vision, that right self-understanding frames us in the right way. We’re enabled to see that we don’t inhabit a moral high ground. Only Jesus does. And as he comes down to us to love us and heal us on the Cross, we are called to do the same for others.

We walk this world in humble boldness. Humble because we know much in us has been forgiven when it didn’t have to be. Bold because the love of God has so powerfully healed us, we want it to heal our family and neighbours and friends. 

The life of Jesus, his word and his life, his death and resurrection, is the cornerstone of our moral vision. And it won’t play nice in the easy morality parroted in regular conversations. And it won’t make for easily shareable tweets or insta captions. 

But it will keep you honest and connected to God and neighbour because you are found in Jesus Christ. And in the end, that’s more than enough. 

Thanks be to God.