After Church – Switchfoot, Protests, and Resentment

No, the way Switchfoot reacted to crazy protestors did not “blow me away”. It made me rather concerned for the state of our common religion and what we perceive as “Christian” action and belief.

So think of it this way: should relationship-building with other people come from force and command, or should it simply emerge unprovoked? Imagine the people in that concert. They think the normal thing about the protesters – rah rah, they’re bad and stuff – and then band members need to tell them to go talk to those people. Strike one: only speaking to enemies with impetus via an external authority. Were they doing it before? No. Did they suddenly have a crisis of conviction? I doubt it. However, people in power tend to make people without power nervous.

And I say that truthfully: the protestors are in charge here, much as we would like to think otherwise. They believe (wrongly or rightly) wholeheartedly in their beliefs, and they are willing to call out other Christians on their decadence to the culture at large. Then the proponents of “Christian rock” intend to “love on” them as a form of response. After all, that’s what Jesus would do, right? Yet, I find this an utterly frightening concept.

I find this less an expression of Christian love, and more an example of a subtle form of vengeance. Here’s those people we disagree – “love” them. But what does that love mean? Hypocrisy and pride come in many forms. We can feel superior to our enemies via “loving them”, and using our hegemonic version of love upon them. That’s not understanding at all; that’s just another imposition of your worldview upon another human being.

Dark Souls Angel

Not quite like this…

In psychology, they would call this a narcissistic defense. An exterior agent says that we’re wrong. We feel wrong, since someone has place themselves in opposition to our beliefs. There’s two subsequent responses to that opposition. First,  we can accept it, see it for what it is, and accept the world as it is. That’s a tough response to do at first glance. Whether a boss chastises employees for not working hard enough as an appeal to motivate them  or someone says something against you on Facebook, to do nothing in return either physically or mentally remains a difficult constraint. When Jesus says to turn the other cheek, he meant it.

But, we often take this as a sign that we don’t do any physical action against violence. We don’t see this in the psychological sense at all. What motivation drives you towards that love? Would you rather look, explain, or badger another person to see the contradictions, hypocrisy, or error of their beliefs? Most of us would say otherwise, of course, but smug satisfaction and feeling right often take precedence over love. They made us feel shame (not guilt, of course) over our enjoyment of rock music (in this case), and we know the truth (isn’t that what you must assume to approach random strangers and talk to them), so time to show them who’s boss. Revenge! Nietzsche calls it ressentiment, the morality of the “slave class” against those to which they cannot remove:

The slave revolt in morality begins when the ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of those beings who are prevented from a genuine reaction, that is, something active, and who compensate for that with a merely imaginary vengeance. While all noble morality grows out of a triumphant affirmation of one’s own self, slave morality from the start says “No” to what is “outside,” “other,” to “a not itself.” And this “No” is its creative act. This transformation of the glance which confers value—this necessary projection towards what is outer instead of back onto itself—that is inherent in ressentiment. In order to arise, slave morality always requires first an opposing world, a world outside itself.

The point of Christianity isn’t to set us all apart, but set us all together. Let’s talk about it, not make rhetorical jabs or proclamations of damnation or false relationships. Do you think these protesters had their mind changed at all? No, I don’t think so. That isn’t relationship; this continues the never ending cycle of American debate. Whoever shouts the loudest often wins, whether by words or action. Exposing the hypocrites with “real” Christian love satisfies much more than actually learning, helping, and developing a relationship. We know from Romans 12 that this can’t be the state of affairs:

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Vengeance cannot be ours in any sense. We cannot wish bad things on other people. The Psalms do contain such prayers of a violent nature, wishing for the pitfalls and deaths of enemies to reach their comeuppance, sure, but how does that help you in the long run? Can you turn an enemy into a friend, or does a subtle undercurrent of revenge creep into the proceedings? I imagine these represent the natural thoughts we have towards those who oppose us. And this is perfectly natural. Doesn’t make it right, though.

Obviously, the little community had not understood what was precisely the most important thing of all: the example offered by this way of dying, the freedom from and superiority to every feeling of ressentiment—a plain indication of how little he was understood at all! All that Jesus could hope to accomplish by his death, in itself, was  to offer the strongest possible proof, or example, of his teachings in the most public manner….

Jesus didn’t go say “haha, these people disagree with me, better prove them wrong”. Jesus doesn’t bother with that. They all believe the same thing, Jesus and the Pharisees, but Jesus knows that they, themselves, know better. He says the truth and talks to everyone over the course of his life that He possibly could. That’s where the lasting impact happens: talking, not feeling superior or pointing out flaws. Understand and know; then you can convince, and perhaps find yourself convinced.

So would Jesus go out and visit the protesters? Highly unlikely. He already would know them. And so should we.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.
  • Ayk Iano

    Interesting. Not sure if I fully get the psychology stuff. But I do find the general “love response” as rather pointless in these types of situations. It’ll be much more useful if the band just voices out why they think the protesters are wrong, and engage them in dialogue. Even though that may be defensive, it’s still better than the narcissistic defense.

    • Zachery Oliver

      The psychology stuff is really counter-intuitive, admittedly, but I have found studying it useful for understanding human nature – most of the stuff we do unconsciously comes down to a maintenance of personality (as we define it) and fighting against change, while Christians are supposed to do the complete opposite of that (dying to self, etc). That also means we can use good means for evil purposes without even knowing it. I am as much a culprit as anyone else.

      I just wonder if there’s an alternative that doesn’t require us to point out this situation in particular as “exceptional” – it should already be happening without pretense of who’s right and wrong. Hug it out, so to speak 🙂

  • NATEMCWN

    I’m having trouble following your argument, and in no ways mean this to be an “attack” of any sort, more so a clarification.

    From what I am reading above, you’re saying that Jon Forman and Switchfoot should not have gone to speak to the protesters, and by requesting from the audience that they act civil and only show love and not hate towards the protesters outside when leaving, was in fact malicious? It seems you are making the assumption that the band had its own motives for saying so? Are we able to know for sure if their hearts are in the right place or not? We cant know for sure, but from the works they do and the songs they write and try to inspire love from, I think the safer assumption would be love, however we can never know for sure.

    I think we are also forgetting here that if most other bands were confronted with this situation, they would outwardly say negative things and probably get the crowd worked up and hostile towards the protesters, don’t you think?

    When it comes to turning the other cheek, I think you have it a bit backwards. Jesus said to turn the other cheek; “When Jesus says not to turn the other cheek, he meant it.”

    If you did deep into what he was saying here, theres a lot more than meets the eye for a simple one liner, and also enforces the point you are trying to get at.

    When someone strikes you (at the time it would be with the back of their hand) across the cheek, it was also a sign of putting someone down or in the place that person believed them to be. it was disrespect. When we are asked to turn the other cheek and present our only fresh, non hurting cheek, it throws that person off, and in turn is re humanizing yourself, but without using violence or malice.

    Try it, pretend to strike someone with your back hand, then pretend they turned their other cheek to get struck again, you have to change posture entirely to hit them again with the back of your hand.

    The point here in all of this, is it re gains your humanity from someone who takes it away. The same principals apply when Jesus says if a soldier asks you to carry his pack (the Roman laws of the time said they could ask someone to carry their gear for 1 mile and one mile only) to carry it for 2. That solider is now worried and thinking, oh man if someone sees that this guy is going past the one mile mark I’m gonna be in a lot of trouble and a laughing stock.

    So in my long winded opinion, you’re right that most people use the love on them tactic in malice, which is wrong. However in this circumstance, we cant assume that’s what was done here, but we can applaud the actions and inspiration, and teach each other these principals that re gain everyone’s humanity.

    Love is always THE option, though it is very counter intuitive.

    • Zachery Oliver

      Nope, I don’t mean to say that Switchfoot, the protesters, or the audience of said Switchfoot concert are malicious in any sense. Rather, I want to point out that the very fact that we still need to tell Christians to openly, without judgment, communicate with one another is a pretty sad sight both within Christianity and as an example to those without Christ. It’s a common sight that we applaud these sorts of things without realizing how it comes off. We should already be doing these things without external motivating forces. Because it has to be provoked and pointed out, that means that the motivation for those people isn’t entirely via their own moral convictions; if not pressed, you’ve got to assume they would just continue on with their concert-going experience without a care in the world.

      Secondly, turning the other cheek has both a physical and mental component. Yes, many people see vengeance and retaliation in physical terms, but it’s just as likely in a culture that focuses on rationality that we do things for the wrong vengeful reasons. I’ve seen prayers used as subtle forms of disapproval (“I’ll pray for you” being a personal favorite), and I’ve seen typical Christian actions done in the wrong spirit. Jeremiah 17:9 tells me that much, and that we need to take constant guard and vigilance lest we follow our baser impulse to revenge rather than love.

      In general, I think we have a tough time doing that even when the action in question looks “loving”. Only Christ working through that person can make it happen, and the credit is all His. Altruism, Christian or non-Christian, looks the same from the world’s view, hence my reservations ascribing any admiration for this situation in particular. I can’t really judge either way, so I won’t. It was merely a case study for thoughts I had about this idea in general.

      Also, thanks for correcting a typo which probably made this a whole lot more confusing than it would have been otherwise 🙂

      • NATEMCWN

        No problem at all! I figured it was a typo and tried my best to bring it up without sounding rude haha.

        And generate conversation it has! But I’m right there with ya. It’s sad that the actions were so admirable, as they should be expressed by every “Christian.” But then we get into the topic of what christiananity actually looks like.

        I do beleive these guys are good examples of what I like to call #Doin’ItRight. But you are indeed right it is sad that the actions are not the normal response of anyone looking to be Christ like. Which also leads into the bigger conversation of how the “church” is broken and people are tailoring Christianity to be a tool or weapon to justify prejudice and perpetrate hate and allow people to fit the church into their lives opposed to working their lives around what is spiritual. But once again that’s a can of worms for another day.

        Thanks for the clarification! I think we are basically on the same path of thought here.