Rising Above Life’s Circumstances: how to respond to the victim culture
We live in a victim culture.
When we analyze any culture we can start by contrasting honor cultures with dignity cultures. The best way to explain this is by imagining you've been criticized or attacked. In an honor culture, your number one priority is to defend your honor and to respond with honor. In that setting that's what we look for in our leadership. We want to see people who conduct and live their lives with honor. In an honor-based culture, your response is normally public so that others may see it. The knights of the medieval times operated from an honor-based culture.
In a dignity based culture, you see the intrinsic worth in each individual. When you're attacked or criticized your response in private. You may say nothing publicly but you may reach out to the individual, sit down in a room with them, and sort things out. You come out of the room say to everybody that everything is now settled. In a dignity based culture, you look for that in leadership.
Throughout most of the history of Western Civilization, we valued a blend of those two cultures honor and dignity- but this is increasingly being changed. It is becoming what some sociologists are calling a victim culture. In a victim culture everything I do and say is motivated by love but anything you do or say, if you dare attack or criticize me, can only be explained through hate so, therefore, you must be racist, or xenophobic or homophobic, etc. In a victim culture, we isolate ourselves into little groups that are united by our sense of victimhood. To join that little group, you have to advocate their complaint more militantly and more vocally than them. And, you must never disagree in any way or you're thrown out for hate.
In this culture, when people run for office they calculate the number of victim groups in their electorate, they advocate their complaints in a militant and unqualified way. If they get the mathematics right they will win. That means culture gets locked into a political whirlpool of grievance where hatred seems to become the prime motivating factor to explain everything. It’s a disastrous mindset that affects us at every level. It breeds a mentality in which we with think about things in the wrong kind of way.
Karl Max introduced the idea of the victim culture when he taught that society is divided into two classes. The first group, the privileged and wealthy bourgeois who owned the means of production, and the second group, the proletariat, who did the work that produced their wealth. In more recent years, this dichotomy between the oppressed and the victim has taken the form of identity politics. Whether it be race, women’s rights, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It seems everyone is a victim. Groups like the Franklin School and men like Saul Alinsky have brought the idea of the victim culture to a whole new level in more recent years.
We even see it in our entertainment. For example, have you seen the original Superman movie? In 1986 Christopher Reeves as Superman had one weakness, kryptonite, a metal that would kill him. Otherwise, he was perfect in every way. He was perfect physically, emotionally, rationally, moral, kind, gentle, and understanding caring.
More recently, the 2017 movie, “Man of Steel” was a remake of Superman? That film starts with him on a boat lost at sea lost feeling culturally lonely and orphaned unable to answer the fundamental questions about who he is and trying to cope with the weight of expectations on his shoulders. In other words, the new Superman movie starts with a victim narrative. In fact, every modern Marvel superhero has been used abused, hurt, betrayed, and damaged. That allows us to empathize with them so when they obliterate their adversaries we celebrate their demise. The superhero may bring incomprehensible destruction on his adversary but it is fully justified because he is bringing justice for having hurt him. As a victim that is his right. And that is the problem of the victim culture. It becomes our identity and demands justice even in its most brutal form. From this perspective anything the victim does is fully justified to appease his sense of injustice.
If the victim cult were restricted only to sensitive college students or a developer/ television celebrity-turned-president, the phenomenon would be of temporary interest only to sociologists and academics. Instead, the victim's assertion, when combined with potential touchstones for conflict (race, religion, ethnicity, and nationalism) and linked to a justification for some action (compensation, preferential treatment, revenge), is destructive for all. The Hutus in Rwanda pre-1994 is one example. They justified their violent genocidal act on the claim of victimhood due to past offences against them. There are others: Mao Tse-tung, Fidel Castro, and Pol Pot blamed their societies’ economic troubles on entrepreneurial capitalists rather than on their own economic illiteracy and tyranny. It is always only the other person’s fault.
Stalin and Hitler both claimed to be victims. They persuaded millions of other people that they, too, were victims: of an international capitalist or Jewish conspiracy. No major act of war or mass killing in the twentieth century began without the aggressors or perpetrators first claiming innocence and victimhood.
The problem with tallying up victim counts is this, “How can we compare and weigh suffering- as if an impartial scale exists?” While mostly men were killed and wounded in war, wives and children on the home front lost husbands and fathers. An industrial accident that maimed a man also hurt his family. All we can say with any accuracy is that they, and millions more over the millennia, were actual victims.
The victim often has a legitimate grievance but somewhere along the way, he must stop letting it define him/her and shaping his/her every thought. The victim mentality is a major obstacle to peace and reconciliation. So what is the alternative? Is there a better path to dealing with the injustice and unfairness we face in the real world? The answer is, “Yes!” You see, both Jesus and the Apostle Paul were victims of the worst kind.
The Apostle Paul describes it in this way in II Corinthians 11:24-29, “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn”
It is in that abusive context that Paul wrote the book of Philippians. The book is called a prison epistle because he wrote it from a brutal Roman prison that he had been sent to for preaching the gospel of Jesus. We get a glimpse of his experience in Acts 16 where he is found singing and praising God despite his horrible situation. Even when God broke down the prison doors through an earthquake Paul did not lash back in anger or even attempt to flee. As a result, his jailor came to Christ. The book of Philippians gives us an insight as to why Paul was able to rise above his circumstances and still give praise to God. Paul was the consummate victim but, as he says in Romans 8, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”
In light of the damage this victim mentality can do to a person or society I will be doing a study of the book of Philippians. I want us to get into the mind of Paul and learn from him how to be content no matter what the circumstances. The only way we can find a path to healing ourselves or our society is to learn how to overcome our victim culture and gain a new perspective- like that shared by Jesus and Paul.
In invite you to join us as we study Philippians together. Check our website a brochure that provides the sermon topics and sermons on audio. Each week we will speak look at Philippians and try to understand the mind of Christ so that we too can handle abuse and oppression from a better reference point so that we can deal with it in ways that built us up and are more likely to restore relationships.
 Milke, Mark (2019-10-19). The Victim Cult: How the culture of blame hurts everyone and wrecks civilizations (Kindle Location 179). Thomas & Black. Kindle Edition.