Saturday, March 3, 2012

Horribly Offended

Geeks come in all shapes and sizes. We aren't all located in our mother's basements. (Some of our mothers never had a basement.) Many of us are capable of romantic relationships and are doing quite well, thank you very much. However, if there's one almost universal trait that I've noticed, it's that we're easy to upset and offend.

Now, I'm not talking about the usual ribbing we get for being geeks. We're used to that, and for many of us that's just background noise. No, we get upset and offended by our own kind, by the very things we love. I can guarantee that as soon as we walk out of the theater after watching either The Avengers or The Dark Knight Rises, we'll take to the internet, proclaiming all that's wrong with both movies.

You'd think we're happy every time a beloved geek property gets translated to the big screen. And we would be, if it was translated correctly, by which I mean the way we think it should be. Any slight modification or alteration is an affront to us, a grave insult that has resulted in a permanent blood feud. It's been over ten years, and some geeks are still fuming about all the changes Peter Jackson made to the Lord of the Rings movies. Many Tolkien aficionados will be able to tell you exactly how the movies changed the story and why it was better in the book.

Me, I had no problem with the changes for the Lord of the Rings movies. My nerd-rage is over all the changes in the Harry Potter movies, and yes, I can tell you exact lines of dialogue in the books that should have been in the movies, how each director completely screwed it up, and what they should have done instead. I saw every single one of those movies in the theater, and while overall I loved each one, I have a laundry list of complaints, all these years later. Yes, I'm still bitter.

But not as nearly bitter as I, and many others, are at the Star Wars prequels. If there is one consensus all of geekdom can come to, it's that we're very upset and disappointed in the prequels. Some of us have spent a good amount of time explaining why we hated the prequels. We feel betrayed by the very franchise we grew up obsessively loving, and I doubt this anger will ever go away.

I could go on about anger about 'nuking the fridge' in the new Indiana Jones movie, the lens flares of the 2009 Star Trek reboot, or the many, many complaints about Batman and Robin, X3, Spiderman 3, and many other movies that we still get enraged about when their titles are mentioned.

This attitude pervades all aspects of geek culture. For example, every once in a while Wizards of the Coast decides to change up the rules to Dungeons and Dragons. They're up to 4th edition now, and most all D&D gamers are mad about it. Some believe that the system was fine before the change and now the game is unplayable. Others like the new changes except for one or two critical flaws that only an idiot would allow. Every time they change editions, or even just modify it slightly, they get tons of hate mail from outraged gamers.

Our beloved books fare no better. If you become a geek-centric author, even by accident, be prepared for the hate. The Wheel of Time series is considered to be essential reading for anyone who loves fantasy. Seven books in, however, you'll figure out why everyone continues to read the books while at the same time complaining about them nonstop. The chief complaint, and this is one I've made, is that the books are so long and drawn out that nothing happens in 500 pages. The series got so long and involved that, sadly, author Robert Jordan died before he could finish it. Thankfully, Jordan redeemed himself posthumously by having extensive notes about the story (as he knew he was in bad health). This allowed Brian Sanderson to finish the saga.

We have the same attitude about George R.R. Martin, author of the Song of Ice and Fire series. He's taken years to put out each subsequent volume (right now he's on 5 of 7) and naturally we geeks are complaining furiously. It didn't help that the fourth book wasn't up to his usual quality, and that's part of the problem. The first three volumes are so mind-blowingly good that we expect nothing but the best, and we want it now. (Thankfully the excellent HBO series helped ease the hurting.) Thus, if Martin appeases us with a decent book, we're upset. If he takes his time to write the series properly, to avoid giving us a terrible ending like that of "Lost," we're upset. We're also afraid he's going to die and leave the series incomplete.

We geeks are always on the lookout for something to make us mad, so much so that it's hard for us to enjoy the many good things we have. We get so obsessed with looking for reasons to hate everything, and we turn into miserable cranks who forgot how to experience joy.

The same thing is true of us Christians. We are called to be lights in the world, to love, forgive, offer mercy to the downtrodden and hope to the hopeless. Instead, we get into our own version of nerd rage and get so bothered that we can't experience the joy right in front of us. We're often no better than the guy who launches into an hour-long tirade over Fox canceling Firefly.

Being offended and launching into Christian rage is nothing new. We did it when Galileo suggested that the Earth revolves around the sun. We did it when Darwin wrote his book. We did it when J.K. Rowling wrote her books and claimed that the Harry Potter would cause children to turn to witchcraft. Not only was that an idiotic claim, it was the reason I actually started reading the books and fell in love with them. That's right, protesting Christians sold me on Harry Potter.

It's not just other people's books that offend us. We get pretty angry over The Bible as well, specifically the various translations.

If you think arguments over D&D editions are pointless, watch people argue about the best or "right" translation of the Bible. There are King James adherents who will tear you a new one for daring to suggest a translation written in the last century is just as good, if not better. If someone who can read the original Greek jumps into the fray, it's best to cut your losses and walk away.

Another way to put Christians into fits of apoplectic rage is to change something about a worship service. Add or take away guitars or drums and you better believe there will be angry letters. Many will declare the service un-attendable, it having jumped-the-baptismal pool. The smallest infraction can send Christians renouncing their church membership and going elsewhere.

These kind of inter-church disputes are nothing new. A Christian getting offended is what started the Protestant Reformation. Back then we didn't have message boards, so Martin Luther simply nailed his list of 95 complaints to the door of the church. You'd think that once Protestants had their own churches away from the influence of the Catholics, they'd be perfectly happy. Since I'm mentioning it here, they clearly weren't. As soon as reformation happened, each reformer had his own idea about where this new Protestant church should go, not to mention their own ideas regarding theology and interpretation of Scripture. This is why we have so many Protestant denominations, because people like John Calvin and Martin Luther found each other's ideas so offensive.

We also see this attitude when we Christians interact with the outside world, we often go looking for reasons to be offended, and our rage is epic and legendary. We are masters of letter-writing campaigns, boycotts, and using our collective power to settle petty vendettas. If it's out there, we've probably been offended by it.

Take what happened in 1997 when the Southern Baptists found out that Disney was extending domestic benefits to partners of their gay and lesbian employees. Rather than concede that this act was, in a way, living up to Christ's command to love our neighbor, the Baptists pitched an epic, public hissy-fit about it and boycotted Disney. (I was a Baptist at the time, and yes, that's exactly what it was.) The name Disney was verboten in these churches, which pretty much screwed over any and all children's ministries that used Disney films as a way to keep the youngsters occupied. After eight years, the Baptists decided to end their devastating boycott. To which Disney replied, "Wait, you were still doing that?"

Here's what we're missing. The reason we get so offended, whether we're geeks or Christians, is that we feel personally attacked. We take it personally when someone says something we don't like, puts out a book or movie we don't like, and we lack the maturity to deal with something not in our liking. These rages not only cause us to be distracted from what's really important, but it hurts our credibility.

This is why Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. Back then, for someone to strike you on the cheek, it was considered a grave insult. Jesus' lesson is for us to let go these insults, even when they're severe. It only leads to hate and that's the direct opposite of what Jesus taught, and it robs us of the joy that God wants us to have.

All this rage and being offended does nothing good for us. For geeks, it robs us of the ability to actually enjoy anything, as we're too busy nitpicking and complaining on the internet. For Christians, not only do we not pay attention to God's blessings, but we also destroy our credibility when we want to spread the Gospel to others. If all we Christians are known for is being offended at everything and having no joy, we're hardly a good sales pitch for the benefits of faith in Jesus. (I recommend Bait of Satan for further elaboration on this idea.)

When it comes to Bible translations, it's all about pride. My version is right. Yours is wrong. Thus, I am better than you. It's all ego, because it doesn't' matter who's translation of "Love Your Neighbor" is correct. What matters is that we go out and do it. What matters is that we love the world, so let's stop getting so caught up into Bible translation pissing contests. (Yeah, I said it, because that's what they are. Get over it.)

Fortunately, there are plenty of Geeks and Christians who don't sit around and look for reasons to be upset. Sometimes I'm even a part of that group, though not as often as I'd like. As I grow up and learn to turn the other cheek myself, I find that life is becoming more joyful, and I'm able to be an agent of God's love more and more.

As I am learning this, it's helping me see what's actually worth being upset about. There is one thing in this world that should upset or offend us: injustice. Whether this injustice is due to poverty, exploitation, bullying, inequality, or any other reason, that's what should offend us. If we are to be upset, let it be on behalf of those who can't speak for themselves. Let it be for those who are oppressed, and let us turn our righteous anger into loving actions. I confess that I'm not there yet, but I am working on it.

And one day, with God's Grace, I'll get over my bitterness over how they messed up the Harry Potter movies. I just have to take it one day at a time.

If you want to see more of my geekiness, check out Guardians of Suncast Dale, a satirical fantasy adventure on Kindle. My Christian Scripts also approach faith from a clearly geeky angle, and I guarantee that several of them will offend you horribly. Like this one. Or this one.

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