Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Identity Synthesis and our ‘Age of Outrage’

Written by: on January 11, 2024

On several different occasions I had to remind myself that Yascha Mounk, author of The Identity Trap (1), was a self-identifying progressive and he was seeking to expose ineffective strategies to address real and important issues like racism, inequality, and free speech. At times, I found myself ‘reacting’ to some of his statements which struck me as closer to a ‘defensive conservative’ than a centrist-progressive. Having said that, I found myself agreeing with the primary point of his book: That our culture’s current growing propensity to view people primarily through identity categories is less helpful than the universalist perspective of classic liberalism (2)

(In general, I could more easily agree with this primary thesis and I felt somewhat ill-equipped to wrestle through some of the specific topics he addresses in each chapter due to the complexity of those particular issues).

The book does not do a deep dive on the relational outcomes of the identity synthesis—Mounk does state his conviction that this way of being draws more lines between us and increases the possibility for conflict (3)—but I believe Mounk’s book accurately describes the current environment that has produced what has been called the ‘age of outrage’ in our North American context.

In a recent sermon on Ephesians 4.31-32, I looked at some of the contributing factors to the age of outrage that we find ourselves in. One interesting Harvard Business article names three key elements that are more prevalent in our current North American culture that are key factors in our age of outrage and aggression.

They are:

1. A lack of hope for the future.
2. A pervasive sense that the game is rigged.
3. The ‘ideological othering’ of people who disagree with us (4).

It is this third point that Mounk’s book quite thoroughly addresses, and he is not the only left-leaning voice that is identifying the dangers of the far-left identity synthesis: one very progressive philosophy professor at Vanderbuilt wrote the following in the NY Times about her own movement:

“When outrage becomes and end in itself, it also becomes a form of fundamentalism and part of a dogma of purity that can be potentially aggressive, hostile and violent. When political activism becomes dogmatic and punishing, it uses the same techniques of exclusion and oppression that it rejects—only now in the name of liberation” (5).

As such, the ways of relating and communicating in our culture (and unfortunately often the church as well) can be described by Ephesians 4.31: there is bitterness, rage and anger, brawling (arguing) and slander, along with every form of malice (6).

Yet the next verse suggests an alternative way of being for God’s people: Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you (7).

Paul has already told the church at the start of chapter 4 to be humble, gentle, patient and to put up with one another in love. Now he calls the church to be kind, compassionate and forgiving.

The use of the word ‘compassion’ in this passage is interesting because it is most often used in the face of human suffering. Compassion is most often understood as a form of love that compels us to act in mercy to help others in need. Yet in this Ephesians passage Paul is addressing relational ways of being, and in our ‘age of outrage’ I wonder if part of what it means to be compassionate towards others is to look past their ‘identity group’ and harsh rhetoric and compassionately view them as they are: as people made in the image of God and therefore worthy of value and respect; as people with a story of joy and sorrow, brokenness and beauty. I wonder if compassion might be the necessary ingredient in our culture to humanize people again, and not see them as simply allies or foes , or members of a particular ‘group’ which is ‘enemy’ or ‘friend.’

Mounk suggests a similar antidote himself:

“It is possible for citizens to develop genuine empathy for each other if they make the time and effort to listen to the experiences of their compatriots” (8).

While we might want to clarify the different nuances of ‘compassion’ and ‘empathy’, the general concept is the same: we will better understand, connect, appreciate, and put up with one another as we compassionately/empathetically view people, first, as people.  

The alternative, which we are increasingly witnessing and experiencing, is a form of immediate classification and unhealthy communication characterized by anger and accusation, with no real listening.

This segregation into various identity groups and the corresponding unhealthy way of interacting and communicating with ‘others’ is, I believe, an opportunity for the church to genuinely shine the light of Christ. However, it is NOT inevitable that the church will shine the light of Christ brighter within a darkening social landscape—we might actually contribute to the growing darkness (and it’s safe to say that many of us have on various occasions whether in word or action or on social media posts and we’ve seen way too many examples of ‘christian outrage’ online). 

Yet the possibility exists for Christ’s light to shine brighter through His church, but it will require a way of living and being and responding to others that is increasingly inconsistent with the divided and angry culture we live in.

For the good of the church, for the glory of God, for our own sake, and for the sake of our mission in our increasingly polarized, segregated and outraged culture, let’s deal with our own junk so we can live out the counter-cultural ways of God’s Kingdom and, as a result, shine bright as God’s people!  (Let it be so….Lord.)

(1) Yascha Mounk, The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time (NY: Penguin Press, 2023).
(2) Yascha Mounk, The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time (NY: Penguin Press, 2023), 239-240.
(3) Yascha Mounk, The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time (NY: Penguin Press, 2023), 203.
(4) https://hbr.org/2023/01/managing-in-the-age-of-outrage.
(5) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/16/opinion/education-outrage-morality-shaming.html
(6) Ephesians 4.31. The first three words of the verse are, “Get rid of…”
(7) Ephesians 4.32.
(8) Yascha Mounk, The Identity Trap: A Story of Ideas and Power in Our Time (NY: Penguin Press, 2023), 225.

About the Author

Scott Dickie

4 responses to “The Identity Synthesis and our ‘Age of Outrage’”

  1. mm Russell Chun says:

    HI Scott,

    Thanks for your comments.

    I am working on immigration for my NPO and in March I am hosting an Immigration Symposium.

    Immigration is a polarizing topic and I took a look at Mounks “how to escape identity battles.

    His six steps plus being true to our Christian values on Immigration is a headliner for my NPO. With this as a guide I apply his steps to my NPO and specifically the dialogue to be engendered at the Immigration Symposium on March 9, 2024, at Dallas Baptist University.
    1) Claim the Moral High Ground – Deuteronomy 10:18 (Orphans, Widows and the foreigner amongst us) remains one of the key verses that shape a biblical response to refugees/newcomers.
    2) Don’t vilify those who disagree – The symposium is being conducted in Texas, where a fair degree of voters are anti-immigration. On the public stage, the Governor of Texas is bussing and flying immigrants to “sanctuary” cities. This has become a focal point for the immigration discussion in the state. Be quick to listen, slow to speak are nice guide rails for the discussion.
    3) Remember that today’s adversaries can become tomorrow’s allies. How can we empower the churches to influence politics on immigration rather than the other way around?
    4) Appeal to the Reasonable Majority. Dr. Stu Cocanougher Pastor at the Southcliff Baptist church warned me about confronting churches hostile to immigration. Instead he argued that there large majority of churches who need to be informed and empowered to reach out to newcomers.
    5) Make common cause with other opponents of identity synthesis. Although there are 10 U.S. Refugee Resettlement Agencies most have distanced themselves from their religious roots. Nonetheless, it is important to engage with these agencies as they actively are involved in resettling the newcomer.
    6) But don’t become a reactionary. Social media has enabled people to become anonymously HOSTILE to everything. Conflict fuels adrenalin and allowing the dialogue to continue in polarization does not serve the newcomer.


  2. Jenny Dooley says:

    Hi Scott and welcome back!
    I found your words lovely, “I wonder if part of what it means to be compassionate towards others is to look past their ‘identity group’ and harsh rhetoric and compassionately view them as they are: as people made in the image of God and therefore worthy of value and respect; as people with a story of joy and sorrow, brokenness and beauty.” Thank you for bringing compassion into the discussion. I am wondering with you! I think part of expressing and responding with compassion also requires me to set aside my defenses and any personal injustices I might face.

  3. Esther Edwards says:

    Yes. Welcome back!
    Scott, your pervasive thought regarding empathy and compassion is simple but profound…to view people, first, as people. Viewing people in terms of a far-off group is much different than when you know a person’s story and relate to them on a person-to-person level. It is something I remind myself when I want to make sweeping comments about others that I don’t agree with…I guess that is part of the junk we must all own and dismiss.
    Thanks for your well-written post.

  4. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Scott! Thanks for your inspiring post.

    Your writing becomes particularly engaging when you draw connections to Ephesians 4:31, describing bitterness, anger and indignation, brawls (debates), slander, and all forms of hatred as causes of identity conflict with efforts to re-humanize humans as the deterrent. I would like to ask you two things, what is the most challenging situation you have ever encountered or faced regarding identity issues around you? What initiatives are you undertaking as a Christian leader to address and overcome this? Thank You.

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