Hemant Mehta shares the story of a white Christian Karen in Virginia who is extravagantly furious after a public library included the Bible in its banned books display.
The key fact in understanding this story is this: Stacy Langton would have been just as extravagantly furious if the library had not included the Bible in that display. Either one would’ve worked for Stacy. “How dare they exclude the Bible from this display!?!” would have made her just as happily unhappy as “How dare they include the Bible in this display!?!”
This is the main thing to keep in mind whenever you read stories about people like “Christian mom” Stacy Langton, or whenever you are forced to deal with people like her in your day-to-day life. Their furious indignation pre-exists whatever target or alleged proximate cause they’re currently directing it toward. This indignation is not a reaction to or a product of any external event or actions. Stacy’s mad because Stacy wants to be mad. That’s her choice and her desire, and nothing the library or the school or anyone else in her community does or does not do will affect that in any way. No librarian or teacher or pastor or neighbor can do anything to make her angry and none of them can do anything to appease or avoid or address her anger. That anger is not caused by them and it cannot be resolved by them.
Stacy Langton’s prior commitment to perpetual indignation leads her to behavior that doesn’t otherwise make any sense. The commitment to indignation sometimes requires one to refuse to see things and sometimes requires one to insist on seeing things that aren’t there, and both of those choices involve forcing yourself to act in ways that come across as irrational and unintelligent. My guess, then, is that Stacy isn’t as dim and obtuse as she’s pretending to be here — that she’s playing dumb more than she’s actually being dumb. This allows her to nurture and defend her beloved indignation despite logic and facts that would otherwise threaten it.
Longtime readers may expect me to pivot here to a discussion of Satanic baby-killerism or of the self-flattering imaginary IndigNation of the persecuted hegemons. Those are the frameworks I’ve used so often here to discuss people like Stacy Langton that I’ve got “Tags” on this blog indexing dozens of posts on those topics.
But I also work in retail. Everyone who works in retail (or in restaurants) is familiar with people like Stacy. We have all had to deal with a lot of people like that: People who are angry because they want to be angry and who only get more angry if anyone tries to address any of the nominal alleged causes of their anger. Every clerk and cashier and waitress anywhere recognizes someone like that and has learned that this willful indignation has nothing to do with them. It wasn’t caused by anything you did and it can’t be resolved by anything you do.
All of these retail and restaurant workers have also developed a host of skills and strategies for dealing with people like that. I’d like to explore that further, because I think some of those skills and strategies might also be useful in reclaiming American religion and politics from the foolishly indignant Stacys we’ve increasingly allowed to control them.
But like I said, I work in retail. And it’s December. And I’m really, really tired. And so, right now, the best I can muster is to roll my eyes and say, “Did you see that lady screaming at the library?” And you can go, like, “Oh, geez, her.” And then I’ll be, like, “I know, right?”
* When I first switched over to the day side at the Big Box after five years of overnights, the store manager back then asked me how I liked working with customers.
“It’s better than I thought,” I told him. “Most of them are nice. Like, 99% of them are really cool.”
“Do you know how many people come through this store every day?” the boss asked. I shrugged. “About 2,000. About 2,000 people every day.”
“So,” I said, “one percent of 2,000 is 20.”
The manager smiled. “One thousand, nine hundred and eighty really cool people every day. And 20 @%#$s. Sounds about right.”
And ever since, that’s what I tell myself whenever I encounter a customer who falls into that 1% — “One down, 19 to go.”