"Shake It Off" and the Impenetrable Wall of the Swiftian Worldview

My name is Chris. I am a thirty-one year old male; a father of two. And I really like the song "Shake It Off" by Taylor Swift.

Good to get that off my chest. Ever since SNL ran that "Swiftamine" parody ad, I've been aware of the fact that, while the erstwhile country star is crazy popular, we as a society have agreed that there is something off about liking her music. She is like the anti-Beyonce (By the way, I'm completely lukewarm about Beyonce. Feel free to send your hate email).

I am not going to say that I start dancing when "Shake It Off" comes on. Nor have I downloaded the song. But whenever it comes on the radio, a small smile creeps across my face. I slap the steering wheel in time with the claps that lead into the chorus. The song is a catchy as all get out earworm and the lyrics are a gift that keeps on giving. The bakers gonna bake, bake, bake, bake, bake and so on. And for the most part, the message is a pretty good one. Sometimes we need to be reminded to just shake it off.

Yet when the chorus got stuck in my head for the millionth time this morning, I got to thinking about the attitude behind the "haters gonna hate" worldview. Of course, Swift didn't originate this saying. She has just popularized it to the point that your Aunt Sally is going to drop the phrase sometime during Thanksgiving dinner.

"Haters gonna hate" is a defense mechanism. When people try to tear us down or do something we don't like, then we just write them off. As "Shake It Off" demonstrates--with its fakers faking and heartbreakers breaking--the saying is endlessly adaptable too.

For example, I read a news report in which Southern Seminary president Al Mohler said that if the Binding of Isaac story in Genesis is a parable or a fictional story passed on then it is immoral. But if God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son happened as it is literally presented in the text (which is his foundational worldview on which the gospel hinges) then it is good news and we are saved. It drove me nuts because it was such an obviously paradoxical statement and not even one in one of those ways that allows for mystery. Then I just said to myself what I have been saying for several years: "Mohler gonna mole" (mole as in bury his head in his worldview when anything that challenges it comes his way).

And that's not fair. Mohler has studied scripture and has his sincere reasons for what he said. I may disagree with his worldview, but that does not give me the right to dismiss his as some two-dimensional caricature. It is a wrong action on my part. It violates the whole notion of the Golden Rule (I would be furious if I were written off like that) and the mandate to love our neighbors. 

Plus "haters gonna hate" ethos renders dialogue and cooperation across lines of disagreement virtually impossible. Look at politics. Republicans and Democrats have convinced themselves and their constituents that the other side is a bunch of cartoons who are just gonna do what they are (and there are definitely some that behave cartoon-like out there). When you can so easily dismiss the other side, then it is easy for you to completely dismiss even reasonable and good ideas. It is easy because you are not seeing a person but your cardboard-cutout enemy. Cooperate to get some good done? Ha! Shake that sucker off.

That attitude is super problematic in a diverse world where disagreements are more common but organizations keep insisting on philosophical purity. I recently had a conversation with someone who said that there was no way that she could work with a church that supported gay marriage. No way at all. Even if they were just feeding homeless people in their neighborhood.

So as not to "haters gonna hate" her, I am sure she has her sincere reasons for that viewpoint. But she is closing herself off behind a wall. It is keeping her from learning from others and, more importantly in this hypothetical scenario, preventing her from helping people who may be in need. If you can't work together with people that disagree with you, then you are going to find yourself living life in an increasingly lonely fortress.

Such an attitude also renders those on the other side as incapable of any kind of growth or redemption. As someone who hangs his hat on a faith that centers on the redemption of messed up people, I can't subscribe to such an idea. By working with people that disagree with us, perhaps they may grow in healthy ways. And by working with others, we can grow too. After all, our perceived haters are not the only ones that need to mature.

So shake it off? Absolutely, do your best to shake off those that seek to tear you down. Don't give your time to people that seek to hurt or demean you? Yes. Totally. But "haters gonna hate"? Maybe we shouldn't go quite that far. It closes us off. Plus, People are far more complicated and more capable of growth than that.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake.

(That's not true at all. I'm going to see if I have sandwich stuff for lunch.)

Concerning Throwing People Out the Window

Kyrie Eleison