Precious anger

Dan Dick has two posts this week about the ways that we revel in our indignation and anger. For some of us, anger is a right. It is something we claim is always justified and we defend as if it were a part of our body.

Have you noticed the mammoth chip some United Methodists have on their shoulder?  Just mentioning it makes some people mad.  I’ve received eight nasty emails since yesterday, when I posted the not-too-profound concept that anger is a choice and that no one else can offend us; we can merely choose to be offended (Loser’s Choice).  Obviously, indignation is viewed as a right or a spiritual gift and not something we control.  I can’t even reprint some of what has been written because it uses language not appropriate and it is in the form of personal attack.  It actually gives me a chance to practice what I preach.

I am reminded of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings who fell in love with the very thing that poisoned his soul. He would die rather than part with it. And yet it was destroying him from the inside out.

The great challenge of this is that any attempt to lead people away from their precious anger is understood as an attack. It is experienced as an attempt to destroy the thing that gives meaning to their lives. I have no idea how to deal with such things.

Instead, I find myself thrown back on Scripture.

18 thoughts on “Precious anger

  1. One of my books for class had a section on anger explaining, in a way I hadn’t previously understood, that anger gives us something we like (there are reasons it counterinuitively feels good to be angry) but we have to help congregants see that they are making a choice and it is poisoning their souls.

    1. Of course there is room for God’s righteous anger.

      I’m not clear on the Scriptural argument in favor of human anger. One verse in Ephesians gets raised, but this is a fairly thin reed to justify what we do with each other and to each other.

  2. I think that there *is* a place for righteous anger, but I also think that this concept is often used as a justification for bullying the bully. I think that truly righteous anger is more interested in making certain that future abuse does not happen and in putting things right for the victim.

    But there is greater worldly satisfaction in hurting the perpetrator and ignoring the victim’s hurt. Hurting the perpetrator gets our endorphins going and gives us a rush of satisfaction. Getting into the hurt and the mess with the victim is hard work and I know I can’t do it for very long. I think this is why we often confuse punishment with justice and think that healing the victim is lame and wishy-washy.

    1. What is that place where righteous anger is called for?

      We get angry. I do not argue that. How do anger and love co-exist?

      1. Thinking out loud. Righteous anger is not rage. It may make a cool decision for tempered punishment, but it does not take vengeance in the heat of passionate anger. When is it called for? When someone is raped, abused or murdered and/or when custom or law conspire to allow for such actions. When injustice is institutionalized and blessed. When the victim is blamed and the one who harms applauded. To name just a few scenarios. As I say, thinking out loud.

  3. @Pam, thanks for thinking out loud.

    I see in all those instances the clear call for God’s righteous anger, but I wonder if we are called to something else. We likely feel anger. But isn’t that a temptation to act in ways that violate the law of love?

    I’m not saying a Christian should turn their back on things that stir up the wrath of God. In the face of institutional injustice, we stand as the children of Israel did before the Babylonian king. You can throw us in the fire, king, but we won’t renounce God.

    You can beat us and put us in prison. You can take away our jobs and our homes. But we won’t participate in your injustice.

    I’m trying to distinguish between the feeling of anger and angry words and deeds. One we may not be able to avoid. The other I think we are called to set aside.

  4. “I’m trying to distinguish between the feeling of anger and angry words and deeds. One we may not be able to avoid. The other I think we are called to set aside.”

    I totally agree. That’s the distinction I’m trying to make too. We have control over how we respond; we can’t always control our feelings. Yet I think that God gave us feelings for a reason; and we have free will in how we deal with them. If we felt cool, calm and collected whilst a child was being abused, I wonder what the world would be like? I don’t know. But it strikes me as incongruous.

  5. A Prayer from Stanley Hauerwas: Dear Lord, I am filled with anger born of frustration. I confess I know not whether all my anger is of you. I just know I am filled with hope, which makes me angry that others are not so filled. Take away the self-aggrandizing righteousness that so often accompanies such anger, but please do not rob me of the anger. It is energy. Make it to be of service. Help me pass it on. We are taught by the world to fear anger. Yet we know that you are a just judge, angry because we are not justly angry. We want you to be like us–get along by going along. You will not play that game. You expect your church to be faithful–yes, angry. Make us a people with dark brows capable of scaring a few folk. May they look at us and say, “Those guys are so filled with love their anger overflows.” Amen.

    1. Thank you for sharing this, Michael.

      Anger as energy, I see. A couple of centuries ago we might have called that zeal. Being an English major, I get quite caught up in words and their meanings. Hauerwas’ prayer touches on much that I am working to sort out.

      1. Another Hauerwas quote that goes a bit like this:

        “I’m a pacifist because I am a violent son-of-a-bitch.”

        In other words, he chooses the way of peace because he knows that his natural inclination is to bring harm upon those who offend him.

  6. The American Psychological Association defines anger this way:

    Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.

    I notice in the definition the emphasis on feeling wronged by another person. It is personal. I don’t know what the APA calls the kinds of emotion that Pam and I have been writing about – emotion caused when injustice is done or harm is inflicted on an innocent person. But at least this definition would not call that anger.

    I’m not sure what the word is, but I think the distinction we have been discussing is over the cause of our emotions. Is it personal or is it inspired by the plight of others?

  7. My dictionary defines anger as “a strong feeling of displeasure and belligerence aroused by a real or supposed wrong”.
    Anger can be a powerful motivator. If aroused against injustice or on behalf of innocent victims is it wrong? I would say no. It isn’t. Anger at another person? Maybe. But what if that other person is slaughtering innocent people. Lots of fodder for discussion here. I reject your supposition that anger is always a self destructing force.

    1. Let’s parse this a bit more, then. I’m certainly prepared to come to the conclusion that there is good and bad anger. I just need some help in understanding the difference given the habit we creatures have of confusing the two.

      Here is what Paul says in Galatians 5 (NIV):

      19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

      22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

      Some forms of “anger” fall in here – fits of rage, discord. Some do not.

      We seem to be searching for a kind of positive anger that is motivated by devotion to what is God-loved and good. I’m not sure exactly how to name that, but it seems to me that part of the issue is that this kind of anger is not about our own pain or wounds.

      1. I think most people can recognize the kind of anger that motivates people to right a wrong as opposed to anger that leads to something like road rage. Not sure we need a new word or phrase.

        1. Ah, now I see the crux of our disagreement.

          I’m not at all convinced that most of us do discern the difference between righteous anger and just plain old anger. (If such a difference exists, which I am open to but not persuaded of.)

          I see we are at an impasse, Kevin. But thank you for the conversation.

        2. I would argue then, that to right a wrong out of anger often (if not always) involves coercion. Coercion, I believe, has no place in the fruit fo the Spirit.

          Thinking out loud: Is it coercion, then, to impede an act where one party harms another? In other words, can one reduce a harmful intention and action to a neutral outcome? The would stand in contrast to retaliation or preemptive measures.

          Would civil disobedience, then, be the only fruitful means of reacting in righteous anger?

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