We live in a culture that tends to treat anger as a taboo. One common tactic to unsettle an opponent is to accuse them of being angry. It is amazing how easily humiliated and defensive one can make an opponent by using this tactic. Yes, it is amazing how quickly the one accused of “anger” will be thrown off his game and feel the need to resort to denials or euphemisms such as:
1. I am NOT angry! (which is usually said angrily and is usually a lie).
2. I am not angry, I am just frustrated! (But frustration is a euphemism for anger, yet, as a euphemism it somehow feels less humiliating).
3. I am not angry…You’re the one who is angry! (and thus the terrible charge of anger must be denied and shoved back, instead of owned and appreciated as an energy or passion for what matters).
4. Of course I’m angry, but who would not be angry when talking with an idiot! (And thus the charge is only tacitly or partially accepted since its cause is purely extraneous).
Rare indeed in the American setting is someone who will respond in a way that both admits anger and owns it as something positive and important, perhaps by saying: “I am angry. And I am angry because I really care about this matter. I am not merely a neutral observer. I fully admit I have an agenda, an agenda I passionately believe in, and I experience grief and anger when what I value is dis-valued. Yes, I am angry, and I care about this.”
Of itself anger is just a passion, an energy that is stirred forth when we sense that something is wrong. Sensing what is wrong or threatening, our anger is stirred, energizing us for action, whether mental, physical or both. The body is actually involved as adrenaline is released.
The Bible does condemn vengeful anger but also teaches of anger that is not sinful: Be angry, but sin not (Eph 4:26). The sinless Jesus also exhibits a lot of anger (e.g. Luke 11; Mark 10; Matthew 17:17; Matthew 21:15; Matthew 26:8; Mark 10:14; Mark 14:4 John 2, John 8, inter al) and indignation modelling that anger is sometimes the appropriate response.
Yet somehow we are stymied and easily felled by the charge that we are angry. We tend to live in egotistically soft, thin-skinned times. The pervasive relativism seems to require that if we are going to believe in something we ought not hold it too strongly, because then we might have an “agenda” and actually let slip that we think there is a truth to be upheld and insisted upon. And, according to modern “rules” having an “agenda” i.e. thinking certain things are surely true, is Wrong, with a capital “W.” Perhaps too there is the over-appropriation of tolerance, an necessary component in a pluralistic setting, but not an absolute virtue.
Whatever the causes, anger, an ordinary and necessary human passion, is humiliating to most modern westerners. And to be accused of being angry is something most try quickly to squirm out of.
And yet I will say plainly, we need more of it. I do not speak of a mere fisticuffs rooted in violent outburst or of the simple ugliness and persoanl disrespect evident on blogs and issued from the anonymous safety behind the computer screen. But rather, I speak of an anger rooted in love and a deep commitment to the truth, an anger that emerges because we see the harm caused by lies, deception, error, sin and injustice.
Lovers fight, lovers get angry, and well they should, for when love is in the mix, things matter, truth matters, error and harm matter. Lovers want what is best, not merely expedient or convenient.
Author Dale Ahlquist, says a lot of this better than I can. Writing in his recent book, The Complete Thinker where he synthesizes the thought of G.K. Chesterton Ahlquist says:
Chesterton illustrates the point about “the twin elements of loving and fighting”…..Modern philosophies have tried to do away with this paradox…But fighting and loving actually go together. You cannot love a thing without wanting to fight for it….To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all…
The connection between two such apparent opposites points to the idea that truth is always an amazing balancing act….If we lean too far in one direction or the other, we lose our balance. Thus, both militarism and pacificism represent a loss of balance.
Militarism is simply bullyism, the strong having their own way. Pacifism is a lack of loyalty, a promise not to defend the innocent, the helpless, the defenseless.
The Church has always had to maintain the precarious balance of truth, whether in war or in anything else….
Sometimes the only way to stop the fighting is to fight. Sometimes the only way to end a war is to win it—but only as an act of defense, not as an act of aggression…..
The sword is an important symbol of Christianity. It is not only in the shape of a cross; it is the scriptural symbol of truth, which cuts both ways—because error comes from opposite sides.
Chesterton also says he likes swords because “they come to a point”, unlike most modern art and philosophy.
Yes, lovers fight, lovers get angry. And the anger of the Greatest Lover of them all, God, is evident in the downward thrust of the cross into the soil of this world and its manifold lies and half truths. The cross is the downward thrust, like a sword, of God’s non placet to the rebellion and error this world holds so arrogantly.
And yet, that downward thrust is also open in love as seen in the outward arms of cross, the outstretched arms of Christ. At the very center of the cross where anger and love unite is the heart of Christ.
Yes, love and anger are closer than we moderns will often admit or fathom. Love says there are certain things worth fighting for and being angry about. But its anger is not egocentric, it is other-centric, focused on God, the truth and the dignity of those who are meant to walk in truth. Ahlquist says, in loving our enemies, we want to convert them so they are not our enemies anymore. Ultimately, we want to get our enemies to join our side.
And thus, some things are worth fighting for and about. Ahlquist continues:
No sane man has ever held, that war is a good thing….But the… occasion may arise when it is better for a man to fight than to surrender….War is not the direst calamity that can befall a people. There is one worse state, at least: the state of slavery.
While a good peace is better than a good war, even a good war is better than a bad peace.
[And thus the] Church on earth is called the Church Militant. War is a metaphor, and it would not work as a metaphor if it were not a reality, a reality that we have to live with.
This life of ours is a very enjoyable fight, but a very miserable truce.”
And that last line is a very telling description of the modern age: a miserable truce. Everyone is walking on eggs, afraid to offend and suppressing the truth on account of this fear. And thus our anger gets suppressed, renamed, and turned inward. Some has said that the definition of depression is “anger turned inward.” Not a bad diagnosis of a time like this when vast percentages of us are on anti-depressants and other psychotropic medicines to manage the “miserable truce” that is the false peace of these times; a peace rooted not in truth, but in the compelled silence of PC, euphemisms and thinly veiled politeness.
Perhaps too that is why such ugliness erupts from time to time, especially in more anonymous settings like blog com-boxes where we, who have forgotten how to have a good argument in person, or how to manage and appreciate our anger in normal ways, act so ugly and engage in sometimes savage and unkind personal attacks.
This sort or anger, often evident in political settings as well, is not about truth or love, it is about scoring, it is about winning with little regard to truth or love. But the Church militant without love is not the Church.
At the end of the day, though, anger has its place in the context of love, and decent fights are necessary for those who love. Without a proper appreciation for these, we end up with the gray fog of a “miserable truce” that is the modern West.
Just for Fun: