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Friday, July 13, 2012

Anger: The Misunderstood Virtue

I recently listened to a CD on anger by a Catholic deacon who is also a psychiatrist, or perhaps a psychologist, I don't recall which now. I found his presentation confusing and, while much was worthwhile, I disagreed with some of the points he made. He never defined his terms well. He seemed to lump all anger under the umbrella of sinful anger. He seemed to define righteous anger (he never used the term) as "indignation." And, in fact, condemned a pro-life pamphlet justifying anger against abortion which, frankly, aroused my indignation. I thought his comments were unjust and off-target and that the pro-life group was describing righteous anger that leads to action against the evil of abortion.

When I think of the murder of unborn children, indignation just doesn't cut it. Is slicing and dicing babies not a cause for anger if anything is? What arouses me to the desire to fight that injustice is hatred of its evil and anger over the murder of the innocent. Yes, anger is exactly what we should experience over such an evil and that anger should spur us to do something about it!

Leon Podles, in an article titled Unhappy Fault, talks about the "deformation" of our age. Here's a bit from the article that expresses better than I why anger can be a virtue:
The emotions that are now suppressed are hatred and anger. Christians think that they ought not to feel these emotions, that it is un-Christian to feel them. They secretly suspect that Jesus was being un-Christian in his attitude to the scribes and Pharisees when he was angry at them, that he was un-Christian when he drove the moneychangers out of the temple or declared that millstones (not vacations in treatment centers) were the way to treat child abusers.

Conrad Baars noticed this emotional deformation in the clergy in the mid-twentieth century. He recognized that there had been distortions in “traditional” Catholic spirituality. It had become too focused upon individual acts rather than on growth in virtue; it had emphasized sheer naked strength of will. In forgetting that growth in virtue was the goal of the Christian’s moral life, it forgot that the emotions, all emotions, including anger and hate, are part of human nature and must be integrated into a virtuous life.
Baars had been imprisoned by the Nazis. He knew iniquity firsthand and that there was something wrong with those who did not hate it:
A little reflection will make it clear that there is a big difference between the person who knows solely that something is evil and ought to be opposed, and the one who in addition also feels hate for that evil, is angry that it is corrupting or harming his fellow-men, and feels aroused to combat it courageously and vigorously.
Wrath is a necessary and positive part of human nature: “Wrath is the strength to attack the repugnant; the power of anger is actually the power of resistance in the soul,” wrote Josef Pieper. The lack of wrath against injustice, he continued, is a deficiency: “One who does good with passion is more praiseworthy than one who is ‘not entirely’ afire for the good, even to the forces of the sensual realm.”
Aquinas, too, says that “lack of the passion of anger is also a vice” because a man who truly and forcefully rejects evil will be angry at it. The lack of anger makes the movement of the will against evil “lacking or weak.” He quotes John Chrysostom: “He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices, it fosters negligence, and incites not only the wicked but the good to do wrong.”
Fulton Sheen implied the same thing when he said our society needs more intolerance, that the great fault of our age was tolerance of everything, especially the immoral. We are the "I'm okay, you're okay" culture no matter how un-okay things really are. Is it really okay to rip babies limb from limb? Is it really okay to teach kindergarteners how to masturbate? Is it really okay to give adolescent girls the pill and describe "outercourse" to teens so they can fornicate freely without pregnancy? Is it really okay for sexual predators to take underage girls to abortion mills to get them cleaned out so they can be re-abused?

How many bishops should have been angry at the abuse of children, especially young boys by their homosexuals priests? How could a pastor walk in on his parochial vicar raping a child and turn around and walk out of the room? (Yes, that happened and Podles describes it in his book, Sacrilege.)

If you aren't angry about these societal evils, reread St. John Chrysostom above, "He who is not angry, whereas he has cause to be, sins. For unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices." Righteous anger gives people the energy to fight evil. It's a virtue during combat, one that probably stimulated David to run toward Goliath with his sling swinging. So don't fear anger when it arises from a just cause. Channel it into the energy to do something about correcting the evil you've encountered. Avoid unrighteous anger, but be confident that you are imitating Christ when zeal for God's house, especially the little houses holding the souls of unborn children, consume you!


Anonymous said...

I don't know what kind of an "Ignatian Retreat" you are on, but when I do my annual retreat at the Jesuit retreat house I am not allowed to connect to the internet much less post. I think you would do better for these five days to focus on your spiritual excercises

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

Ah the beauty of technology. Perhaps I confused more folks than you so I'll clarify.

I did NOT post during my Ignatian retreat. I had no technology with me including a cell phone. I saw no emails, got no phone calls, saw no TV and wasn't on the internet. What I DID do was schedule several posts to go up while I was gone.

Everything posted in the last five days was written before I left and scheduled to go up while I was gone. So please don't be too hard on me. I did not violate the rules of the retreat and the silence was absolutely wonderful!

Restore-DC-Catholicism said...

I think something that's related is an unfortunate tendency of some pro-life people to hold the usage of graphic abortion pictures in disdain because they're "not nice" or they upset people. The murder of babies should arouse anger and upset - maybe then folks will get off their rumps and actually do something to end this holocaust.

I hope your retreat was refreshing!

Mary Ann Kreitzer said...

By the way, Anonymous, -- you missed the blog post where I announced what I was doing. Here it is -- and thank you for your concern over my spiritual life. I hope you'll pray for me.

Kathleen said...

Thank You for this post. I have been motivated by anger to do many good things in my life. I hope your retreat went well.