I’ve always loved the movies, and one of the scariest films in recent memory is 28 Days Later, released in 2002. The plot is simple. Animal-rights activists break into an experimental disease lab in Britain. They free a group of innocent test monkeys from their cages. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that the monkeys are infected with a weaponized, fiercely communicable rage virus. The monkeys attack their liberators. The humans immediately catch the virus. They then attack each other and anyone else they can grab. The virus spreads geometrically. It burns through the population like a gasoline fire. A month later, civilization in the United Kingdom has collapsed. The few remaining healthy humans struggle to survive while eluding the infected.
If that story line sounds vaguely similar to the tone of our national discourse over the past 10 months, it should. We’re not yet tearing at each other with our teeth. But the irrational fury on our campuses, in the streets, in our news media, and in our larger political and cultural debates leads inevitably in that direction. When ESPN feels compelled to pull an Asian-American commentator named Robert Lee from covering a University of Virginia football game for his own safety and to avoid offending others, we’re well beyond the realm of the strange and into the surreal.
It’s easy, and warranted, to blame the White House for our current toxic national atmosphere. President Trump, with his baffling manner and lack of self-control, has earned a healthy portion of the blame. But there’s more than enough blame – a lot more than enough – to go around. “Hate has no home here” is an admirable theme for one of today’s most popular lawn sign campaigns. But its message simply isn’t true. Hate does have a home here. It’s welcome and very well-fed in a lot of our hearts, regardless of our political allegiances. And our refusal to admit that is part of the problem.
When an organization like the Southern Poverty Law Center labels a mainstream religious liberty advocate like the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) as a “hate group” it’s simply betraying its own bitter contempt for the people and convictions the ADF defends. So yes, hate has a home here alright: not just among white nationalists, immigrant-haters and neo-Nazis, as loathsome as their ideas are, but also among the “progressive” and educated elites who have the power to insulate themselves from the consequences of their own delusions and bigotries.
The reason the Church names anger as one of the seven “deadly” sins is because it’s simultaneously so poisonous, so delicious, and so addictive. Anger congeals quite comfortably into hatred. In C.S. Lewis’s novel The Great Divorce, the damned cling jealously to their anger (among other sins) because it’s so reassuring; so satisfying and self-justifying. The point is, people easily begin to like being angry. Wrath feels good, especially when the ugliness of the habit can be dressed in a struggle against real or perceived evils.
Christians aren’t the first to notice this terrible truth. The great Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, writing in the First Century A.D., put it this way:
“[Anger] is the most hideous and frenzied of all the emotions. The others have something quiet and placid in them, whereas anger is all excitement and impulse. Raving with a desire that is utterly inhuman for instruments of pain and reparations in blood, careless of itself so long as it harms the other, it rushes onto the very spear points, greedy for vengeance that draws down the avenger with it.”
Anger “is greedy for punishment” and a kind of “brief insanity” as Seneca says elsewhere. It first deforms and then destroys the person and the culture that cultivate it. If that’s true – and it clearly is – America 2017 is urgently in need of a healing. We’re a culture addicted to anger. And we’re relentlessly reinforced in it by mass media that compulsively feed our emotions and starve our reason.
Here’s a final thought from Seneca:
“Human life rests upon kindness and concord; bound together, not by terror but by love reciprocated, it becomes a bond of mutual assistance.”
Those are beautiful words, and true. They’re not far from the deeper truths of the Gospel. But they’re also empty words unless we live them. That will demand from us a holy skepticism about the bad things we hear and see and assume about our perceived enemies. Our “enemies” are people like us, whatever their ideas and identities. And they have a right to our patience, restraint and respect, whatever the cost – just as we have a right to demand the same from them.
It’s not easy work, but it needs to start somewhere. It should start with us.
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You sound more like more like a christian fundamentalist than a Catholic. I think you should listen to jesus not Pat Robertson. BTW ADF=Hate Group.
Thank for your words of wisdom! I recently watched an older movie about world war II entitled Fury about a tank squadron during the war In the film a young soldier could not come to grips with all of the killing and destruction etc. There was a quote which resonated within me. Here it is in a paraphrased form. “Expectations are simple (cheap) history is painful (expensive, costly, etc.). Until we are willing to go through what is necessary to look back historically we will continue as we are!
Dear Archbishop, your opinions on social and political issues are so transparently and consistently slanted to the right. You mantra is boringly the same: “When the LEFT is wrong, it’s wrong; when the RIGHT is wrong, the LEFT must be equally wrong.” Your continuous defense of our indefensible president is laughable-and below your mission as the leader of our local flock. Get a hold of yourself, man!
Anger = Danger. A saying of the ancients, “Were it not for the fear of the law, men would swallow each other alive” lives on. This is even more true in the context of “God’s law” than that of man. God reigns. God’s law reigns. Love lived….triumphs.
Anger clan be good. Anger at taking food from the hungry to buy more bombs. Anger at taking heath care from the sick to give tax breaks to the ultra weathy. Anger at tearing apart homes to appease xenophobia. Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers. Perhaps now if the time for our archbishop to stop his usual politics and just say Trump needs to stop his hatefulness and leave it at that instead of his unusual method of trying to blame progressives for every failure if the Republicans running the country.
It is angering to hear sanctimonious “progressives” and Catholic Church prelates to bring out that old saw of blaming President Trump for the anger in our society, that has been boiling and building for 20 years.
The anger we are experiencing is due to a lack of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the lack of understanding of WHO He is and of His love for us. People go to Holy Mass but do not fully understand what is happening. Often, I have discovered, many of our priests hurry through. It seems like they are rushing to “the next appointment”‘ esp. weekday Mass.
children are not being taught because the parents are not sure how to explain. Sad.
We need to acquaint them with God our Father — how much He wants to communicate with us. We cannot stop our anger, etc. without the realization that the God of the Universe wants to live in us, to share in our hurts and sorrows, to be a part of our lives, to be Present in a moments time. We must start preaching how much He loves us. He cares. We can’t be working from the “outside in”. He is living inside of us. All has to come from the “inside out”
Thank you, Archbishop! An excellent column.
Thank you for the words of wisdom Archbishop – as usual your thoughts are very on point and given with love. Very much appreciated
Anger in and of itself is not wrong. The sin of it stems from what is actually motivating the angered person combined with how they express this anger. I suspect Simon Peter was “angry” when he sliced off that Romans right ear and we KNOW Jesus was angry when he overturned the money changing tables in the Temple. We also know that we are made in God’s image and God gets angry.
Is breaking the law really the best way to express anger?
Thank you for q cogent and gentle essay reminding us that anger is dangerous. When it leads to hate it becomes irrational and loses any connection to love and therewith to Christ.
Today we rarely speak of a common good or see, as you suggest, that those who disagree with us are also struggling to find the truth and understand the world and our place in it.
America is a great experiment in the belief that a people can come together and create a common good and from that common good develop a governmwnt that derives it’s just powers from our consent. Anger destroys that idea for it builds a belief that if you disagree you are an enemy rather than understanding that despite our disagreements we remain beneath it Americans.
What is puzzling is how our anger is so great when the issues confronting us pale in to insignificance when we compare it to the period leading to the Civil War when the question was slavery or freedom. Today it is almost as if our disputes have been whipped up to that frenzied pitch since it is easier to hate than compromise by reasoned discussions about what can be achieved and what is best for the community.
Let us renew our faith in the common good by living as Christ taught us. Let us forgive 7 times 70 so that we may be forgiven lest we accept the temptation to evil that anger leads us to do.