When angry opinion meets elegant articulation, our culture celebrates. Brilliant put-downs, abusive comments, and eloquent backhands titillate us, though we still manage to maintain the “I’m a good person” illusion while we scan the latest smart-mouth essay. My questions are these: do we recognize it for what it is? And do we handle it rightly?
The invective industry is massive. Every major newspaper and magazine and news channel has their opinionated curmudgeon, complaining about whatever they happened to stub their toe on that week. Maureen Dowd and Ann Coulter, Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs all represent a wide variety on the political spectrum, but a startlingly narrow corner of human interaction. Their strength and influence flow from their ability to be perpetually angry, combined with a talent for turning a phrase or exposing an inconsistency.
Not surprisingly, the popularity of angry yet well-worded opinions is nothing new. In 1935, Sir Desmond MacCarthy wrote a short essay entitled simply, “Invective.” In three simple paragraphs, he highlights some interesting things.
1. Invective is usually done for the pleasure of the angry more than any real desire for change. If you are conservative, have you been eagerly reading Maureen Dowd to gain insight on how you should live? If you are liberal, is Rush Limbaugh saved in your top 5 radio stations? Not likely. They do what they do for the sake of those who already agree, not for those who do not.
2. Producers of invective must sustain widespread annoyance, and so consistently generalize the truth to produce a particular effect. Try comparing essays from conservative and liberal essayists on the same topic (for instance, is Tom Dashle qualified to be HHS Secretary?). You’ll find no healthy interaction on agreed-upon terms; instead, you’ll see them stretch and over- or under-emphasize the value of particular facts for the sake of their agenda.
3. Producers of invective sacrifice spiritual honesty to excel in their craft.
To “get into character” of being angry at everything, they must convince themselves that their reasons for anger are legitimate. This forces them to gloss over their REAL reasons for their annoyance toward something – and these reasons often include envy, childhood hurts, perceived slights, a desperate need for validation, a lack of confidence, or the sting of other negative personal experiences.
4. Invective tends to make opposition feel comfortable with extremism. After all, if liberals are constantly mad at the things you (as a conservative) say, you must be doing something right! As a result, the angrier their denunciations, the more happy you feel about your decisions, even if they truly are the wrong ones. Christians need to be especially careful here. How easily we say, “The world will hate us, so the fact that my coworkers hate how I tell them they are going to hell is a good thing! I’m doing something right if I have no non-Christian friends!”
These insights present a strong challenge. The fact is, we don’t just see, acknowledge or listen to unconstructive invective; we participate. We become more and more angry as we spend our time with people who agree with us, and become more extreme in our criticisms of “them.” We focus all our online reading on the magazines and newspapers and opinion writers who are the sharpest at turning a phrase that supports what we already believe. We allow anger and even hatred to build in our hearts against anyone whose understanding of citizenship differs from our holy opinions.
And, heaven help us, we blog.
We blog about the candidates we dislike, the theological perspectives we dislike, the people we dislike. We border on hatred for Hollywood executives, liberals or conservatives in the media, or mainline denominations. When someone we used to agree with has a change of heart, we reject them. When someone we used to disagree with begins to agree with our perspective, we act as if it is an absolute validation of our personal perspective. We use the flexibility of words to make the things we dislike seem more disagreeable than the boring truth. In short, we are hateful and destructive liars, patting ourselves on the back for our helpful and constructive protection of the Truth as communicated by Us.
As Christians, we need to come to terms with this problem. We need to repent of our cruelty, and live wisely. We need to speak the truth in all its nuance and subtlety. We need to appreciate the intentions of the Other, and show charity for their goals and dreams and desires even when they differ from our own. And some days, we need to delete an angry blog post or end a snotty conversation… and walk away.
The Gospel is complete and sufficient in itself. It does not need our anger, lies, or manipulation of the truth to be spoken clearly. Let us live as those whose faith is in God above kings, Christ above politics, and Scripture above invective.