“Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are Anger and Courage; anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” — attributed to St. Augustine
Josh Barkey recently highlighted an intriguing quote from Bertrand Russell, warning readers to be suspicious of anger:
If an opinion contrary to your own makes you angry, that is a sign that you are subconsciously aware of having no good reason for thinking as you do. If some one maintains that two and two are five, or that Iceland is on the equator, you feel pity rather than anger, unless you know so little of arithmetic or geography that his opinion shakes your own contrary conviction. … So whenever you find yourself getting angry about a difference of opinion, be on your guard; you will probably find, on examination, that your belief is going beyond what the evidence warrants.
I think Russell is correct here about anger “about a difference of opinion.” Such anger may, indeed, be a sign of some subconscious irrationality.
But most anger is not caused by or directed at “an opinion contrary to your own.” Most anger is a response to and a response against something less abstract and more tangible, actual and factual: Injustice, oppression, harm, cruelty, pain, deprivation, suffering, want, intimidation, bullying, tyranny, evil.
In response to and response against such harms, anger is not irrational, it is obligatory. It is precisely “what the evidence warrants.”
When confronted with injustice, cruelty and harm, a lack of anger “is a sign that you are subconsciously” failing to love those who are suffering from that injustice, cruelty and harm. If you love them, then you ought to be angry — and that anger ought to compel you to act on their behalf.
Let me be clear, I’m not talking about anger as an emotion. This isn’t about how we feel, but about whether or not we respond.
And again, we’re not talking about responding to “opinions contrary to our own,” but about responding to actions that do real harm. Or responding to words that empower and enable and provoke actions that do real harm. Such words and actions should make us angry. And that anger should cause us to act in response to those harmful actions, or to speak up against those hurtful words.
That doesn’t mean we must act or speak angrily, or that we must act or speak in anger. “In your anger, sin not.” But if we fail to act or to speak, then we are failing to love. That failure may be due to apathy, or to fear, or to a host of other reasons, but sometimes it is due to our corresponding failure to get angry.
Say you see somebody hurting your kids — deliberately, cruelly inflicting harm on them. That will make you angry. Such anger is right and proper and just. You will be angry because you love your kids, and that anger and that love will compel you to act on their behalf — to stop this cruel somebody from harming them.
Now, if you saw this happening and you did not get angry or try to put a stop to this cruelty, what do you suppose the rest of us would think? We wouldn’t be congratulating you on your saintly calm demeanor. Nor would we be admiring you as an exemplar of Christian civility.
No, we would be angry with you over your lack of anger. Then, after we acted in your stead to stop the harm being done to your kids, that anger would compel us to confront you with your evident lack of love for your own children.
None of this changes when the victims of this cruel, deliberate harm are someone other than your blood relations.
I bring all this up, of course, because yesterday’s posts here were a bit on the angry side. If my comments on Bryan Fischer or Douglas Wilson came across as angry, that’s because I am angry. Furious, actually. Livid.
These men are saying hateful, harmful things. Yes, in a sense, they are expressing “opinions contrary to my own,” but that is not all they are doing, and those differences of opinion are not the problem here.
The problem is not that Bryan Fischer and I have a difference of opinion over whether or not gay men deserve to die. The problem is that Bryan Fischer says that gay men deserve to die, that his saying this is hurtful and harmful, that his full time job consists of convincing others to believe and to say such hurtful and harmful things, and, most importantly, that he’s a blaspheming lobbyist for an influential political faction shaping policy such that it will tangibly, actually and physically harm, injure, oppress, deprive, disenfranchise, discriminate against and terrorize LGBT people.
Bryan Fischer is doing harm. He’s hurting people. He has victims — real, actual victims.
That ought to make us angry. And that anger ought to compel us to act and to speak up on behalf of those he is harming. If it doesn’t — if we do not get angry and therefore act — we dare not make any claim to love those victims. If Bryan Fischer’s words and political actions do not make us angry, then the best we can say for ourselves is that we hate his victims marginally less than he does.