The Roots of Rage

This summer in America has erupted in racially charged protests about the verdict on the killing of Trayvon Martin. Yesterday I posted this video of an atheist who went berserk with rage. I’ve commented earlier about the irrational rage which seems to be simmering just below the surface in our country, and wrote here about my own feelings of trepidation in the face of this irrational rage.

What is the root of this rage?

Some would say it the roots are in historic and present day racial tension. An underclass harbors resentment because of prejudice and racism. Surely that is a contributing factor, but there are plenty of members of racial minorities who do not harbor such rage. Others might argue that the rage stems from sexual discrimination or economic inequality. Again, these are probably factors, but that can’t be the only answer because there are plenty of women and homosexuals who do not harbor the rage, and plenty of poor people who are not brimming with fury.

I believe there are other, deeper factors at play. In my book Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing I explore the roots of our emotions and suggest that our adult emotions are rooted in the earliest experiences of our lives. Here’s an example: I was once asked to help a fifteen year old boy who had suddenly become irrationally angry and rebellious. He had been a sweet looking kid, sang in the church choir and had been delightful. At fifteen he became a “Goth”. Black hair, black leathers, eye make up…the works. He also started stealing cars. We asked him why he did so. He didn’t know. We asked if he knew that he would go to jail. He did, but didn’t care. He was in a tailspin, and there was no rational explanation. He said he was mad at his Mom and Dad and found external reasons, but they were all groundless.

In an attempt to discover the roots of his rage we asked him mother about his early years. She said he was adopted, and that he was conceived in the back seat of a car when his mother was fifteen. She carried him for nine months in an attitude of rage, frustration, rebellion and hatred. The other priest I was working with realized that in some strange way the boy was acting out not just his own rage, but the rage and rebellion of his mother. He was working through and acting out (according to the priest’s theory) the disturbing circumstances that lay at the very foundation of his personality.Read More.


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  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    Just out of curiosity: have you considered what lack of love and inherent hermeneutic of suspicion contributed to George Zimmerman’s assumption that the unarmed black kid in a hoodie must have been up to no good and needed to be confronted about it?

  • frdlongenecker

    Are you assuming that I am taking Zimmerman’s side in this? I’m not. My post was written carefully (I thought) to suggest that all of us are ensnared in this broken-ness. Zimmerman–and Martin–and me–and you.

  • David Zelenka

    Ug…the pictures you choose!

    Honestly, I think there is a ‘collectivity’ issue here. I’m thinking of the Goth behavior and other strange teenage behavior (as well as strange adult/tribal behavior). The groups that form in teenage world and those who become a part of them may have something to do with demons who live among collective groups and less to do with a particular history of an individual. And drugs play a huge role there. These strange groups develop out of drugs and sexual behavior whether or not the individuals involved participate in those behaviors also. Drugs allow demons in. Call it addiction in the modern era, if you’d like.

    I do understand it’s not that simple.

  • EdwardHu

    Looking forward to a day when we can communicate sincerely, without having to shoe horn the word “hermeneutic” into our stray thoughts.

  • Dan C

    Community is very very difficult. Long term commitments that are required to build bonds are very difficult.

    A term used to bind individuals to community in Benedictine terms is “stability.” with that comes trust and willingness to be dependent and dependable on others.

    I see none of that promoted for decades. I see a loss of community and a loss of those bindings as a primary problem.

    I find indulgence in “wrath” as a central vice. It feels good for people to rage. It is harder to submit.

    I find fear promoted wholesale, with entire entertainment industries dedicated to its proclamation.

    I have few bindings to my conservative brethren, brethren who openly fear me, have in the past year clearly indicated that my instincts for gun control are in some way diabolical and

    I have practiced community and have avoided fear and the way out is love, but it also takes trust, dependence, and a willingness to be vulnerable, physically so. As such, liberal social workers who unarmed and fearlessly walk through inner city housing projects snd ghettos routinely unarmed know more about the communion of community than conservatives. This is a problem.

  • Howard

    We can leave it out, but only if we use both “exegesis” and “aggiornamento”. ;-)

    Actually, I agree. It’s a pompous word that should be avoided in most cases. It gets used in blog postings the same way “neutrino” was used in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

  • Howard

    People today will riot at the drop of a hat. Perhaps literally. Decades ago, riots tended to be (1) sparked by some incident that is perceived as an outrage and (2) directed towards targets that were somehow associated with that outrage. Today, a city might riot and loot “because” THEIR OWN TEAM just won a sports championship.

    We are very, very sick as a society. As a nation, we were conceived in the back seat of the British Empire, the result of a one-night stand between Enlightenment Freemasonry and Protestantism.

  • AmericaPapist

    Perhaps because he was walking in the rain without an umbrella?

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    I would highly recommend Fr L’s book, ‘Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing’.
    You don’t have to be crazy or even feel crazy to benefit from it.
    Let’s say, it’s more a sort of DIY Spiritual Direction rather than ‘therapy’.

  • Paul Rimmer

    You are confronting what is to me a great puzzle. What makes groups of people rage-filled? Why are some groups peaceful and others violent? Religion doubtless plays some role. But it’s more than that. A Westboro Baptist protest is categorically different from the Right to Life march. The spirit is different.

    There have also been many peaceful protests to the outcome of the Zimmerman case. Some have turned violent. What explains the difference?

  • Marian

    Father, thank you for this post. I want to add a thought as well. As an R.N., I teach childbirth classes and coping skills classes in 2 prisons in Ohio. Your statements here are so true. And in the classes when we are on the topics of anger and rage, one of the roots of such emotions that many times goes untouched is unforgiveness. So we go through a “name your pain” exercise where the women take a week to pray and ask God to reveal to them a name or a situation that may come to their mind often or perhaps ones that they’ve buried but is fueling unforgivenes and in turn, their anger. God is the only one who can change a heart As inmates ask Him for His forgiveness personally, then they are able to extend forgiveness to others. Many times this becomes an incredible epiphany for them and the transformation can begin for a life-time task of unlearning these behaviors. It is indeed complicated, as you say. But with God, all things are possible!

  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    It is an odd form of sincere communication that chooses to ridicule word choice rather than discuss the actual idea. (By the way: I was communicating sincerely, but rather than approaching my comment with the charitable assumption that it was sincere, you were immediately suspicious of my motives: the definition of “the hermeneutic of suspicion”.)

    I was sincerely trying to make the point that Fr. Longenecker clarified in his comment below: All of the parties in this case, from Zimmerman to us, have fallen victim of this failure to love — the failure to look at others with the love we owe to fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, choosing instead to look upon them with suspicion, the assumption that they must be up to no good and do not deserve our Christian charity.

  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    I apologize for making the false assumption. Thank you for the clarification, which (finally) reenforces my own recognition of my own brokenness.

  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    My wife frequently does that, because she doesn’t like umbrellas. Is she a criminal?

  • Alex

    “I believe the foundation of the child’s life is therefore one of rage,
    fear, lack of trust and violence. The root of his rage as an adult is at
    the very foundation of his or her personality.” and yes you mentioned about the complexity of this matter, but such conclusion needs more and rigorous studies. However it may not be far from the truth. Solid foundation especially based on love and one that embrace life inevitably bear much fruit in the later years.The above conclusion seem to me possible but not totalizing–despite me not being an expert on such matter. Yet all what you said is much true when it comes to that prayer and God is the only way for healing in any kind of human dysfunction at any level and circumstance. Praise be to the Name of Jesus !

  • cspocalypse

    Father I find that your posts are often tinted with rage and violence (although I’m sure you would say righteous indignation), but you’re onto something profound here. This phenomena has even been verified and supported with a scientific mechanism recently: take a look at epigenetics.


  • ponerology

    Oh boy….here comes the “genetic” explanation. Of course, what else could it be?

  • kamiller42

    Trayvon was armed with fists and drugs in his body. How could Zimmerman know Trayvon was without a gun, x-ray vision? Trayvon thought Zimmerman was unarmed; that’s why he jumped him. Fatal mistake.

    Neighborhood watches are a good thing.

  • Billiamo

    Absolutely. Her arraignment can’t come soon enough. :)

  • kmk1916

    Thanks for your work, Marian!

  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    A young man who wasn’t doing anything wrong is dead — and you say that it is a good thing? Is that what passes for pro-life around here?

  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    To quote our brother in Christ, the Episcopal Bishop of Central Florida, Greg Brewer: “I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night.”

  • AmericaPapist

    I don’t know. Does she have twitter accounts like Travyon where he says he’s gonna shoot that nigga?

  • kamiller42

    He would have jumped you before you could ask. He was influenced by drugs, marijuana and probably “lean.” Don’t forget that Trayvon jumped Zimmerman, not the other way around.

  • kamiller42

    Other than attacking Zimmerman and attempting to beat Zimmerman’s brains in, Trayvon did nothing wrong. Trayvon’s failure was in assuming that “cracka” was an easy target.

  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    This message is for the moderator: why do you tolerate such racist claptrap on these comments? “He would have jumped before you could ask” — sheesh!

  • kamiller42

    Are you saying all blacks behave like Trayvon, aka “He”? That’s racist. Why do you stereotype?

  • Nathaniel M. Campbell

    *You’re* that one who assumed that, if a person had offered Trayvon Martin a ride home out of the rain, Trayvon would have attacked the person who made the offer. What reason do you have to make that assumption?

  • kamiller42

    So Trayvon represents an entire race? Says who? Or, does he and his actions represent himself?

  • kamiller42

    Why? Perhaps you missed the reasons already given. ” He was influenced by drugs, marijuana and probably “lean.” Don’t forget
    that Trayvon jumped Zimmerman, not the other way around.” I judge Trayvon by his character and the first thing that pops into your mind is race. Yet, I’m the racist? It’s like Zimmerman being accused of being a racist when the only person to use racist language that night was Trayvon.

  • Michal Teora

    Rage is an emotion that is destructive. I agree with you Fr. Dwight and the most frightening behavior is having psychiatrist treat the symptoms and not the root of the problem. In this case the root was the rejection, and anger that he felt through his mother’s behavior.