in praise of anger

“Your anger is a gift.” — Zack de la Rocha

In a society which places value in the absence of placing values, there may be no more glaringly obvious value than that we are not ever supposed to be upset about anything, ever. Children act out and are reprimanded, and while there can certainly be cause for reprimand, how many times have we been surprised at the wisdom of a child’s perspective?  How many times have you found yourself so frustrated by a circumstance only to find that the ability to articulate exactly what is wrong has left the premises? (Hat tip to my personal favorite philosopher, Michael Polanyi.)

Anger is a dangerous thing but, then again, so is oxygen, which is why smoking is prohibited in and around hospitals. If pain, qua Lewis, is a megaphone to a hurting world, then anger is an existential megaphone to our inner being, for anger is psychological pain. As pain informs is that something is wrong with the body, so anger informs that things are not right. In a time when we are to be compliant and complicit with our systems of control, we dull our sensitivity to the sense of things being out of sorts. That dulling happens in an endless number of permutations or combinations, even tame or healthy habits can be distorted because we are told that we are not supposed to be angry, much less demonstrate anger.

The truth is that the Leninist frontman of Rage Against the Machine is right: your anger is a gift.

Could it be that the angst a child feels at times may not be just acting out but a prophetic conviction against injustice? Or that the reason we are unable to articulate our reasons for being frustrated is that we are–whether by design or not being left alone–not taught to verbalize and process how we feel? Or that we are so homogenized a culture that the angry person is isolated, like a virus in the body, and neutralized by the antibodies of culture?

The scriptures are filled with examples of people upset with the status quo–the very savior included!–and yet the people of the book tend to be some of the most lemming-like people on the planet, having traded their intellectual capacities for the subcultural lobotomy of church culture. We are told that Jesus is the prince of peace, and yet his actions routinely defy contextual convention, even the very covenant he came to fulfill. We could stand to have a lot fewer Christians, and a lot more Christs. At least Christ’s moral compass wasn’t defiled by the indulgent satisfactions of culturally-religious practices and social mores.

It should also be noted that anger, left unchecked, can implode a person. (side note: duh.) As one cannot live in pain, one cannot live in anger, either. This is manifestly evident in the American political ‘left’: they were so angry for so long that when they won Congress and the White House in 2008, they continued to act as though they were in the minority. Though they continue to hold two of the three legislative extensions of federal government, they still act as though they are the marginalized, when in fact, they could only blame their own inefficacy on their own smoldering, 40-year-old anger. In fairness, given the opportunity this fall, I remain confident that the ‘right’ will not let us down by doing the exact same thing, precisely because the people we elect to office, regardless of persuasions, are complete idiots.

One of the reasons why I remain an ardent supporter of the liberal arts is for the uncanny ability the arts have, in their myriad forms, to allow for self-therapy via articulation. All this emphasis in education on math and science may create good, efficient drones (figuratively, and as we are discovering now, literally) in labs and offices, they ignore the necessity for humans to express themselves. I would go further, as a person committed to classical education, that math and science for math and science’s sake are improper pursuits: without a thorough grounding in logic, grammar and rhetoric, engineers become well-educated morons, unable to function outside of their employ. In my line of work for the man, I deal with examples of this routinely, often many times a day in interacting with the public (as well as colleagues.)

And we wonder why students open fire in schools, disgruntled employees do the same in their workplaces, why the urban core of America is rotting and why churches are completely failing in their fundamental raison d’etre. When we are ill-equipped to deal with the angst that will happen by virtue of participating in life, we will resort to being high-functioning animals, a stomach and genitals society that will treat another person as a threat in the ecosystem, we will collapse into a solipsistic existence of self-gratification, or both. All because we treat anger as the disease and not the symptom. Some might call it be judgmental, and I agree. Judgment is, practically speaking, ethical epistemology: upholding the good (pursuing truth) and also denouncing what is wrong (avoiding falsehood). To focus on one without the other is to ignore the whole.

So go on, be dissatisfied, but don’t indulge dissatisfaction. Work with it, channel it into articulation, communicate what is out of sorts and work toward making it right. This is what it is to operate in the prophetic; what is a word of knowledge if it is not pointing out something that is unjust or out of harmony?

Instead of slapping a smile on top of a smoldering psyche–you aren’t fooling anyone, anyway–perhaps we should actually work out our unhappiness and take the effort to even the scales. Perhaps then we may have earned the right to be happy rather than be content with lying. Make no mistake, there are two kinds of people: the discontented, and liars. If anger is a gift, we should embrace it, for without it, we can never understand what it is to be whole by any definition.

What makes you angry?

3 thoughts on “in praise of anger

  1. Hi Brent, I invite you to review my comment about matthew 5:20-22 in my blog already linked. After some personal comments and a quick review of the origins of the words, I quote one of the common translations of Matthew 5, then note my preference for the word “contempt” as the proper translation in to English of the spirit of that section of Matthew 5.

    Anger is natural, and of course it is also very common in some cultures that anger is suppressed by parents and by others who have the power to simply suppress or punish expressions of anger. It may be adaptive to suppress anger temporarily.

    However, contempt can be a dangerous thing. It can explode suddenly. I suppose that it is somewhat normal to go through a phase of “raging against the machine,” with the teenage rebellion of “F*** you, I won’t do what you told me.” However, that is sin, danger, contempt.

    Sometimes, anger is not required and in order to interrupt some activity or pattern, it is enough to say a firm “no.” For the one wishing to rebel more intensely and break through a barrier (like when being physically restrained), more intense energies like contempt are predictable, perhaps including shouting and screaming and so on.

    We can be forgiving of contempt and anger among others. That is one thing. Another thing completely is being responsible for our own energy and interactive patterns.

    Whatever cultural or religious affiliation someone has, it can be a great relief to relax from terrified contempt all the way to respect. This recent post is about “respecting contempt:”

    This one was the priming of that pump:

    Consider the possible practical value of forgiving the contempt and anger of others. It can bring about a repenting away from blaming them for their anger, resentment toward their contempt, contempt for their irrationality, and so on. Respond to other people’s contempt with respect. When thine accusers identify you as their enemy, love them (empathize with them).

    1. Thanks for the feedback, JR. I appreciate you taking the time to explain yourself out here. (The previous was based on a private request by me for explanation.)

      While your usage of ‘contempt’ serves your cause well, I find it to be a significant departure from the Greek. ‘Anger’ in Matthew 5, like any word anywhere else, cannot be taken on its own merits, rather it is reliant on its context for its meaning. Your etymological work is laudable–would that more people take the time to care about language!–and with myriad resources online, it’s easier than ever to do the work that used to be solely the province of linguists and language dorks like myself (and I think you would include yourself there, as well, based on the admittedly cursory exposure I’ve had to your work.) However, the work here falls prey to the root fallacy, a common exegetical error. By way of a reductio, one could read the Acts 2 account of Pentecost and read ‘tongues of fire’ as literal tongues ablaze, but we know out of hand that these manifestations were not literally detached mouth muscles.

      Similarly, here in Matthew, ‘contempt’ does not fit because of the phrasing in the text: ‘whoever is angry with another without cause’ [loosely translated]. ‘Contempt’ is closer to ‘bitterness’ than ‘anger’ here, as the Greek is closer to ‘enraged’ or ‘provoked’ and then there is the vanity clause which reshapes things considerably, speaking to the nature of the circumstance, as well as the aggrieved. Thus, it can be rightly taken that, 1) one ought not be angry without cause, and 2) one should also not be passive in the face of injustice, thus 3) anger, and even contempt, can be justified when the cause is, um, just. In fact, one of the major themes of the Matthian narrative is Christ’s work as a revolutionary as he routinely thumbs the eye of the corrupted establishment (speaking to two authorial motivations: demonstrating Jesus as the Jewish Messiah as well as the last of the old school prophets) while maintaining his commitment to Torah and the prophets.

      Of course, you are correct in that anger in whatever form is dangerous, and I mention that in the post. It should also be noted that I do not dismiss forgiveness and mercy, but there are also times which call for neither. Knowing, in the immortal wisdom of that oracle, GIJoe, is half the battle.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment! Regards.

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