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Room for the Devil Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 15 August 2011

In describing my 2004 book about chivalry, a reviewer wrote that I am “one of those unassuming personalities who is quietly ready for all emergencies. A liberal who became a conservative, a secularized Protestant who became a Catholic, an intellectual who has plunged into the business world, a gentle man . . .” – and then he made mention of my martial-arts training. I blushed when I read it, but not because I’m humble.

I was embarrassed by what I knew to be true about me, and he did not: I’m an angry man. I have a secret enemies list, and the martial-arts training – which I’m still doing (in modified form and in moderation) – is a way of expiating a certain amount of existential rage: indeed, the heavy bag I pummel in the gym represents one or another of my antagonists. Gentle man? Not by a truly Christian measure. (I will note that “gentle,” back when it got melded with “man,” had the original meaning of “polished,” as a sword might be. A sharp-edged man who fought his way to lands and titles was said to have been “gentled.”)

I haven’t been terribly hard on myself about the anger, because in my experience, neither guilt nor shame is a particularly effective means of breaking free of either spiritual or psychological restraints. At one point in my life, I read much of the wonderfully peculiar work of the Dutch philosopher Spinoza (d. 1677), who at one point in his Ethics writes (and I paraphrase from memory): Once we have had a clear and distinct idea about a passion, it ceases to be a passion. By “passion” he meant a sin or an illusion. And it is ever more clear to me that to love Jesus Christ – to have clear and distinct knowledge of the incarnate God – is finally to be free of anger. No doubt I could write the same about the other deadly sins, but my concern here is with ira: rage, fury, wrath.

Not all anger is wrong, of course. Aristotle thought lack of anger or insufficient anger was at times a fault. Detachment is a great virtue, but it’s hard to imagine being so disinterested that we feel no anger about abortion or child abuse or any other grave injustice. And as W. H. Auden wrote: “Anger, even when it is sinful, has one virtue: it overcomes sloth.” Anger is a tool, like a one iron in your golf bag. You may not use it often, but it’s there when you need a long, straight shot. Then you put it back in the bag.

 
         Jesus Driving the Merchants from the Temple (Jacob Jordaens, c. 1650)

           In this regard, the example of Jesus cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem is often cited – appositely, I believe. Our Lord certainly did not feel rage, which is anger exploded into destructive sinfulness, but neither did He speak sweet reason to the buyers and sellers who had turned His Father’s house into a den of thieves. He drove them out. He whipped them. He loved them too. But to do the driving and the whipping, as I have tended to, without the loving is to give back to a reckless and violent world its mirror image.

As a rule, and over the course of my life (all of it as a nominal Christian, most of it as a Catholic), I have not loved my enemies. I have sometimes hit them square on the chin. When my sons were old enough to hear or watch adventure stories, there was almost always a scene in which the hero has the drop on the villain, has him in his sights, then has a moment of doubt and lets the bad man live. I’d close the book, hit the mute or the pause button. The boys would look over at me, and after a while they didn’t have to wait for me to say it, they would recite: “Always take the shot.”

But that’s a literary/cinematic reaction, empirically based on the fact that ten times out of ten the bad guy ends up shooting the good guy or his lady friend or in some way comes back near the end to create havoc – all because our hero hadn’t earlier been more pragmatic. Maybe there’s a Scripture passage to be cited in support. If so, I don’t know it, but I will quote the great Scot philosopher Adam Smith (d. 1790): Kindness toward the guilty is cruelty to the innocent. This is why Catholics have just-war theory.

And yet the line between criminal and scapegoat is thinner than I ever acknowledged. The Catholic “default” position is forgiveness, which comes from love, which is the single word that most adequately describes our faith. James writes: “Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger . . .” He could have ended there, but he adds: “for the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God.”

I suspect there are other angry Catholics out there – folks who, as I do, find it hard to turn the other cheek; who believe that their anger indicates commitment; that all indignation is righteous. It’s not.

What’s most chilling isn’t recognizing this mortal sin in myself but seeing it arise as what “social scientists” call a “leading indicator,” here in the United States and around the world. Nations are on the verge of self-destruction, because anger – rage even – is tearing them apart. Spinoza also wrote that peace isn’t a lack of war; it’s a virtue arising from the courage of the soul.

Paul warned us not to “let the sun set on your anger” lest we “leave room for the devil” (Eph. 4:26).

Let it be ever so.

 
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing,  a senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. One of his books, The Compleat Gentleman, was recently published in a revised edition.

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Comments (11)Add Comment
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written by Ray Hunkins, August 15, 2011
Thought provoking. May I offer this: "Anger" is defined as a strong feeling of displeasure. It is an emotional reaction.It can be justified or not and perhaps may be an over reaction. Condemnation of "anger' is like condemnation of "happiness" in that it will not change the human character. Human emotion is here to stay. Anger can motivate people to do good, from reasoned argumentation to deeds. In short, to discern what may be "tearing us apart" we must also know what is provoking the angry reaction.
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written by Don Harris, August 15, 2011
I read your Compleat Gentleman in a Catholic men’s colloquium back in 2005. It was unanimously pummeled in discussion. It’s been 6 years now, and my comments are based on memory and so I can no longer cite page numbers. While we agreed with one of your theses that there is a martial element to masculinity, the book reeked of political correctness and a fear of confronting feminism. This caused you to contradict yourself at least a half-dozen times, often within a few pages. A minor example was your statement that a woman could be as good a warrior as a man, but then, having castrated any justification, still tried to state your opinion that man is better suited to be a warrior. You really can’t have it both ways.

You traced chivalry’s origins back to the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but failed to expose her as the Jezebel of the Middle Ages. An interesting thesis to explore would have been whether the emergence of elements of chivalry, particularly that of a knight pledging himself to service of a lady, was not in fact a shrewd move by an ambitious Eleanor to exert more control in the political arena. But rather you focus on solving the riddle of "what a woman wants". Your answer: a woman wants her own way. Well, duh! Of course she wants her own way. Woman is fallen just as is Man. We all want our own way. Then you blunder completely by suggesting that a man ought to give a woman what she wants (her way). You could not be more wrong from a Catholic point of view. A man, to fulfill the secondary end of marriage (mutual sanctification of the spouses), should instead give a woman what she needs. Your cowardice in confronting feminism prevented you from developing an argument for a man’s legitimate authority over his household and the need to provide leadership and vision. Women don’t just fall in love with a man, but also importantly with the vision he presents of the man he strives to be. A good wife, in consenting to marriage to that man and his vision, supports that vision and purifies it from any selfishness and self-aggrandizing on the part of the man so that he can offer himself as a pure gift back to her. Your approach of giving a woman what she wants is a sure recipe to creating shrew who will despise her husband’s weakness and retaliate all the more by dominating and humiliating him.
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written by Brad Miner, August 15, 2011
Mr. Harris: I never wrote that women can be "as good" at fighting as men. I wrote that women can be (and are) far better at fighting than men and women ever imagined in the past. That, I think, is what makes the conclusion that women ought not to be in combat units all the more telling. Of Eleanor's shrewdness, I believe I offered ample examples. But "Jezebel"? Well, that's the sort of "historicity" that doesn't belong in a proper book. (And I wonder how your Catholic colloquium would characterize Henry II!) Finally, I'll stick by the ancient conclusion of the tale of Gwain and the Loathly Lady; about loving service to women. I'm no feminist, but your trendy anti-feminism makes no sense to me. No compleat gentleman is ever dominated or humiliated by anybody, least of all by his wife. Sorry if you've had some difficulties in this regard.
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written by Jacob R, August 15, 2011
I'M ANGRY ABOUT THIS ARTICLE!!! :)
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written by Other Joe, August 15, 2011
Did Dietrich Bonhoeffer or a Quaker pacifist show greater love and compassion in WW2? Who was more like Christ? Any blinding passion (such as hot blooded anger) is wrong because it obscures. In blindness we cannot see the consequences that we set in motion, who might be hurt. Righteous anger (propelled ultimately by love of truth and goodness) is a goad to clarity, to pierce deceit and to view the actual consequences of evil. In a fallen world, there is no perfect clarity, but there are times and there are issues (such as abortion) in which the evil is obvious to any but the morally blind.
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written by Martial Artist, August 15, 2011
Mr. Miner,

An excellent and, for me in particlar, an apposite essay. And you even managed to quote one of my favorite late 18th century thinkers (even if he didn't get the theory of value exactly right, and even though I haven't found time to read either his Wealth of Nations or his Theory of Moral Sentiments ... yet.

Pax et bonum,
Keith Töpfer

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written by Don Harris, August 15, 2011
Mr Miner:

Kudos to you! You allowed my comment to be published. That was the manly thing to do. I respect you more already. Most bloggers shrink from serious criticism. However, your response was wanting.

You are quibbling over the exact wording of your glowing report of women’s fighting prowess. I believe you brought as witness your female blackbelt sparring partner. You did however offer no rational defense for your opinion that combat be reserved to men. But the assertion can be defended. You start with your thesis that masculinity involves a martial element. Nevertheless, that cannot be advanced without confronting the feminist doctrine of equivalence—that functionally men and women are equivalent notwithstanding the incidental difference in sexual plumbing. Genuine femininity does not have a martial element. Sure, women can fight and pull a trigger just as men, but in grafting in a martial spirit they do injury to their femininity.

Your mention of Henry II is just a distraction. Henry II is irrelevant to the conversation at hand, but it is a classic feminist argumentative technique. Pointing out bad male examples is no rational justification for bad females. Considering Eleanor’s deeds, it is quite fair to characterize her as having the spirit of Jezebel. Now I can’t prove she (and other women of court) had any influence in the formation of some of the ideals of medieval chivalry which is why I only stated it would be “an interesting thesis to explore.” One that I think, though, should be looked at before proposing medieval chivalry to the modern man.

I don’t have a problem with your recounting the tale of Gwain and Loathly Lady. It made for a decent starting point. The problem is you left it at that. It can not be reconciled with Catholic thought as it stands. As a Roman Catholic writer your first obligation is to the Truth (since God is Truth), not to a tidy conclusion and the politics of book publishing. The rule of “giving a woman her way” is not loving service. It is not loving at all. You have fallen for the modern confusion between being nice (doing want is pleasing to the other) and with true charity (giving the other what they need). Now, certainly, being charitable often also coincides with being nice, but they are not the same thing particularly when correction is needed. Note that it is spiritual act of mercy to admonish sinners which is rarely, if ever, pleasant to the sinner. If a man has a wife who is prone to vanity and avarice, it is not charitable to encourage her in chasing after trendy fashions or to shower her with every glittering trinket that catches her eye no matter how pleased it might make her.

I agree that a well-formed man would never let himself be dominated or humiliated by his wife. However, your compleat gentleman in merely “giving a woman her way” has no defense against domination. He is utterly at the mercy of her character and his actions will not help to build her character. If you wanted to present a model of the compleat gentleman, you owed the reader a discussion of the limitations of the tale.

“Trendy anti-feminism”? Honestly, Mr. Miner, when has the Catholic doctrine of the complementarity of the sexes ever been “trendy”?

I’ll tell you what, Mr. Miner. I’ll make a sporting offer. I’ll take the time to dig through my boxes, find your book, and give it another read. I’ll write up a more comprehensive critique of it with accurate quotes instead of relying on memory. I’ll even leave out unnecessarily inflammatory adjectives. But I’m not going to spend the time unless you agree to engage the critique. The blogosphere moves too rapidly to have given me the time to pull it out for a quickly posted comment. I had to do with memory; tomorrow you’ll be on a different topic. This can take place out of the public arena if you like. You have my email from my posts. It’s up to you. If your revised version offers any substantial change or reform in your arguments and you feel on better ground with that, you’ll need to send me a complimentary copy (a PDF would be fine) because I’m not buying it a second time.

Consider it a challenge to a joust.

Don Harris.
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written by Brad Miner, August 15, 2011
Dear Mr. Harris,

I appreciate the challenge, but I must decline for two reasons: 1) I've written what I've written, so I don't need to write it again; 2) I simply haven't the time. (I'm on several deadlines.) But I do thank you for your energetic objections.

-ABM
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written by debby, August 16, 2011
As an anger addict myself trying to recover, i have found the letter of James a cool cloth to my temper. It is helpful for all men, women, children. even tough guys like you, brad (my dear brother).
are you sure you're not Italian? oh that's right, you're just a human sinner like the rest of us.
the first chapter is such a gem that to shorten it causes power to be lost. i was going to retype verses 19 and 20 here, but i just can't shorten the text. please go look it up.
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written by Mr. Medlock, September 10, 2011
The exchange between Mr. Miner and Mr. Harris is instructive. Mr. Harris would have his thumb on his lady, and Mr. Miner would respect her right to make decisions.

Mr. Harris is threatened. Mr. Miner is confident.
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written by David Medlock, September 11, 2011
Mr. Harris, your blunt, artless attack on this very good man is tragic. You seem to be very impressed with yourself, and I think that this has probably stunted your development. Read Mr. Miner's book with some humility and you might learn something.

As to your arguments:

Mr. Miner asserts that while most women can't perform as well as the average man in an infantry role, some can. This is undeniably true. I've served and I've seen it. There is no inconsistency.

What the book actually "reeks" of is a reasonable, well-read approach to difficult issues. You're not taking Mr. Miner to task for cowardice (a charge which I find to be laughable). You're taking him to task for not being the kind of dunder-headed blowhard who would post this sort of drivel and expect to be thanked for it.

"Well duh..." I sincerely doubt that Mr. Miner has ever uttered this phrase in his life. Telling, that...

A shrew? Really? If a man doesn't sufficiently brow-beat his woman into submission she will despise him? Mr. Miner advocates enlightened leadership in marriage. You seem to prefer despotism.


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