According to my religion, Wrath is a sin. It is one of the capital vices, which diminishes us; scales us down, towards extinction. But we are just Aristotelian enough to recognize that there are circumstances in which anger is appropriate. Far fewer, however, than we sinners are inclined to imagine.
The man who goes about in constant bursting outrage – I know several, and accuse myself sometimes – has surely overdone it. It is as if we are tortured by fiends, and yell out our pain, perpetually. Having a taste of that on Earth, I could not wish to do the follow-up in Hell, where (I admit this is theological speculation) all the inhabitants are humorless, and each has a point to pick with each of the others.
Except, there is just enough pleasure in bewailing one’s lot, that Despair is likely to have taken it away.
It is from such reasoning that I further speculate, that Wrath is one step up from voluntary Despair, which usually ends in suicide. But I’m sure that the two are related, for I’ve watched the one turn into the other, or think that’s what I saw in more than one ex-Christian friend, now deceased.
Pride may also be accounted in this vortex. The “victim” as we would say today – actually the extreme opposite of a victim – has fallen back entirely on his own devices. Having made himself the judge of all, he makes only himself the criterion of justice. This will not work, for anyone.
It is said that Pride goeth before a fall, but that applies only to the lucky ones, who come to see what they have tripped over. The medicine is a stiff restoring dose of Humility, which one’s neighbors may well be eager to supply, whether or not from their own unhealthy motives.
This is a point that once helped me distinguish Christianity from its immediate competitors. Humiliation is something that happened to Christ – true God of true God, begotten not made. It was taken willingly upon Himself, and for no crime He could ever have committed. In Advent, we already look forward, beyond Christmas, to what is unmistakably called “Good” Friday.
Compare that to one’s little humiliations; the “triggers” of our outrage against “things.” For an odd thing about Christ, indeed Him crucified, is that he triggers nothing.
Is gentle reader reduced to a state of babbling outrage by the fact that “the Jews,” “the Romans,” or whoever, did this to Our Lord? But we all did it, and in this Agatha-Christie mystery of evil, no one gets away. Or else we all claim a possibility of forgiveness, thanks to the intercession of the same Lord, and his cosmic act of Atonement.
And here I have fallen well short of conveying the Miracle, that arrives each Christmas to be enacted again. Even at the level of “pure reason,” this theology turns the world inside out, and the very possibility of Salvation is presented.
Without Christ, we are just animals. And though we are angry, it has no effect; except in the sense that revenge breeds revenge. Also, it has no effect, with Him. The pointlessness of rage has been exposed. No wonder that the strategy of the Devil is simply to keep Christ out of sight.
I am writing all this in response to an essay someone sent me, by the popular writer Lance Morrow. It was in the Wall Street Journal, and it alleged – plausibly – that Americans have become addicted to outrage. I think we may have become as bad as the Europeans in this respect – and they start World Wars.
What sticks with me from that essay is Morrow’s assertion that we are passing through our “Terrible Twos.” When recently I decided to stop compulsively viewing the “mainstream media,” including the Wall Street Journal, I felt compelled by the spectacle of a whole world of two-year-olds, including presidents, prime ministers, and bishops.
How to cure this condition? For cutting one’s newsfeeds can only be a start. The information still gets through by osmosis.
Oddly, the answer might be to “grow up.” The people we despise – individually and generically – may well be worse than we are. There are moments when I think that might actually be true, and I can’t use “invincible ignorance” to excuse them. But still they are the sins themselves by which we ought to be outraged; justice to perpetrators ought to be serene.
That is, if there is such a thing as Justice, which of course there isn’t once God is denied, for then there is no basis upon which justice might be founded, except our “feelings,” governed as Mr. Morrow suggests by continuous outrage, which differs in particulars from “righteous indignation,” which itself can only be conceived as self-righteous.
Part of growing up, it seems to me, is to replace our outrage with Jesus. I word it this way to raise a spray of snark. In defiance of ordinary psychology, our outrage and our cynicism combine in one bile.
Even within our so-called “virtue signaling” (of false virtues, that would disintegrate on a moment’s intelligent reflection), we acknowledge extremely low expectations. So low, that if our enemies improved – answered to our criticism and amended – our onslaught would continue. For what they stopped doing was just a little thing. There are more charges; they go on for pages.
Among the most inspiring things I ever saw was the garden planted by young German volunteers, in the ruins of the old Coventry Cathedral, demolished by the Luftwaffe during the last World War. The flowers were quite pretty, but what riveted my attention were the bronze letters set into what little remained of the sanctuary wall.
They read, in capitals, “FATHER FORGIVE.”
They did not bother to specify who most needed forgiveness. No outrage was expressed. The context was sufficient to explain everything.
*Image: The Ear of Malchus by J.J. Tissot, c. 1890 [Brooklyn Museum]