This article was published in the Scottish Catholic Observer on Friday 11th October 2019.
Have you noticed how angry people are these days? Television news programmes repeatedly show us scenes of angry confrontations. Debates seem to have changed from people putting reasoned arguments into angry shouting matches. Angry crowds have been on the streets venting their feelings at politicians and anyone who is willing to disagree with them. The focus of all this anger seems to be on Brexit. There are angry voices complaining that the referendum was not proper and there are opposing angry voices which claim they were promised that we would leave and we are still here.
Anger is a natural human emotion. It can be seen as the body’s way of dealing with a threat. Anger can cause an increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure and increased levels of adrenaline. These are just what the body needs to fight against an aggressor or to run away. Anger, in other words, can save your life. Unfortunately it can also do the opposite and have severe effects on your well-being.
I recall a weekend trade union training course in negotiation (it was called a ‘combat school’ but that’s another story) in Manchester where we were taught to use anger to some effect. This was not about shouting and bawling at the management it was a technique to use when negotiations met a road block. Suddenly showing anger, not violently, could cause a change in perception that made the discussion move on. I used this once, many years later, in defending an employee who was being disciplined for coming to work smelling of drink. It shifted the discussion to the employer’s duty of care to the employee and resulted in a positive course of action that benefited both.
The power of anger to shift the focus has been well recognised by some politicians. Much of the anger we see in the political arena today has been deliberately incited by those who wish to whip up support from people who had not been supporters before. By threatening to pick up a rifle and fight for their cause a politician can elevate their argument to the level of a crisis. It gives out the message that this is a critical threat that must be opposed. Anger breeds anger.
It’s not just in the field of politics that we see anger being displayed. Anger is the response of choice in cases of sexual abuse of women by powerful men as we see in the ‘Me Too’ movement. Clerical sexual abuse has brought an angry response across the world. Anger among those who have been abused is understandable. The prominent feeling seems to be one of disappointment rather than anger among the faithful who feel betrayed. Displays of anger can be useful. Anger can get things done. Anger has its downside too.
Road rage is one symptom of anger that has gone out of control. A road rage incident can be triggered by someone making a simple mistake in driving, someone behaving selfishly on the road or someone just getting frustrated by delays. We have even seen disputes over parking spaces resulting in fights and even deaths. Anger has taken over, adrenaline is pumping into the bloodstream and violence is the result. Lives can be changed forever or even ended.
During the Presidential Elections in the USA we saw Donald Trump whip up the crowd against his opponent Hilary Clinton with the chant ‘Lock her up!’ Mrs. Clinton was not guilty of any crime but the crowd angrily shouted, “Lock her up.” Anger can cause us to bypass rational thought. Angry chants in a crowd can take on a life of their own. Once you get people angry you can get them to do all sorts of things, even elect you as President of the USA.
Jesus could be angry too. We know that He angrily threw the money changers out of the temple. This was not a normal response of his. He chose to display anger to make a point. That’s an example of controlled anger. The money changers must have been shocked because Jesus was normally a preacher of love. Anger is the opposite of love. They would have been used to their Roman overlords being angry and just accepted it as how things were. A normally peaceful man suddenly being violently angry would have had a much greater effect.
So, is there any place for anger in the Church? If we look at what’s happening in the Church today we find anger where we least expect it. If the message of the Church is ‘love God and love your neighbour’ would we expect to find anger here? Perhaps in the confessional where we admit to our worst sins we might get an angry response. I’ve never experienced anger there. What I have found is sympathy and forgiveness.
If not in the confessional, where could we find anger? Strangely, it seems we can expect anger from bishops, cardinals or theologians. Their anger seems to be directed at the Holy Father. Pope Francis has spread the message of love and reconciliation since his election. Why would this provoke an angry response?
I’ve been reading some of the things that Pope Francis is being accused of and I’ve been looking to see where these accusations are coming from. It seems to me that there is a very right wing element in the Church in the USA. There seems to be a lot of anger coming from that quarter, aimed straight at the Pope. Some even question the validity of his election. Some even question the validity of the Church after Vatican II. I’ve read some comments from America that suggest that the Mass in the vernacular is not a valid Mass. It’s all angry stuff.
It’s not just the content of the criticism that bothers me, it’s the angry tone. That’s what makes me feel uneasy about all this. Christ’s message is all about love. The Church’s message is about love because we are the followers of Christ. All love comes from God. Anger, real anger not just irritation, is the opposite of love. So where does that come from and why? The clue lies in the writings of Saint Peter.
Be calm but vigilant, because your enemy the devil is prowling round like a roaring lion, looking for someone to eat. Stand up to him, strong in faith and in the knowledge that your brothers all over the world are suffering the same things.
1 Peter 5: 8,9
That is a warning aimed at all of us; laity priests and religious. It is easy to forget that the devil stalks the Earth. If we forget he is there we become easy prey. Just as Jesus continues His work on Earth through us, so does the devil. We don’t see evil events committed by a cloven hoofed demon. The evil we see is committed by human beings influenced by the devil. If I was the devil (I’m not applying for the job) I would attack the bulwarks of the Church; the priesthood, the religious and the family. To those who say that Pope Francis is not following a traditional line and is associating with sinners I would reply that I’ve seen that before somewhere. That is exactly what Jesus did. If Pope Francis is copying Jesus then I’ll go along with that. I’m a traditional enough catholic to believe that Papal elections are the work of the Holy Spirit and Francis was chosen by God for good reasons. Let’s all avoid anger and spread the love.