On Righteous Anger

When I was growing up Catholic, I was led to believe that being angry was a sin. Now this created quite a problems for me since I had a short temper and was prone to get into fights. One day in Church, though, I heard the story of Jesus in the temple. He becomes furious at people selling stuff within the temple. He makes a whip and starts knocking over tables. As I sat there listening, I thought “Gee, Jesus sure was pissed!” This of course set off another track of questioning. “If anger is a sin, then did Jesus sin?” (It occurs to me, by that way, that in this day and age, Jesus would have been arrested and referred for Anger Management. Jesus’ actions also give me pause when I see the bake sales and raffle tickets outside my Church on Sundays)

Anger became a troublesome feeling for me. I would either explode aggressively or take on The Silent Treatment. Both were unproductive.

There is plenty of reason to believe that suppressing anger is not good for us. It can cause health issues. It can lead to depression. And it can cause that spiritual type of cancer known as resentment.

Years ago my wife and I attended the Marriage Encounter program. Here I heard a novel notion: “Anger is just a feeling like any other feeling. It is not necessarily bad.” Indeed, I came to see that the problems is not with anger. The problem is what we do with anger.

Yet recently I met a very fine woman who had suffered terrible childhood abuse. Being a Christian, she believed that she was supposed to forgive her abuser. She resisted when I suggested that perhaps she first needed to be angry for a while. I then asked her “Do you know what Jesus had to say about people who harm children?” She didn’t know. In fact, he said they should have a huge rock tied around their necks and thrown into the sea!

We are indeed called to forgive. But the whole point of the Temple Incident much less throwing child abusers into the sea is that there also needs to be a place in our spiritual world for righteous anger. There needs to be balance.

Righteous anger becomes the foundation for protest and change. Without that righteous anger, the Catholics of Boston would never have held their cardinal responsible for covering up abuse by clergy. Without that righteous anger, there would never have been marches for civil rights. And at a personal level, I don’t think we can forgive until we first allow ourselves a degree of righteous anger. Without that anger, forgiveness is only an intellectual exercise.

Reflection: 1. How much trouble does anger cause you? Is there room for righteous anger in your spiritual world?