Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The role of anger

Two events covered in the news this week have I guess caused a range of emotions in us all. The murder of Anuj Bidve on Boxing Day and the news of the successful conviction of two of those involved in the murder of Stephen Lawrence are linked by nature of the futile loss of a promising life, mindless and unprovoked violence and, in the Lawrence case an established, and in the Bidve a possible, racist motive. The other aspect which has linked both cases is the lack of remorse and seeming inability of the perpetrators to comprehend the evil nature of the acts they committed.
My first reaction when hearing that Kieran Stapleton had given his name as "Psycho" when at the Magistrate's Court was one of intense anger. My reaction when seeing the footage of the Lawrence suspects talking exultantly about murdering and torturing black men, while acting out the same, was equally one of rage and revulsion. To be honest it made me angry that the actions of those who bring nothing to the party should so lightly take away the lives of those who are good and decent and have things to offer. I felt anger at the suffering and anguish they had caused. I wanted them to understand what they had done, and, quite frankly, I really wanted them to suffer.
There is room for anger and outrage in a right reaction to wrongdoing. We cannot always sit calmly by and be understanding when we hear of, or see, or suffer great atrocity. It is important, of course, that we balance our anger, that we try to some exent to step back, that we bring into the mix of our emotion other feelings and responses - that we question, that we grieve, that we despair for and of everything and everyone involved. The response of "psycho Stapleton" , may cause us to react with anger, it might also lead us wonder about what may have happened in someone's life to lead them to think that such a label gave any kind of status. Then our anger is tempered by  a kind of horror at what a human being can become.
Is this a man? wrote Primo Levi, survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. And if this is a man, what chance of redemption or restoration? I do not know how far anger, and despair are Christian emotions - both are considered sinful , yet anger has its  vital place in the moral response to human evil and an ability to feel a sort of despair is necessary (inevitable) if we are to acknowledge human evil and to be humble enough to admit our own potential for evil.
The Christian response to evil is, I suppose, to hold our anger and despair in tension with our belief in the goodness of God and the hope of grace and redemption. Then our souls can be "still" and at peace in that faith and hope, as suggested in the words of the hymn below.


  1. Surely anger, despair, contempt, misery etc are the 'other side of the coin'. If we never allow ourselves to feel these emotions how can we balance them against delight, joy, the soaring if fleeting happiness of love, the sheer happiness of unrestrained laughter.
    If we hold back our true feelings in order to fit some strange perception of 'Christian' behaviour we are lying, both to ourselves and to others.
    The need for control of our natural reactions is where we should be able to demonstrate a Christian way of life.

  2. Yes, I agree. I think it is unrestrained anger, despair, contempt that is the problem. It might be true that we need to handle those negative emotions more carefully than the positives though. I wonder if any emotion is truly "wrong"? It occurs to me that hate, for example, most of us, if we are honest, feel hatred at some time in our lives, anger can be directed at an act or attitude but hate tends to be anger focused more at an individual.

  3. I don't agree that anger is sinful. Anger in itself is a natural emotion and morally neutral. Didn't Jesus show anger at a house of prayer turned into a den of thieves? It's how we use our anger that is the key thing. Anger may lead to sin e.g. to hate, violence, or it may be used constructively e.g. to campaign against an injustice.

  4. Perhaps we should rethink it as one of the seven deadly sins? Yes, as I said it is an emotion that is often a vital part of a moral response.

  5. As you say anger is a natural part of life; and there is such a thing as righteous anger.

    What I find interesting is how we often exhibit a disproportionate – or more truthfully displaced – anger towards certain people or issues. The Lawrence murder is a case is point – yes it was a callous and heinous crime, but I think part of the ‘outrage’, particularly by some quarters of the black community and the hand-wringing of middle-class whites, is (esp. in recent years) a denial of the reality of the real locus of violence towards black people. The most likely person to comment a violent crime against a black youth is a black youth; in London inter black gang crime and violence is so common that it is rarely reported on the local TV news; almost all the major A&Es in London admit several stabbing and shooting victims every day.

    It is not unlike our national obsession with paedophile – the belief is children are in danger from wicked paedos, lurking on the internet and in dirty raincoats around the school gates. Yet the reality is that children are far, far more at risk of abuse in their own homes from a parent or other near relative.

    I suppose a pertinent Christian example of this displacement, is the recent hype by certain conservative Christians about Tesco providing support for Gay Pride – so much ‘anger’ about something that these Christians see as a threat to family life, when many of the business practices of our supermarkets could be seen a major threat to family and the cultural life of Britain (and in opposition to Biblical injunctions concerning business practice, not to mention the 4th Commandment, which almost all retailers cheerfully break without comment or petitions from these defenders of Biblical morality). Strangely enough our conservative Christian friends have been silent until the mention of poufters and then they’re up in arms...

    The above are extremes of this habit of ‘displacement’. However we all do it, to a greater or lesser degree. I suppose what gives us a right to anger is when we don’t fall foul of Matt 7:3?


  6. I don't think I'm being ultra-pious when I say that my first reaction to the two events you mention wasn't anger, but a profound feeling of sadness and pity that young people in our society can grow up with so little empathy towards others, and with such a distorted set of values, that they can do these things.

    I think my anger is primarily with the systems that fail these young people, whether these be their families, the communities they live in, the education they receive or the media which so often distort and trivialise the values that underlie the best of human behaviour.

    A very thought-provoking post, Sue.

  7. I quite often get initial reactions of quite strong anger, then I think about it awhile and the anger modifies into something else that involves sadness and a sort of despair. I don't know if other people experience this!

    I do agree that we can all displace anger onto pet issues or people. We are not always terribly rational about the focus of our anger. At the same time, to suppress anger can be a dangerous path to take, to feel guilty over our anger is something we are taught to do (especially women I guess.)I think we displace anger because it is easy to be angry with faceless internet paedophiles, or categories of people than with real individuals. Then we have to think more carefully and in a nuanced way - it is much harder and a lot less gratifying than giving in pure anger and contempt.