In Defense of Anger
Have we lost the ability to truly love good and hate evil?
In what may be his most prophetic book, The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis examines the long-term effects on a culture that has swallowed the poison of moral subjectivism. Lewis envisions a future in which men have evolved to have no heart — where, absent any objective values, the rule that governs man’s emotional life is dissolved. These “men without chests” are either cold and calculating or entirely visceral, and neither has the ability to truly love good or hate evil. There is, perhaps, no greater example of this phenomenon today than the loss of righteous anger.
Anger, like other emotions, is part and parcel of the package of human nature and therefore good. Righteous anger is when this passion is put to its proper use. Anger is given to man so that, in the face of some evil, he will fiercely act to remedy the wrongdoing and punish the wrongdoer. How fiercely the person responds must always be governed by right reason and due proportion. Anger is disordered when the passion overcomes reason. But it is no less disordered when reason dictates we should be angry and we are not. A man can sin by having too much anger or not enough.
Any society, in order to be a just society, must have a sufficient supply of righteously angry men and women. Who can doubt that our particular society is wholly lacking these necessary men and women? Simply look at the cultural response to various wrongs. Parents are told they should not be angry with their children and should not punish them. Teachers are not allowed to be angry with students or punish them in any way. Men who lie and fabricate hate crimes are given a free pass. “Compassion” for the plight of the mother rather than anger at the death of an innocent child keeps Planned Parenthood in business. Capital punishment is de facto violent and unjust. Any anger is “victim blaming” and, let’s face it, all of us (or at least most of us) are victims.
To clarify: Outrage is not the same thing as righteous rage. We have grown quite adept at expressing outrage over some slight, real or perceived. We may stoke the flames of the Twitter Mob or even organize a protest. Imagine Our Lord, when confronted with the money changers, starting a #NoCoininMyFathersHouse movement or having His followers gather in protest. Like Our Lord’s cleansing of the Temple, righteous anger ought to be both affective and effective. It ought to be both vehement according to right reason and actually do something to remedy the evil. Much of what masquerades as righteous anger is really what St. Thomas calls the vice of clamor, that is, “disorderly and confused speech” that is “full of sound and fury and signifying nothing.”
This is why Lewis says that the “men without chests” are so easily prone to propaganda. They have to be told when to be angry and for how long. We see this too when at various protests the participants can’t really say why they are there beyond a simple regurgitation of the company line. They don’t really know why they are angry, only that they should be. As the opposite side of the same coin, this also explains why there is so much indifference and apathy. Being told what we should be angry about merely leads to an atrophy of the heart and a loss of the capacity to get angry at all.