Anger is the Opiate of the Masses



The title of this post is a paraphrase, if you will, of the famous quote by Karl Marx “Religion is the opium of the people.”  Marx is claiming that it is religion that will addict people and will then follow their leaders wherever they go.  I am claiming that anger has now replaced religion as the opiate of the masses.

There is no doubt that people in this country are angry and I believe that those feelings need to be validated but when anger turns to violence, and there are not many sides here, that is when it crosses the line.

By definition, anger is a “passion or emotional response to a real or supposed wrong.”* From a moral stand point, anger is neither positive nor negative in and of itself. What we do with that anger, or how it manifests itself in us, that determine if it is constructive or destructive.  Hostility, which is different than anger, is a “state of antagonism, or animosity toward someone or something.”  From a pastoral perspective anger is not always caused by an external force, more often than not, it is because of something inside of us. In other words, we get angry because of the way someone or something makes us feel or because we do not want to deal with our internal baggage. Anger can be justified, but hospitality is never justified.

I was not surprised by the level of anger that came out of the demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday.  Not the anger by those on the streets but the anger by folks using social media. People were angry that I did not denounce the Black Lives Matter Movement or something called Antifa which I will admit I had not heard of until this weekend.  People were trying to make equivalents, no doubt based on the statement by the President that there was violence “on many sides.” I am used to people getting angry when I point out the unchristian behavior of elected officials and especially that of other Christian leaders, but I was not prepared for the level of anger the terrorist actions in Virginia would conjure up in people.

“The capacity for anger is a basic human endowment. Anger is aroused by sensory perception plus an interpretation of the perception. Anger, like all emotions not based on physical stimuli, is thus ‘born’ y an individual’s thoughts; it is a product of interpretation and thus always meaningful in some way. Contrary to popular belief, anger (or any other emotion) is not automatically ‘caused’ by someone or some event, but it is the result of an individual’s perception and interpretation of a given situation.”*

So what does that mean?

Anger is not always caused by what is on the outside sometimes; resulting from the feelings the event stirs up inside of us and how that “inside” stuff makes us feel.  All of us have things that we like to keep hidden from others, and when we are reminded of them we become angry, not at the events that reminded us of them, but the stuff itself.

I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday that I have to own my role in racism and hatred.  Like most people, I have told, what could be considered racist jokes.  I may have judged someone by their skin color or race or their sexuality, and when I am reminded of that, I get embarrassed and angry with myself.  What is clear to me, from the interactions that I witnessed Saturday and the days following, many of us “white folk” are angry with how those events made us feel.  In our attempt to shift the conversation away from our racism, we try and find moral equivalents, “look the BLM folks are doing it as well,” or, “those anifa guys are violent as well.” It makes us feel better about ourselves, and for a moment, we can move on.  But not everything is equal.  I am not going to try and justify violence for any reason, but I have to own my part in all of this, and yes white America we have a role in it.

One of the skills I have had to learn in my work as a chaplain is “no anxious, compassionate presence.”  The chaplain is the one that remains calm in all situations, on the outside anyway.  We are sort of like the duck on the water.  On the surface, all seems quiet, but under the water, we are going like crazy to try and stay afloat.  To be this “presence,” I had to deal with the situations that make me anxious in such a way that I can minister in those situations.  Anger works the same way if it is not addressed it will consume us and control us.

Those young men, all dressed a like and carrying tiki torches through the streets of an American city, were not born with that amount of anger in them it was learned and now that it has been learned it is being used to whip them up.  The leaders of these groups capitalize and count on that anger when the call goes out, but what we do with that anger is what matters.

As I mentioned previously, anger in and of itself is neither morally good nor morally bad, but when anger turns to hostility, that is when we tread into the moral arena and not in a right way.  Yes, people are angry on all sides, and I will admit they have a right to be angry.  People have a right to demonstrate and protest.  We can argue whether they have the right to carry Nazi flags and bear arms and shields while they protest, but in a free society, they have that right.  But when that protest turns to mob mentality and that anger turns to hostility that is when things get worse.  It is the same whether you are on the streets or sitting behind your keyboard.

So what is it that makes us angry?  Is it that we are being called on our privilege?  Is it that we are being reminded that yes, we have told a racist joke and harbored racist tendencies inside?  Is it that we feel helpless?  Is it that the person we thought was going to be the savior has turned out to be just like us, a flawed human being?  Perhaps it is all those things, and my point is this, anger, not used in the appropriate way, leads to the destruction of our very souls.  Anger becomes a spiritual issue that if not dealt with appropriately can lead us down a path we honestly do not want to go down.

So next time you get angry at something I post or someone else posts asks yourself why you are angry and take a good long look inside and see if it is something inside of us that is making us so angry.  Oh, and count to 10 before you hit send…..

*Hunter, Rodney J, General Editor, Dictionary of Pastoral Care and Counseling, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 1990

error: Content is protected !!