September 23, 2017

Damaris Zehner: Our Addiction

Bosch Ira

The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things (detail), Bosch

Our Addiction
By Damaris Zehner

I once asked a recovering alcoholic why he had begun to drink to excess.  “It dulled the edges of things,” he said;  “anxiety about whether I was going to succeed at something or live up to my potential (I hated that phrase), depression about what I saw as failure – these all didn’t matter so much if I drank.  And then of course I drank to take the edge off my guilt about drinking.”

Many, maybe most, of us are blessed not to have to struggle with alcoholism.  But many, maybe most, of us have a comparable problem.  We have a habit that is designed to make us feel better about failure, console us for our disappointments, and assuage our guilt.  This habit is anger:  one of the seven deadly sins, one of the three spiritual sins, and the one we are most likely to insist we have the right to.  Sure, pride is wrong, we know that, and envy is not just wrong but nasty-feeling; but anger is a glorious, adrenaline-pumping, red-orange surge of power and passion and self-justification.

Believe me, I know about anger.  I have a terrible temper.  Everything I say in this essay convicts me, the chief of sinners, before it does anyone else.  But I do think that anger is a problem endemic to our society, not just a personal struggle of my own.  It’s worth looking at as a broader issue.

There are many reasons we get angry and justify our anger.  One is as a means of coping with the realization that we’ve done something bad or even just embarrassing.  Anger is the perfect cure for that cringing, salted-slug desire to curl up out of sight and not face what we’ve done.  Once we can discover that it’s someone else’s fault, then we’re expressing righteous indignation and holding the guilty accountable.  Right?  That’s not sin.

We also get angry when we feel our rights are infringed.  We planned to get work done, but a co-worker has a melt-down or just wants to talk.  We planned to make a phone call, but the boom-box-carrying jerk who sits down next to us makes that impossible.  We planned to take a quick nap, but the kids decided to get into a fight instead of watching Frozen.  We planned to finally pay off the credit card, but our spouse gets in an accident or needs expensive medical attention.  It doesn’t always make sense whom we get angry at; ultimately, if we’re honest, we’re angry at God.

Sometimes anger isn’t prompted by immediate feelings of guilt or infringement.  Sometimes it’s just a habit.  “Damn it, where are my keys?!” we bellow – every day, every single morning as we get ready to go to work.  We probably wouldn’t say we were angry, because our anger meter has ratcheted up pretty high, but the children and pets who suddenly want to be elsewhere should be a hint that we have an issue.  Do people get reluctant to meet our eyes as we talk about politics or employment or youth or the church or whatever?  Do people start playing with their food, changing the subject, telling irrelevant jokes when we’re talking?  Because anger may be an adrenaline rush to us, but it’s nauseating discomfort to those around us.  Maybe we have a problem we haven’t recognized yet.

But even if we realize that we are using anger to make ourselves feel better, that we lose our tempers because we rate ourselves and our rights too highly, and that we have gotten into a bad habit of venting any frustration into the outside world, we still are facing our most dangerous temptation.  This one is Satan’s masterpiece.  It is the conviction that anger is in fact the right reaction to evil and injustice, and that we are being Christ-like in telling it like it is.  Didn’t Christ drive the money-changers out of the temple?  Didn’t he chew out the Pharisees for hypocrisy?  Didn’t he get pretty confrontational with the apostles a few times?

Yes, he did.  And yes, we are supposed to be like Jesus and act as he acts (although I notice we’re fine making exceptions in other areas.  How many of us walk across ponds on our way to work or go out to a hilltop and expect to ascend into heaven?).  Maybe when we are just being annoyed by people we’re supposed to love, we can see that we shouldn’t get angry; but when we see abuse within the church, injustice in our society, or inefficiency in our home, we have to respond with anger, don’t we?  Isn’t righteous anger proof that we care?  That we have a moral compass and aren’t afraid to use it?

anger_detail_table_deadly_sin_hiNo, anger isn’t proof that we care for God’s commands or others’ good. Humility, death to self, love, and forgiveness are.  They aren’t fun and glorious, the way anger is, and sometimes they seem terribly wrong to our (somewhat warped) consciences.  But that’s what we’re asked for by God.  “Judgment is mine,” says the Lord; “I will repay.”  We’re supposed to turn the other cheek, even in the face of cruelty, injustice, and stupidity, and not console ourselves with the warmth of rage.

Sure, maybe there are times that Christians can get legitimately angry.  After all, the Bible says, “In your anger, do not sin;” it doesn’t say never get angry the way it says never murder or commit adultery.  But we need to go back to our recovering alcoholic.  It’s not always evil to have a drink; there is a time and place where a glass of wine is proper.  But not for him.  He knows he can never allow himself that luxury because his faculties have been permanently damaged.  Not for him the glass with friends after work or the celebratory toast.  Not until all sin is healed and he is raised from death.  And we are the same with anger.  Whether it is occasionally allowable is not the point; our society, and we as members of it, are so intoxicated by anger that we have to go cold turkey.  It will probably even be a relief, not to have to parse every occasion and wonder if this is a time we can legitimately lose our temper.  Just don’t.  Call your anger sobriety partner and talk yourself through the temptation.  Don’t think that this time is an exception or that that group deserves to be yelled at.

My recovering alcoholic friend talks about how hard it was to be sober once he made the commitment to do so – not just to avoid drinking, but to become an entirely new person, to grow into a new shape once the trellis of alcohol was removed.  He ended up ultimately with different friends, relationships, even a different state of residence.  We may find the same thing in rooting out anger.  How will we know we care about anything?  How will we defend ourselves, show self-respect, address evil?  The danger might be to sink into depression, often described as anger turned inward.  But there is hope for us.  My friend has been sober for almost thirty years now and built up a new and healthier life, one that he couldn’t have imagined when he was drinking.  There are also people who have rejected anger and have faced injustice with cheerfulness and love instead – Maximilian Kolbe, Brother Lawrence, my grandmother, and others.  It’s not easy giving up a habit, and an addiction is even worse; but the twelve steps that lead people out of alcoholism can lead us out of anger addiction – acknowledging that we have a problem, that only God can give us the strength to deal with it, that we have harmed ourselves and others and must make reparation, and that we need courage and honesty to see ourselves for what we are.

Take the pledge.  Get on the wagon.  Rearrange your life to avoid those things (websites, television shows, water-cooler complaint sessions, etc.) that make you mad.  Be anger-free and proud.  Oops, not proud.  Pride’s a sin, too.  But we’ll get to that another day.

Comments

  1. Resentment and impatience are close relatives to anger.

  2. Great article, as usual, Damaris. I always love reading your thoughts.

    ….so how do I stop being angry? You don’t seriously mean a 12 step program, do you? I’m no expert on them, but I think that needs a group, one that doesn’t exist.

    You’ve described the destination well, but I think we still need a map to get there.

    • …and yes, I realize that, by my asking this, you have brought me to the first step – admitting the problem. 😛

      But really, I am a very angry person. That may be what Numo was trying to put her finger on the other day. It’s definitely been getting worse for a few years. You’ve really got me thinking hard on this one, some serious personal reflection going on right now.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        > But really, I am a very angry person

        Ditto – I can provide references. 🙁

        But it can get better, much better. I peaked out about a decade ago – the dark truth being that their is something enjoyable, in a way, about being angry… until there isn’t. Then there you are. It is hard to get out of the groove you’ve worn into your mind.

        What helps:
        (1) Exercise, this is probably #1, just have a more active [I know call it “realistic”] lifestyle. Humans are a creature designed to be on the move.
        (2) Sleep [#1 makes this *much* easier]
        (3) Trimming ones life. Many people, certainly me, have a tendency to accumulate roles, identities, projects – often without shedding anything. That does not work. At some point a life needs a good culling; saying something like “these are my three things”. Frenzy is bad.
        (4) Future focus; looking back too much is bad, I believe even for not-angry people. Where am I going, what do I want to see happen. The past is dark and will always turn into grief.

        What does not help: Ascribing narrative to the non-rational thing that is anger. It has no origin story, no deep meaning. There is no merit in its study. It is something only to be gotten rid of; to do that is must be displaced by something else.

        Miroslav Volf is on the money with this one [his “End Of Memory”]; the daemons that taunt us from the past are defeated not by confronting them, but my forgetting them. They are lost when they simply no longer come to mind. It is a good day when you are riding home and it occurs to you that a memory that used to haunt or taunt you has not appeared before your mind in weeks; that is when sins finally begin to loose their power.

        • As long as the forgetting is not actually denial; this depends partly on whether others affected have been able to move on too, or your actions, past and present, continue to harm them.

        • Nice list of helpful things!

        • Beautiful list. Thank you.

        • Thanks, Adam. That’s what I was looking for. I’ve gotten quite good at 2, and just terrible at 1 and 3. I’m not yet convinced 4 is possible. Unfortunately, I don’t think I much enjoy being angry. Its just too tiring.

          I’m finishing a 5 year frenzy that seems to constantly intensify. But at least I have a better picture of the target. I may not be hitting close anytime soon, but perhaps I can begin to steer this ship around.

        • Josh in FW says:

          Good list. I’ll add diet to the list. My Dr. did some allergy testing and identified that my body did not process certain proteins which resulted in high levels of inflammation. Turns out that the foods that were worst for me (dairy, corn, cane sugar) were the ones that made up the vast majority of my diet. Cutting out those food items helped me get control of my rage, anxiety, and depression which had become nearly unbearable.

          • People don’t realize how much all of that stuff is linked. They reach for a spiritual solution when God’s creation has a solution in place all along.

            Which makes me question any voice someone hears when they fast.

      • Miguel – yes, but I didn’t want to come right out and say that. It’s one of those things that a person has to come to terms with on his/her own, no? As you are clearly doing.

        I also want to say that anger can be symptomatic of other things. In my case, it was an ingrained sense (from the “churches” I was in during my time in the evangelical/charismatic world) that God was angry with me, and that I was worthless. It took a long time for that to resolve itself, especially in the wake of being booted from the last in line of said “churches,” which made me furious (for very good reasons). I needed to allow the anger to come up and not keep pushing it down; eventually, it subsided. And for the 1st time in my life, I came to believe that God actually does love me, and that I have worth. The tension of trying to be perfect, by rule-keeping (and inevitably failing) also fueled the anger that I felt. It’s like a hamster wheel; once you get on, it’s very hard to get off.

    • Honestly, I think a 12-step program would be a good idea for any habitual sin, but of course there aren’t any set up for Anger Anonymous. I notice when I’m dealing with my sins that there are three stages: first the ability to recognize that I have sinned — in the past; next the grace to realize that I’m about to do it or am doing it right now; and finally the strength not to shrug and go ahead and do it anyhow. All of it involves prayer, not my own capability, and confession every step of the way. I also find it helpful to remind myself to pray for those I’m sinning against. It humanizes them and enables me to get slightly closer to God’s perspective.

      • flatrocker says:

        What? no 12-step program for anger???
        Ohhhh that makes me so mad!!!

        • The flat tire I have this morning on my less than year old car makes me angry! There goes my money, my Paid Time Off at work, and my plans for the entire day!

          • Adam Tauno Williams says:

            Yeah, cars! There is a lot of my anger and impatience there. Frustrating things.

          • That was just a demon oppressing you from going to your job to earn your tithe for the Lord.

            …sorry, guess that was anger at IFB teachings coming out, lol.

      • There probably are some 12-step programs that deal with toxic emotions, but they’re likely few and far between.

        • Wasn’t there a “Rageaholics Anonymous” or something to that effect in Seinfeld once?

          • I do recall a festivus pole, for the airing of grievances. I think we may need one in Christendom.

          • Wasn’t it George Castanza’s father who invented Festivus? His mantra was “Serenity NOW!!!”

            Or was that a different episode?

            Great article, by the way, Damaris.

          • Yes he was. Same season, different episode, I think.
            Hey now there’s something to meditate on when we get angry.

            SERENITY NOW!

  3. I have an anger problem. I’m a very angry person. Many of the things you talk about in this post, Damaris, are applicable to me. But what I’ve discovered is that behind almost all my anger is fear; that anger is a strategy, and habit, I’ve developed over decades to hide my fear from others, and from myself. Because anger, though it is not good, does not appear so much to myself or others like weakness, but fear does. Fear makes me feel my vulnerability, but anger helps me avoid that feeling. I lack the will, and perhaps also the means and good fortune (you as a medievalist, Damaris, know that Fortune played a very important part in the thinking of medieval Christianity, and that at that time [unlike our time] it was recognized that good Fortune is not something one makes for oneself), to recover from this besetting problem and habit. I pray that God will carry me through, and that my end will come sooner rather than later, and with it will come peace and freedom.

    • Yes, exactly, Robert. Anger is our consolation for feeling fear. And I do accept that our personalities and circumstances seem to be the luck of the draw to some extent — hence the need for mutual charity.

      • I’m not, however, certain that our age is any more angry than others. The anger may take different shapes, and be expressed in different ways by different people, or even classes of people; but, if we look at the historical record, at the way our ancestors comported themselves, I don’t see that we can say that they were any less angry, or handled their anger any better, than we. The pages of history, including Christian history, drip with anger.

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > I’m not, however, certain that our age is any more angry than other

          Agree; how can one measure such a thing.

          > and be expressed in different ways by different people

          And we may not even be able to correlate some expressions to their true origins/motivations; separated by languages and thousands of years.

          But I do strongly suspect that our current age may have created an excess of one emotion relative to previous ages: Loneliness. And that may shape our fear-and-anger.

          The data/research related to loneliness – particularly in groups like the elderly – is staggering.

          • I’m not sure it’s any more possible to measure and compare the relative loneliness of different ages than their anger. A lot of guesswork is involved. It can be pretty lonely to be stuck in a small rural village all your life, among the same people, without prospect of change in a situation that has become oppressive to you, where your role is defined and fixed by the rigid social expectations of your fellow villagers.

          • I would also throw “betrayal” and similar type emotions into there. A whole generation waking up to the lies of our fathers, and inheriting their economy. That causes a lot of rage. And yes, loneliness.

          • Robert, you said

            ” It can be pretty lonely to be stuck in a small rural village all your life, among the same people, without prospect of change in a situation that has become oppressive to you, where your role is defined and fixed by the rigid social expectations of your fellow villagers.”

            Yep. “Small town” works, too,

      • Correction to my previous comment: It’s no doubt true that there is more anger now than there was in former ages, but I’m inclined to believe that’s because there are so many more people.

      • Yes, our circumstances, I believe more & more, are the luck of the draw more than anything. Many Christians I know do not want to hear this. They want God to be the micromanager of their lives, but I don’t think it works that way. If it did, what does it say about the faithful, godly person on whom fortune does not shine? For me, believing that I can do as much as I can do and rely on the fates for the rest makes the bad spots of life easier to deal with. It’s not me, it’s not God, it’s just life.

    • I have no doubt that anger has an origin in fear–the fear of things being beyond our control, the fear that comes from suspecting that we are not the masters of our fate but I wonder if that fear comes from someplace deeper–our pride.

      I know in my own case, my anger comes from a deep-seated selfishness–“I want my way and I want it now! I know best!” And when I don’t get my way I lash out in anger. It’s that type of pride that caused Satan’s fall and most often causes my own falls. Didn’t Lewis (or maybe Milton, I can’t remember) say something about Satan being consumed with rage?

      • I’ve noticed that the people most often to say “you are so selfish, you never think about others!” are in fact the most selfish. It’s a very strong manipulative tool, easy to gaslight people with.

        It can also be used for great sophistry and trickery. Jesus died for your sins, you were bought with a price…would you dare to be selfish and say my way is best to such a man?

    • As I’ve been working through a lot of my anger and fear issues, I’ve been finding myself set free from a lot of them, almost all of which were given to me by Christianity or definitely inflicted by. Rage, and joy, will always be the emotions I feel often I think, but those can be used as fuel.

      I’ve found this post to be very true and helpful –

      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2015/12/guest-post-i-am-no-longer-afraid.html

  4. Andrew Zook says:

    Thanks Damaris – this is something I struggle with too and I’ve hurt others with it. My question is, how does one make reparations or repair the damage?

    • I have been moved and blessed when someone who has wronged me has just said so — “I’ve lost my temper and hurt you, and I’m sorry.” Some people think that a statement like that is cheap, that more substantial humility is necessary — and it may be; but in my experience genuine admission of wrongdoing is so rare that it is anything but cheap.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Agree.

        One addendum – do not append a justification, as in “I was was having a really bad day”, etc… Apologize – – – and then stop talking.

        > genuine admission of wrongdoing is so rare that it is anything but cheap

        Yes. My father and I were estranged for my young adult life due to a bunch of dark ugly crap whose details do not merit remembering. He showed up on my porch one day and apologized. Then he asked for my help moving a refrigerator. That was enough.

        It took me far too long to realize I needed to follow his example.

  5. “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

    Sorry, I had to say it. 😉

    But, switching back to serious mode, I do wonder about whether the Internet is a real stumbling block WRT anger. The smorgasbord of things to get angry about (whether they directly impact you or not), the instantaneous and anonymous comments, the cultural expectation of the Internet as a freefire zone…

    Thoughts?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

      All true; with the caveat that Fear and Anger are already a kind of Suffering. Hate is the cherry on top of a Suffering Sunday.

      > I do wonder about whether the Internet is a real stumbling block WRT anger

      Oh – Yes,

      > whether they directly impact you or not

      One ‘secret’ to happiness is having a predominately incarnate life – not a cloud life. Then *use* the Internet as a tool to support that incarnate life.

      > the instantaneous and anonymous comments

      DO NOT READ THE COMMENTS. Seriously; most of those people are sick [as in ill].
      Except on Internet Monk, those people are the awesome sauce.

      • Except on Internet Monk, those people are the awesome sauce.

        I wouldn’t go THAT far, but they are much better than most.

        We must examine some of out opinions and responses and ask ourselves where they originate. Religious people tend to resort to anger and call it “righteous indignation”. And when they delve into politics, well then, it’s “righteous judgment.
        And yes, the internet is a cauldron of anger producing subjects.

        It seems that anger is a chameleon…

        • Adam Tauno Williams says:

          > I wouldn’t go THAT far, but they are much better than most.

          I intended some friendly familial irony in that statement. 🙂

          > It seems that anger is a chameleon…

          This. As an Angry Person I can say with confidence that Anger itself becomes a thing, skulking about looking for a justification to express itself. It is often not honestly a *response* to a situation, but the situation an excuse for the lizard to manifest itself.

          • Becoming (even more so) An Angry Person is why I quit listening to conservative talk radio back in 07/08. Daily I wanted to pick a fight, I just seethed and raged against anyone liberal. I realized I hated who I was when I was that way, so I quit listening. Calmed down significantly…and learned to listen.

        • The comments are sometimes the best and yet worst part of Internet Monk. I’m so glad I have my own subsection of cheerleaders who randomly come out of the woodwork to only accuse me of becoming a full blown atheist, and then disappear again while never contributing anything meaningful to any discussion.

          By now tho, I’m used to it. It’s been that way my whole life. Always a deviant, always a rebel, always thinking and rocking the boat, whether it was me playing “questionable” CCM music at the almost all hymns Christian radio station I worked at, or when I was president of a Christian student group at my university, seen “looking wordly” (having a beer) with the president of the local skeptics/atheist club.

          Yup.

  6. Thanks for this.

  7. Buddhism teaches that the way to address anger is through loving kindness, in thought and action (action is understood to be a kind of thought in Buddhism, and thought a kind of action; both are said to arise from and shape karma, which itself is understood to be more like the scientific idea that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, rather than a good-and-evil balance book). There are actually psycho-spiritual exercises, that have been developed over the centuries in the Buddhist traditions, for developing such loving-kindness; but of course, they require work and persistence.

    In some stories about the Buddha, his response to the question of what one should first do to enter the road to enlightenment might be helpful for all, Buddhist and non-Buddhist alike, in addressing anger, and other sins: Stop associating with fools.

    • Robert, the Old Testament mentions lovingkindness often, from the Hebrew hesed, also translated “steadfast love.” I understand that this fits in with shalom, peace, which is never to be understood as merely the absence of war, or something passive, but rather something active, positive, connected to God’s truth, his love, his hesed. And we’re also told that perfect love casts out fear, which you mentioned earlier is related to anger. The Buddhists may have been on to something there.

  8. I’ve been an addict. I have lost so much. I have been told so many lies in the rooms. I have been sober for 20 years the first time and nine the next. I started again. Actually some of the scummiest people I have met have been in the rooms. Bellying right up to the aa bar. Their addiction was manipulation now. I’m a Bill And I know a few Bobs. One Bob in particular loves. He has a house which his dad put together while Bob was in prison for emptying his 13 round 9 mm into of course his ex-wife.

    He did this while sober. Tried to hang himself in prison and did get put in 7 or 8 years. Learned God in there. The men who move through the house learn God in there. He says I just try to love them. Pick em up dust em off and start loving them all over again. I want to model JC for them as best I can. He was my second sponsor the first didn’t make a year. Drinking isn’t a sin. Only when we worship it and try to take control of this really ugly pit sometimes. Better to leave it to God. My chances this time aren’t real good.

    Bob and Bill started this twelve step mess. Not me and the Bobs I know. One would hand out prescription for the love of Christ. The 12 steps except the first have to do with God. We don’t have any other problems then God problems and how we relate to them.

    Unfortunately many Catholics that come into the rooms have the worst time with God. I haven;t figured that out yet. They seem very angry with Him. I have always thought that it is okay to get angry with Him. He is way bigger than anything we could be mad at and easily capable to go beyond that and actually make it work in our favor. He loves us enough to kill a lion with his bare hands or a bear. His staff when shown to us is the most beautiful thing these eyes could ever see. Love and it means more than we could ever know.

    My suggestion would be pray in the morning and thank Him at night. All Applications to gender are neutral. Try and see if He doesn’t start loving back one of His children. No more time today….sorry

  9. What if instead of websites and tv, it’s fellow believers that cause resentment / anger? Do I just avoid them? At least when discussing our faith? Isn’t this foresaking the gathering of the saints? Should I just pick the lesser of two weevils?

  10. How will we know we care about anything? How will we defend ourselves, show self-respect, address evil?

    How, indeed?

  11. Ronald Avra says:

    I definitely sit with the guilty when it comes to anger

  12. Nice article, Damaris.

    Anger, for me, allows me to feel I have some control of a situation I have no control. Flat tire? ANGER helps. Daughter not doing well in school? ANGER helps.

    Anger is also a response to fear (again, to help me feel that I have some control in a situation that scares the bejeezus out of me).

    Putting my anger in my back pocket is difficult. It’s totally releasing a situation in which I have no control. Difficult, but it must be done.

    By the way, in most of my versions of the Bible I don’t see anger as one of the fruits of the spirit. Anyone else have it in theirs?

  13. Wish we could all sit around a table with our beverages of preference and talk FTF.

    For me, anger is definitely a mask for fear, and underneath the fear is my sense of something about my life being threatened; this may or may not be the case, but it seems very real to me. Often this is connected to shame, as Fr Stephen has been writing about it – not toxic shame that others pile on, but me apprehending that something about who I am is bent – not the way it should be. The only thing to do with that is sit with it for a time before God. For me, the sacrament of Confession is such a great privilege; it’s a chance to do that little bit of sitting with my shame before God, and to practice the 4th and 5th Steps, specifically the Fifth: admit to God, to myself and to another human being the exact nature of my wrongs.

    I’m convinced that sitting with my discomfort about my failings is healing only if I believe that God is truly good, and will not himself shame me. I think that’s a big part of what the Cross is about, if not the biggest part.

    I also think that cultivating gratitude goes a long way to help curb my anger.

    Thanks, Damaris. Good to be thinking and praying about this.

    Dana

    • This is very helpful. Thank you.

    • “Wish we could all sit around a table with our beverages of preference and talk FTF.” Ditto, Dana. I’ve often thought that heaven must mean being able to get to the end of the path and being able to finish the conversation properly.

      • “I’ve often thought that heaven must mean being able to get to the end of the path and being able to finish the conversation properly.”

        That is such a hopeful thought! And, oh, how many conversations I’ve had that did not end properly!

  14. It was not until I was approaching my 50’s that I understood I had been dealing with depression since leaving childhood. It was even later that I began to realize how very angry I was. It was not until hitting 70 that I realized these are matters of the ego and that I am not my ego. I consider this realization the key to unlocking the whole dilemma of being human.

    On the map of consciousness developed by David R. Hawkins, depression is a couple of steps from the bottom, and anger is way above that, only a couple of steps from the crucial level of spiritual integrity, with fear and addiction along the way. This would indicate that being angry is better than either addiction or fear, certainly better by far than depression, but not a step to linger on any longer than necessary in order to move upward.

    I have heard from a number of people that twelve step programs are much closer to what Jesus had in mind for his church than most churches. Richard Rohr teaches on how to implement the twelve step concept into a church not centered on a particular existing problem, you might say Humans Anonymous, and being human carries all these forms of negativity along for the ride.

    What I find a problem with AA and such is the insistence on claiming the addiction as yours– I’m so and so and I’m an alcoholic. It is the same problem I see in the insistence of some Christians that I am a sinner. No, my ego is addicted to a number of destructive patterns, but I am not my ego. I am a child of God and I have an ego that wants to control me and everything else. My basic task in life is to shift my identity away from my ego, thus letting its force slowly dissipate and my true nature from God be disclosed. To work on improving my ego as if it were who I am only results at best in a self-righteous religious ego at the level of pride, the step just beyond anger. I don’t hang out in taverns, but being forced to be around religious egos could drive me there.

  15. This applies to me–I’ve known it for decades and of course I can also spot the beams in other people’s eyes. The problem is that I think there are issues where we should be concerned, but I have come to realize that we need to be concerned without the ” righteous” anger. It’s fascinating seeing how many different ways people find to be righteously angry– ways that just seem bizarre to me and I’m talking about people whose views I share on many issues. But I’m the same.

    And I don’t think it’s always fear– there is just some dark pleasure in being “right” and angry at those who aren’t.

  16. A few years back I had a disagreement with our worship leader. He called me on the carpet for something I said online that he found offensive. I went to him and tried to talk it out, apologizing as best I could. I think the disagreement had to do with authority and how one should interact with it. That’s hindsight of course. I suggested we agree to disagree and he seemed okay with that, but then turned around and started in again with “but I really think you should…” That made me angry and I turned and snapped at him, “you have to forgive!” Of course I had to work on that as well. But I really think that was the message he needed, however poor my delivery. I’ve learned over the past few years that forgiveness is not only healing to myself. It is often the only way we can get past the things that make us angry.

  17. Off-topic, but was Bosch an early cubist or a forerunner of Chagall? That painting is a bit surreal.

    Maybe Mike would know. He probably posted that anyway.

    • Neither one. He was just himself, although Brueghel the Elder was similar in many ways. Bosch’s imagination was almost hallucinogenic. I love his paintings. I once did a jigsaw puzzle of his “Temptation of St. Anthony” that had 144,000 pieces and was eight feet by five feet finished. This was before kids, of course. My husband and I had to move everything out of the living room of our apartment and devote the floor to the puzzle — for five months, since I had to go to work during the days!

    • As Damaris has said, the imagery looks very surreal to us, but Bosch was, in many cases, illustrating well-known proverbs and sayings in his work; ditto for Brueghel. Most of Bosch’s imagery would have been pretty easily decipherable by his contemporaries. We’ve lost the sayings and truisms over time, which makes the imagery weird and enigmatic.

  18. Christiane says:

    Wow. Very thought-provoking article, DAMARIS, thank you.

    Without ‘personalizing’ my own battle with ‘anger’, I have often thought how wrong others were to use it in certain circumstances (never really understanding that I also was guilty of bearing anger towards them as angry people).

    One circumstance is the way some conservative Christians speak about being ‘persecuted’, when others don’t agree with their ‘right’ to treat people on the margins without respect . . . the silliness of the ‘Merry Christmas’ issue versus ‘Happy Holidays’, when in truth, the ‘Happy Holidays’ IS more respectful of the diversity among our American citizenry with the timing of Hannukah and Christmas within a certain frame of weeks. “Merry Christmas” is intended to exclude our Jewish people from a holiday greeting. That ‘exclusion’ is something celebrated by conservative Christians, but is it something that works for the diversity of faith in our great country? Nope. It doesn’t.

    Another circumstance is something far more serious: how the Christian far-right embrace the Republican Party as the ‘Christian Party’ and how some preachers (from the PULPIT) teach that a vote for the Democrats is un-Christian. This aligns mostly with the ‘abortion’ issue . . . I think people prefer to use the term ‘the Right to Lifers’; but there lies the problem:
    how is it that a conservative Christian group can actively vote for a party that has an economic platform that injures the poor and the marginalized so severely that the US Catholic bishops come out against this economic plan . . . and STILL the Christians say that they are ‘pro-life’???? (my blood pressure rises just typing this)

    oh, DAMARIS . . . suppose instead of putting my energy into getting upset at the darkness, and cursing it, as I see it; I simply used my energies to light a candle and go to work for those people on the margins who are forgotten and neglected in our political process? . . . you know: the children of poor working women who don’t have decent salaries and who aren’t receiving child support from the childrens’ fathers; the mentally-challenged who are homeless and in need of advocates to help them get social services; the elderly often shunted aside and ‘forgotten’ in our busyness who also need advocates, foster children who need advocates, so many active rolls that are going unfilled while people are too busy angrily cursing the darkness?

    Yeah . . . I can see what you are getting at. And looking in the mirror is painful. If I’m going to get ‘angry’ over how a political party shows its contempt for the poor, then I had better get to work to help those poor, or I have misplaced my passion. At least, let me send money for water for the children of Flint, MI. Let me make sure I have responded to Our Lord’s ‘I thirst’ as someone in the real world who must hear Him and not just sit cursing the darkness, but take action to alleviate that suffering.

  19. Hi Damaris

    Thanks for your article, I really connected with it as it is something I struggle with and I know has had an impact on others. It’s only recently that I realised that I have been kidding myself on for years and justifying what is really to be avoided rather than embraced. It was this verse I came across in reading Psalm 37, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil.” (verse 8) that really made me think about my attitude towards anger. I’m not sure that I understand what is meant by “fret” completely but I think for me it is in part the kind of worrying and playing over of issues in my mind which can sometimes lead to anger taken out indirectly on others. I’m still working through this though.

    Sorry this is a late comment. Although I have been visiting this site regularly (probably weekly for the last 3 or 4 years) this is the first time I’ve actually commented before.