Your World: Unrighteous Indignation

Righteous anger is often a mask for mere self-righteousness.

Representatives of many faiths and many causes sat around the big table, and directly across from me was a man who burned with zeal for his. He held forth confidently on the urgency of his organization's mission and concluded by repeating the charge he gives his leaders.

"I tell them to stay angry," he said.

Has anger become a virtue?

Of the seven deadly sins, anger has long been the one with the best box of costumes. When the guy in the next car rages at you, he's dangerous. When you rage at him, you're just. We can usually recognize the results of anger, especially in others, as destructive and evil. But there are times when we think our own anger is justified, say as a kind of fuel to fight injustice. There are times when we think it is holy. It's not just the world that thinks this way. When I want to have a particularly futile argument with a conservative, I tell him (and, in this case, it will be a him) that I think the movie Braveheart is a revenge fantasy and that, since Christians are supposed to forsake revenge, it's a variety of pornography. My moviegoing friend will protest that Mel Gibson portrays Christian virtues of courage and self-sacrifice. I don't have any question about that. But Jesus showed us how to be courageous and sacrificial while we die for our beliefs, not while we kill for them. Perhaps there are time-and-place situations in which war can be just. But there's never a situation when it's right to gloat in revenge. There's never a time to cultivate delicious anger just for the thrill of it. I've been thinking about why this kind of anger feels so good. It is, I believe, the mask of self-righteousness, and we desperately hunger to know that we are righteous. All humans suffer from free-floating guilt ...

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Christianity Today
Your World: Unrighteous Indignation
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October 23, 2000

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