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Justifiable Anger?

September 12, 2012

In spite of Christ’s consistent and strong admonitions against anger, some Christians believe in such a thing as justifiable anger or righteous anger. Through a peculiar reading of scripture, they read justifiable anger into Christ driving out the moneychangers, confusing zeal and the natural aggressive aspect of the tripartite soul with the passion of anger.  Fathers, such as Saint John Chrysostom, however, state that His actions represented not justifiable anger, but a correction born of love that even the coarse moneychangers could not possibly misinterpret. Those who were angry, and not justifiably so, were the Pharisees who should have rejoiced in the purification of the temple. Saint John Cassian writes, “For the end and aim of patience consists, not in being angry with a good reason, but in not being angry at all.” Whether it is termed righteous anger or justifiable anger, anger is one of the passions that inevitably leads to spiritual death, as our Savior most clearly teaches:

“I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matt 5:22).

Philautia, a topic we’ve written about in previous blog posts, is the usual culprit, as it is in each of the eight bad thoughts.  Philautia gives birth to thoughts that are consumed by anger, lust, jealousy and so forth.  These thoughts in turn beget other bad thoughts.  This is how anger can lead to lust or murder.  Once the Pandora’s Box of spiritual vices is opened, the soul is subject to attack from an inner Hydra whose serpentine heads grow back as soon as they are cut off. I write about this in chapter four of my book: “Philautia not only obstructs the path toward virtue, but also opens up the road to vice.  For this reason Saint John of Damascus calls philautia ‘the begetter of the vices’ and thus the ultimate cause of the eight bad thoughts.  According to Saint Hesychius the Presbyter, its winged children are ‘self-praise, self-satisfaction, gluttony, unchastity, vainglory, jealousy, and the crown of all these, pride.”  This is precisely why it is very dangerous to justify anger in any of its forms.  Such a justification allows philautia to fester, anger to become more frequent, and offers an open invitation to all the other vices.  At the end of my patristic description of philautia in chapter four, I offer a psychological description, because of the value that such a change of language and perspective can bring: “Employing psychological idiom, we can define philautia as a barely conscious counterproductive state of irrationality in which motivation and intentionality are hedonistically linked to present and anticipated pleasurable sensations of a physical and symbolic nature.  In this state, specious arguments for desired ends seem persuasive and even peremptory.  Philautia is also a condition with moral, social, and theological ramifications.  It should be resisted because it breeds that passions that disorient man, strip him of his relationships with others, since someone who is infected with philautia (ho philautos) becomes unfriendly, insensitive, anti-social, unjust, and hostile to others.  To overcome philautia, a person who believes deeply will strive to widen his friendly concerns to embraces others, to learn self-control, to reject the pleasure-pain cycle, to seek God, to long for him, and to struggle for his sake.”

This pleasure-pain cycle coupled with issues of self-control lie at the heart of philautia. These self-same issues are at the heart of anger as well and make the notion of justifiable anger especially problematic.  Taking a step back from an angry thought, we can usually situate it within the pleasure-pain cycle and the failure to accept that there is much that is beyond our control. As we’ve seen in other blog posts, the pleasure-pain cycle and issues of self-control also are to be found at the center of addictive disorders. The idea that anger can also be an addiction is not new to those who read the fathers. In order to root out the seeds of evil thoughts, we must be vigilant and humble.  If pride is the crown of the vices, humility is clearly the virtues’ queen. And when she is present, there is not a trace of anger, but instead longsuffering compassion for all of creation.

From → Anger, Thoughts, Vigilance

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