When something is in fashion we say, “It’s all the rage.” But what do we say when the “rage” is rage itself?
I’ve been taken with the recent rise of anger in our culture on both an observational and personal level.
Recently, my wife and I were taking our oldest granddaughter to an indoor water park. As we drove to the main entrance, a young man brazenly walked out in front of us and a stream of other cars as if daring us not to stop. Even though no one even honked at him (they should have) and we all simply slowed down to let him through, he suddenly turned to face us all and violently shook his fist.
A few weeks later we were at a furniture store and saw a man and a woman get into some kind of disagreement, and then the man took a rolled up bunch of papers and hit her across the face.
But this pales in comparison to what can be observed at large: violent videos of fighting among teens going viral almost daily;
…road rage resulting in numerous murders each year and thousands of injuries;
…air rage skyrocketing;
…even an election cycle where candidates in both parties do well only by catering to anger toward government.
In what now seems prescient, at the beginning of the 21st century, Leon James, professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, called our age the “Age of Rage.”
Yes, anger can be “righteous.” Of the classic seven deadly sins, anger alone holds certain redeeming qualities that flow from the character of God. Jesus Himself was noted in the Scriptures to have become angry. Anger can be the most appropriate reaction we can have, providing the most holy and righteous response to the wrongs that we encounter. It can also provide the necessary fuel to act, driving us to do what most needs to be accomplished to set things right.
As the early church father John Chrysostom wrote, “He who is not angry when he has cause to be, sins.”
Yet the righteous dimension of anger grants no one an excuse to give it free rein in their life. While not all anger is bad, it must always be controlled. The wisdom book of the Bible, Proverbs, reminds us that "A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control" (Proverbs 29:11, NIV).
So why is anger on the rise?
We live in what linguistics professor Deborah Tannen calls “the argument culture,” which drives us to indiscriminately approach the world – and the people in it – in an adversarial role. This culture rests on the assumption that opposition is the best way to get things done.
Take that dynamic and then mix in the fact that anger is perhaps the easiest of sins to embrace. As Frederick Buechner once noted, anger is the most fun: “To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.”
Yet Buechner is wise in carrying the meal through to its final course. “The chief drawback,” he continues, “is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast, is you.”
Or in our case, our culture.
James Emery White
Eric Frazier, “Young people drowning in violent media,” The Charlotte Observer, April 3, 2016, read online.
John Chrysostom, Homily 10.
Deborah Tannen, The Argument Culture: Moving from Debate to Dialogue.
Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.