The rewards of rage

Having been connected with international finance for many years I must confess to having an almost unhealthy knowledge of how to reduce taxation. I know how to make taxable profits pop up in my country of choice. I know where to keep financial instruments in the most tax-efficient jurisdiction. I know where to make investments with the least taxation damage to the outcomes. This is, of course, all big-scale stuff, but it is mirrored at some level on the balance sheets of any company in the country which has a half-decent accountant.

But I must immediately make clear that I have never initiated any such measures. I have merely known of their existence in companies with which I have been familiar. I excuse myself because I wish to avoid the righteous anger of the readers directed at the sheer wickedness of tax avoidance.

There has been a good deal of righteous anger around relating to companies like Google, Starbucks and Amazon. I am not defending them, but I do find a committee of MPs an odd source of public reprimand on best practice in financial matters. (Doubtless all the MPs concerned are themselves as white as driven snow, but they do keep questionable company.)

Righteous anger, or unrighteous anger – as I shall henceforth term it – has some very unpleasant characteristics. It is attracted by the sort of behaviour which is seen as particularly wicked or unfitting. Anger is thus not only justified, it becomes a pleasure. We may pursue the foul prey with the utmost cruelty and with the utmost sense of virtue. In fact, the crueller we are the more confident we are of our righteousness.

So at Béziers, during the Albigensian Crusade, the Christian soldiers massacred the townspeople with the comfort of the Abbott Almaric’s order: “Kill them all, for God knows his own.” The experience of splitting skulls while doing the Lord’s work must have been intoxicating indeed.

Nor do we need to believe that the Crusaders were by nature particularly virtuous. Unrighteous anger is particularly favoured by those to whom the experience of being on the side of the angels is unfamiliar. I wish I could be confident, for instance, that the critics who attack corporate tax arrangements do not take steps to lower their own tax bills or to reduce household bills by paying cash.

Let’s bring the issue a little closer to home. I imagine that it is broadly agreed that the instinct of bishops to cover up paedophile clergy was a culpable mistake. But we forget that this has become much clearer only with the benefit of hindsight. Do we not have the imagination to understand how a bishop, perhaps with little knowledge of the psychology of paedophilia, might have sincerely thought it best to avoid the scandal of publicity – particularly when he truly believed in the sincerity of the offender’s contrition?

Please be clear: I am not defending bishops for their failure to act. Unrighteous anger is usually launched at a real cause whether it be the over-protective bishop, the Albigensian heretic or the organised tax avoider. It is the addiction to satisfying anger that I attack. Eric Berne, the distinguished psychologist, characterised such behaviour by the phrase: “Now I’ve got you, you son-of-a-bitch!” (Forgive the language: he was an American.)

Consider the religious fanatic – or, to be more precise, the fanatic who is religious. The distinction is important because the tendency to extremism is inherent while the field in which it is expressed is accidental. The fanatical Christian, the fanatical Muslim, the fanatical Tory and the fanatical Marxist all share a common root in their settled belief that not only are they right, but also that they achieve virtue by imposing their doctrines on others and punishing any who fall short.

There are many examples. Take, almost at random, showbusiness figures such as Jimmy Savile, bankers who fiddle indices like Libor to their own advantage, supermarkets that mis-label products, petty police corruption, sexual preferences other than our own. The excuses for unrighteous anger are at our elbow whenever we need to boost our waning egos.

I would hazard an educated guess that fanatics and others prone to unrighteous anger have somewhat weak and fearful personalities. They have a deep need to protect themselves against their internal uncertainties. They do this by adopting views which give them an unquestionable sense of purpose and thereby bolster their vulnerable self-image. And, in frequent instances, jealousy of the target gives a boost. So those who exercise influence or power over us – such as clergy, police or Members of Parliament – become attractive targets when they fall. And so do those who are more successful than we feel they have any right to be.

But I do not wish to push this profile too hard. My simple reason is that I, too, am susceptible to unrighteous anger. I can think of many occasions when I have given vent to it, and many more where I have been tempted. I even harbour unrighteous anger for those who indulge in unrighteous anger. I do believe that it is part of our fallen natures and so we have to recognise our susceptibility to this addiction if we are to fight our lust for the rewards of rage. Nor may we claim Jesus and the money changers in the Temple as a precedent. Unless of course we are certain that we only act with the purity of motive that he had.

Advertisements

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Catholic Herald columns, Moral judgment and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

41 Responses to The rewards of rage

  1. John Nolan says:

    A ‘fanatical Tory’ is a contradiction in terms. Toryism is historically opposed to anything that smacks of enthusiasm. Can you name a fanatical Tory, past or present?

    • JohnL says:

      Hear! Hear!

    • Quentin says:

      Would you recognise one if you saw him?

      • John Nolan says:

        Lord Hailsham once remarked that unlike a socialist a Tory regarded making love and making money as being more important than politics. However, times change, and I have heard even so-called Tories arguing that MPs should have no outside interests, which will of course make them even more out-of-touch with the rest of us than they already are.

  2. Iona says:

    I was married to one.
    Well, I still am, – but we live separately now.

    But it’s true that one of his oldest friends, who knew him when they were both boys, used to laugh because he (my husband) had joined the Young Conservatives because he was fanatically Tory, whereas everyone else had joined in order to meet persons of the opposite sex.

  3. Iona says:

    But to get back to unrighteous anger: it is frequently promoted by media reports. The media seem to have an interest in keeping viewers, listeners and readers in a ferment of outrage.

  4. Michael Horsnall says:

    “Righteous anger, or unrighteous anger – as I shall henceforth term it – has some very unpleasant characteristics. It is attracted by the sort of behaviour which is seen as particularly wicked or unfitting. Anger is thus not only justified, it becomes a pleasure. We may pursue the foul prey with the utmost cruelty and with the utmost sense of virtue. In fact, the crueller we are the more confident we are of our righteousness…”

    You have to watch this like the plague-it gives itself away by the smug feeling that accompanies it and the tendency to say “yeah, Yeah, YEAH!” I met a priest awhile – ago in a prison I visit….Strangely enough he didn’t have horns.

  5. claret says:

    Perhaps if there was no unrighteous anger (is that two negatives making a positive? ) then the things giving rise to it would just fade away.
    No one would fiddle their tax returns, MP’s would be satisfied with their pay and expenses,institutions like the Catholic Church would never err and all the clergy would never sin.
    Sounds an unlikely prospect to me.
    Money changers in the temple not an appropriate scriptural argument? How about the one about casting the first stone?
    We are all hypocrites when it comes down to it but does that does not justify silence. We demonstrate unrighteous anger at the great things as well as the small. I am very angry about the Holocaust and the Spanish Inquisition but there is nothing I can do to re-write history. We can only deal with the present and some things demand anger.

    • John Nolan says:

      A lot of anger is feigned. A protestant Ulsterman once told me that when there was an Orange march Catholics were bussed in to be offended. The self-righteous anger of the PC-brigade if someone makes a remark which offends their sense of propriety is simply posturing. I read an interesting book (I don’t recall the title or the author) which looked at present-day Anglican beliefs and attitudes. One woman stormed out of her local church because the vicar prayed the Hail Mary. “I was livid!” she said. “So demeaning to women!” I’ve never been able to work that one out.

    • St.Joseph says:

      Claret was the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire unnecessary.?
      Terrible things were happening ,the killing of infants, even cannibalism, it resulted in the conversion to Christianity.
      When St Peter objected to Jesus’s Crucifixion he was rebuked,for saying ‘no not you Lord. However you are right we can only deal with the present’.

      ..

  6. Michael Horsnall says:

    Feigned anger can be quite fun though it can be genuinely nasty. I was an avid football supporter in the days before we all had to sit down and be polite. The posturing of tribal fans was mainly feigned and just for fun…till someone got badly beaten or stabbed of course. I always had the impression that the police tribe enjoyed it most of all simply because they were better organised than we were!

  7. Singalong says:

    Unmarried mothers have attracted a great deal of righteous anger over the centuries, most of it very hypocritical and not directed at the men concerned, but, as is often the case, something has been lost now that there is wide acceptance of their situation, and society and families are changing fundamentally.

    Was there always behind it the blame attached to Eve as the temptress?

    • St.Joseph says:

      Singalong.
      Females are supposedly the stronger sex.This is why Mary (Our Lady) is the new Eve, and Jesus the new Adam.

      If we gave the men a good slap if they tried it on-they would stop.If a female can not control her own sexual desire as the child bearers what chance has she got for rearing her children.
      The answer is for everyone to live by the Holy Families example.(A world without sin. if only)

      .

  8. ionzone says:

    “So at Béziers, during the Albigensian Crusade, the Christian soldiers massacred the townspeople with the comfort of the Abbott Almaric’s order: “Kill them all, for God knows his own.” The experience of splitting skulls while doing the Lord’s work must have been intoxicating indeed.”

    This is, in fact, not true. The line “Kill them all, for God knows his own.”, and all variations on it come from a play released a couple of centuries ago. While the play has been forgotten the line lives on.. Not because it is true, but because it is catchy. If you look at the records of the events you won’t find any reference to the line.

    • ionzone says:

      “I would hazard an educated guess that fanatics and others prone to unrighteous anger have somewhat weak and fearful personalities.”

      This is indeed correct. Unfortunately the Crusades might be a bad example since if they had not happened the Arabs would have conquered the known world. I certainly agree with what you are saying, about fanaticism of all sorts being rooted in fear, but I don’t think fanatics of all sorts are equally as bad as eachother.

    • Quentin says:

      On the contrary, it was reported anecdotally in the XIIIth century by Caesarius of Heisterbach. You can read the text at http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/caesarius-heresies.html

      In such cases we can always fall back on the Italian dictum: se non è vero è molto ben trovato

  9. Quentin says:

    FOR EVERYONE
    I have received a message from our friend, Nektarios, that he has been diagnosed with cancer. I have no further details, but he will be faced with a long and weary way. You will want, I am sure, to join me in prayer for his wellbeing.

    • ionzone says:

      Oh crap. That is horrible. Please let him know if you can that we wish him well and will be praying for him. I wish there was some way we could send him a card….

    • John Candido says:

      I am so very sorry to hear about your predicament Nektarios! The entire SecondSight community will pray for your complete recovery.

  10. Iona says:

    Oh dear, oh dear. I will certainly pray for him.
    If you get any more details, Quentin, I’m sure you’ll pass them on (with Nektarios’s permission, of course)

  11. John Candido says:

    I have had a small number of private emails since late May of this year with Nektarios. I was not aware that he had any medical concerns until Quentin announced this sad news to everybody yesterday. He has told me that he wants to convey to everybody, that due to his current medical condition he is sorry that he will not be contributing on SecondSight. He is however still following the topics by whatever means are available to him. He is also very grateful for everybody’s prayers and supplications, during this confronting and awful time. He conveys to everyone his sincere wish that God may truly bless us all. Please pray for Nektarios.

    • Quentin says:

      Thank you for this John. I am glad you have been in direct touch.
      Could I suggest that beyond our immediate prayers, we make a point of remembering him this Sunday. Collective prayer has always been important (‘When two or three are gathered in my name…’.) In his human nature Jesus would not have had internet blog groups in mind, but I am darn sure that he did through his divine nature.

      • St.Joseph says:

        Thank you John also.
        Nektarios has been in contact with me as well, and I am remembering him in my prayers. especially on Sunday as Quentin suggested..

  12. John Nolan says:

    My prayers and best wishes also. There is a lovely prayer in the Roman Ritual. “Dominus Jesus Christus apud te sit, ut te defendat: intra te sit, ut te conservet: ante te sit, ut te ducat: post te sit, ut te custodiat, super te sit, ut te benedicat: Qui cum Patre et Spititu Sancto vivit et regnat in saecula saeculorum.”

  13. mike Horsnall says:

    I have been pondering this topic a bit and have come to the conclusion that genuine righteous anger is a bit of a rarity these days. I’m a bit narked because my local Curry’s sales assistant sold me a Norton security package when my new computer already had Mcafee installed- but when it comes to Syria the most I can genuinely attain to is a kind of horror.

  14. John Candido says:

    There is something about unrighteous anger that is both pernicious and insidious. It is a dangerous mentality fraught with temptations, prejudice and error. Folks, we are all guilty of it, from time to time. Whether it is an examination of the right or wrongs of a conflict between friends, communities or nations, or incandescent moments inside families; it can be a very serious matter requiring urgent circumspection at times.

    Self-awareness of our proclivity for such sins can be an important road to greater wisdom and insight into human nature and its foibles. The use of righteous anger in order to deliberately transmogrify from weakness and flaccidity, to ebullience and egoism, is a grave temptation. I am relatively confident that this was employed by Adolf Hitler, or any other dictator for that matter, in his titanic rise from bucolic anonymity to towering Godzilla.

    Hitler had a deeply dysfunctional nature, with a talent for public speaking that was second to none, laced with unrighteous anger towards the Jews, and any person deemed an opponent. Hitler or Stalin aside; we can heed the admonishment that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. It is salutary correction against unrighteous anger.

  15. Singalong says:

    May I add my good wishes and prayers for Nektarios, and hope his treatment will not be too challenging. I did particularly remember him on Sunday as Quentin asked.

    • St.Joseph says:

      The Primeminister has announced to-day that he will do all he can to protect children from child abuse. Cleaning up the porn on the internet.There would probably have had no need for that if the late Mary Whitehouse had been listened to..
      She was criticized for her concern for all the pornography..so explicit on TV and other sources etc.
      David Cameron will need to do a lot more to stop the abuse of the babies aborted in their mothers womb and other sources of destroying embryos.
      We can not speak about ‘Rage without thinking of those disgraceful inhuman acts to the unborn. A reason to hang our heads in shame.

    • Horace says:

      May I too add my good wishes and prayers for Nektarios, and hope his treatment will not be too challenging. I did remember him on Sunday as Quentin asked.

  16. Geordie says:

    May I offer my prayers and good wishes to Nektarios. May you get well soon.

  17. Geordie says:

    We seem to be adopting a degree of guilt about righteous anger and are now calling unrighteous anger. I suppose self-righteous anger also comes into it. However, righteous anger does have a legitimate place in our lives;but it will always be accompanied by sadness at the injustice being done.
    The Apostles showed righteous anger at the betrayal of Our Lord by Judas.They were also angry at the fact that he was a thief. They did not hide the fact in order to protect the good name of the Church. They also publicised St Peter’s and St Thomas’s failings. But I am sure that they also felt disappointment and sadness; anger and sadness go together unless we enjoy a bit of schadenfreude, then self-righteous anger kicks in.

  18. Quentin says:

    A NOTE FROM NEKTARIOS
    My dear Quentin,

    My sincere thanks for all on the blog praying for me as I embark on this necessary treatment.
    You all demonstrate our kinship in Christ in the bonds of love.
    The initial treatment will be over 4-6 weeks. Hopefully it will work.
    You have all been so kind and your encouragement keeps my faith strong.
    God bless you
    Nektarios

  19. Singalong says:

    Trying another check!

  20. Iona says:

    4 – 6 weeks… Hopefully Nektarios will then rejoin us on the blog.
    I was once told (in the confessional) that there are circumstances in which it can be sinful NOT to be angry.

  21. Singalong says:

    I don`t think it is human not to feel anger as well as sadness about some instances of injustice and cruelty. As long as it doesn`t turn into hatred and a desire for revenge I think it can do good and lead to positive action.

    Exercising me particularly at the moment is the way in which people are often treated like pieces of equipment rather than as human beings with needs and feelings.

    Our nephew has had a short term job which he was hoping would become more permanent, but it is going instead to somebody younger on a government scheme which will be less expensive for the department. He appreciates the business sense of this decision, but it would have helped him enormously if his manager had told him the news himself, along with some appreciation of the good work he has done, instead of letting him find out casually with nothing said to him directly.

    This complete lack of any consideration is not uncommon, but could so easily be changed to make employees feel genuinely valued.

    • Quentin says:

      In the light of your nephew’s experience — I visited an old work colleague of mine this week. He had returned from (successful) open-heart surgery in a very well known London hospital. He told me that he received the impression that the ward staff had very little interest in the patients. They served a purpose of course just by being there. There was for instance a patient with a limited grasp of English but no one troubled to listen to his needs. Everyone was given a dose of insulin; it was apparently easier to dose everyone than to find out who might need it.

      My friend himself had rather more attention. But then he is a highly educated man, and a lawyer. So he was recognised as being a member of the human race. Who would be old, and poor, and ill?

      But to be fair, my wife was extremely ill in another London hospital some two years ago, and she was treated with the greatest care. She was only sorry that she was too weak to join the other patients at their Christmas lunch.

    • tim says:

      Truly sorry to hear of your troubles, Nektarios. Many will pray for you – for strength, peace of mind, and a full and rapid return to health. The latter may not demand a miracle – recent scientific progress has greatly improved many cancer treatments, as I can testify from my own experience.

    • tim says:

      Singalong, your nephew’s experience may have been due to cowardice as well as thoughtlessness by his manager. Thirty-five years in industry taught me that failure to acknowledge good work really hurt people (I sinned in this respect at least as often as I was sinned against).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s