We’ve devoted space here on The Beard to the subject of outrage, to the increasing acceptance of wasted or misplaced emotion boiling over and making no tangible difference whatsoever. But since it’s still a major part of our modern social reality, and it seems like it’ll continue to be, there’s still something to be said when this outrage modifies, or even directs, the major events we witness.
I do my own share, of course. I like to believe it’s all righteous anger. In some cases, it is. I’m angry that Kim Davis is some twisted Christian anti-hero. I’m angry that I still get comments on my recent gun article that are tragically misinformed and, in some cases, so unintelligent that it’s legitimately scary. I’m angry that “all lives matter” is a thing. Still.
These, I like to believe, are examples of righteous anger, upset born from witnessing injustice toward and hatred for beings of worth. But I’m also guilty of indulging my own form of worthless outrage, outrage done for its own sake. I get riled up by what certain politicians say, even when I know they’re saying it to get a rise. Or maybe they actually believe the stupid thing they’re saying; either way, it’s predictable, boring even at this point, and it’s not something I should spend energy hating.[^1]
But this isn’t the real problem. I can parse out these moments of faux upset and make myself think carefully about why I’m mad when Mike Huckabee is a moron. He’s a moron; why be mad when he acts like it? The real issue is when my legitimate anger bleeds beyond the boundaries of righteousness and becomes a caricature of itself. Anger, in that situation, is the singular tool that I let take over and run the entire machine.
You can make progress that way, but it’s unsustainable. Emotionally, it’s draining. Intellectually, it’s unstable. Spiritually, it’s dangerous. Anger has to transition at some point. And really, it can’t be the initial driver anyway. Righteous anger has to arise from love first; it’s not righteous otherwise. Love for what matters is the origin for our rage when what matters is threatened. If we do not love, our reaction will be indifference. Really, that’s what makes faux outrage so terrible; it’s indifference masked as emotion, aimed at something to elicit personal gain. All this is to say that starting from a place of love is threatened by not returning to love.
What does that mean practically? It means that even the most righteous of causes can be corrupted by our outrage over harm to those causes, over ill-will others have for them. Instead, we must harness our outrage and employ it as a catalyst to spark the engine that sets us moving. If we do not, that spark can become a fire beyond our control. The righteousness of anger can only be marked by its fruits, by how we put it aside in favor of working for the betterment of who or what we felt anger for.
So I get to be angry that Kim Davis thinks that her brand of faith trumps the inclusive nature of God. I get to be angry that a bunch of people agree with her. That anger can spur me to think and act in ways that address the issue. But if I don’t let that anger recede back into the love for the humanity of others from which it comes, then I can’t live or act in ways that express that love. And if I’m not doing that, I’m no better than the crowd, waving cardboard crosses and rallying around their collective, beloved fear.
[^1]: I mean, I’m gonna do it though.