What is it about rage that we like so much? Why do we as humans so enjoy attacking each other? I know, I know, I’ve read the evolutionary, sociological, political, conservative theological, and philosophical theories. I have. And I know that we must have maintained that violent streak as a useful trait, that it was enforced by the need for family group survival, that it arises in the struggle between the disenfranchised and elite, that it is a direct consequence of original sin and man’s fallen nature—that it is, that it is.
Whatever. I don’t care where it came from. What I’m asking here is not a genetic question, but something far more personal and contemporary. What is it about rage that we humans today like so much?
What is it, to paraphrase a friend, that we’re getting from it? What do we gain? Surely it must be something. And surely it cannot just be that we only think we’re getting something worthwhile from it, because we rage so much of the time, you’d think after a while of not getting any of whatever we want to get, we’d stop and call it unproductive. But we don’t. So there must be something that we’re actually getting from this that we want.
But is this whatever it is really worth wanting?
Once upon a time, way last summer, a few of us forty-somethings from the south side of Spokane joined Facebook. And we reconnected with each other, making friends, often for the first time, with people we had passed in the halls or sat in the vicinity of during our high school days. The thing about this odd little group of people is that we somehow generally defy cliques. Sure, we had cliques, but these groups we quickly saw were rooted in teenage Angst and insecurity. Even at our ten-year reunion, a majority of us saw ourselves befriending those we wouldn’t be caught dead with, those who once intimidated the hell out of us, those who we just never really had the activity schedule to know before. To wit: worlds grew. Thirteen years later, one by one, we’ve found ourselves straggling into the brilliance of the book, a bit startled and excited by the possibilities.
And it is true that we’ve all changed—besides the passe understanding of infinite changes that happen every millisecond. And beyond the now-obvious to-be-expected deviations from grand plans and “most likely to” yearbook votes. People have softened. People have risked the terror of isolation and rejection, defying fears and shallow taboos, in favor of authenticity. People have suffered—some tremendously—and learned a courage where temerity once reigned. And many have dared to step beyond their own Weltanschauung to risk a peek into the worldview of another so very unlike them. It is this selflessness, this compassion, this sense of community and kindness, that wooed and won us, the class of ’86.
But the honeymoon on Facebook is rapidly coming to an end.
Sure, the election season began two years ago. But it wasn’t until Hillary faded and Sarah emerged that we awoke with a little sense of more-than-blissful reality before us. Our political differences became more than we could pretend to ignore, more than we could brush aside with a gentle smile or a truism. And our religious differences somehow found themselves entangled in our political differences. The good manners of our Facebook golden days evaporated, and we forgot ourselves, our values, our commitment to each other. We lunged in politically-inspired ferocity.
Oh, it’s all justifiable. After all, we’ve got the truth on our side. Those on the other side just won’t read facts. They’re so deceived. Their sources are so jaded and biased against us. And, anyway, they started it. Or maybe they didn’t start it, but their self-deception and manipulation of the truth required us to act. We had to speak up. And really, now, that’s all we did. We spoke the truth. And you know, we can’t be held accountable for how people respond to us. That’s their problem. We’re just saying it like it is, and if they don’t like it, so much the worse for them. Can’t blame us. And if they’re offended by how we say whatever we say, well, they’re either too thin-skinned and need to toughen up, or that’s just the Holy Spirit convicting them. Praise God they feel the pain. Shred them in the love of Jesus. And when they reply in their facile ignorance, well, Lordy, can’t let that idiocy misrepresent us. Must respond.
And the next thing you know, we’re each locked in our respective rooms, wondering how it is we started treating each other like this. Or wondering how Satan entered into that other we were once so excited to have re-met. Or how we could have been so naive, even after all these years, to think somebody would change and grow. Amazed at how we’re the only one to have matured, while they remained ignorant and shallow. And we forget that what drew us was a depth, a substance there beyond those surface differences that so quickly flare up and incinerate the human side of our ideological debates. A depth that is still there, just beneath the inevitable disagreements.
It isn’t like this election season is fundamentally different than any other time in human history. Yes, yes, we’ve finally got an African American president elect. And yes, he’s the first. But he’s not the first at being the first something as president. And not the first at being the first history-making first. When Kennedy was elected, the conservative Protestant base reached a fever pitch over how the USA was going to become a vassal state of the Vatican. People worried themselves sick over the ramifications of a president Reagan. And nobody was ever less prepared to be president of the US in a politically fragile climate than that Congressman who’d only served two years of his term and never held an executive position. Sure, he could give a good speech, but a President Lincoln? In fact, each season brings its unknowns and firsts. Obama, whether you are thrilled in the prospects of hope or repulsed by the potential of disaster, is simply the face of a new generation—our generation, the unknown, filled-with-possibilities, Generation X—taking the wheel of government. As it was for the first of any generation taking power in any government.
So whatever our disagreements are, they aren’t something new to American elections, or even politics in general. And they aren’t new to religion or religious worldviews. In the 1890s, America was radically divided by those Christians whose eschatology was founded upon a belief that God will intervene once we sufficiently screw things up, and those whose was founded upon a belief that God will intervene through us as we act in creative and socially egalitarian ways. The former looked back to the end of the ‘good old days’ rainbow, seeking a treasure they believed existed, but failed to realize was only a fiction founded on their own 18th Century hermeneutic. The latter looked forward to the as-yet unseen end of the 20th Century rainbow, failing themselves to realize that they were equally beneficiaries of the nihilism that inevitably and inexorably arises from any attempt to reduce all to the tangible and the material. The back-lookers and the forward-thinkers were equally inaccurate, but each group was so convinced they were right and the other was gravely deceived, they fell to divisiveness.
That is, they divided themselves into “us” and “them”. And as I noted elsewhere, it’s a tiny step from “them and us” to “them versus us.” Differences become somehow attached in our mind to how we treat “them” and how each little slight they give “us” proves how different and unworthy “they” are. How “they” are out to get “us”, to destroy “us”, and how we might need, in order to preserve our very existence, to preemptively strike.
And thus the marriage dissolves. Friendships end. People go away angry, embittered, or confirmed in their belief that “they” were no good and out to get us anyway. And we toddle down our little pathway unaware of how very much we fulfilled our own prophecies by our own unswerving dedication to “uncompromising” truth.
Lincoln once said that he destroyed his enemies by making them his friends. Jesus said that if we were at the alter, and we remembered that our brother had an offense against us (that is, that we had offended them), we were to put down our offering, and go make amends before we worshipped. In fact, that our reconciliation was an integral part of our worship. We are responsible, to a much larger degree than we want to accept, for what others think of us. What we say, our mommies often told us, usually isn’t the issue, rather, how we say it. Paul exhorted us to speak the truth in love, that is, in that state of being that is patient, kind, gentle, tolerant, and peace-making. In that state of mind that remembers always that we cannot separate a person from a discrete discussion or circumstance. A chat conversation, a wall discussion, is only a fragment, a glimpse, into the whole of somebody else’s life. And we are each other’s keepers.
So why, then, do we so enjoy rage and divisiveness? And why do we, especially we as Christians, think we have more of a right to be divisive, unkind, judgmental, curt, and cutting, than those “on the other side”? Are we not even more to love? Are we not even more to be kind? Are we not known by our fruits? When did it become acceptable for the Church to rage and attack, instead of turn the other cheek when attacked? When did we cease to emulate our Savior who stood silent when falsely accused, not needing to have the final word in an ideological debate?
And how many times will we excuse ourselves by saying “well, I’m not perfect; I’m just a fallen soul,” thereby assuaging any guilt until our next tirade that wholly forgets the humanity of those over whom we trample in our self-righteous, or perhaps fearful, or perhaps merely excited, bluster?
We disagree on the surface. We all agree that the world is dangerous. We all agree that something must be done. We all agree that corruption must be curbed, justice meted, security maintained, and liberty protected. We all hold the same foundational principles as invaluable. Our disagreement is only regarding how, exactly, to fulfill these principles. Merely surface.
We are all vulnerable, flawed, sometimes worried, sometimes confident, sometimes gentle, sometimes arrogant, sometimes brilliant, sometimes stupid, sometimes unfeeling, sometimes maudlin people. We all hope. We all dream. We all love.
And if we don’t take the initiative to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, to exert our energies into loving our neighbors—even those horrible, filthy “them” on the other side of the street—we will find ourselves divorced from potential lifelong friendships and silently bewildered at how we are so often misunderstood and misused.