A vile plague of fear, anger, and hatred increasingly oppresses the world, and it especially bedevils the United States. What may not be obvious at first is the fact that most of what is behind all this strife is people’s adamantly held and forcefully expressed personal beliefs. In other words, their righteousindignation. Because these emotions feel righteous to us, we are sure expressing them must be a virtue! And indignation is anger at injustice. What could be a more saintly emotion than wholehearted righteousindignation?
Well, as it turns out, just about everything.
Righteous indignation is the primary source of all the negativity that now plagues our world! I will give you two examples from today’s news. Once you begin to look for it, though, you will see that it is everywhere:
The Pope now blames the thousands of childhood victims of clergy sexual abuse for the sin of calling out their abusers. Reading his words feels like entering a parallel universe! “Among us is the great accuser, who always goes to accuse us before God, in order to destroy us. Satan … The only legitimate accusation that we Christians have is to accuse ourselves. For others there is only mercy.” So for victims to work to purify their religion of its horrific and widespread sexual abuse means they are aligning themselves with Satan?
A biology teach in my grandson’s high school has been suspended for verbally abusing a student. Apparently the student did nothing to provoke her, but only knowing his political views made her feel compelled to taunt him. “Hey, Trumpy, do you have an answer to this?” and “What do you think, Trumpy?” She actually added, “By the way, I hate Donald Trump with a burning passion and he is a complete douchebag.”
Do you see what these news stories have in common?
The Pope takes what most of us see as an entirely indefensible position because in his mind he is defending God’s representatives on earth. True, they aren’t perfect, but their peccadilloes cannot be allowed to harm the Church of God! He is righteouslyindignant that anyone would challenge divine authority.
The teacher has allowed a mainstream media that is heavily negative about this President to fill her with righteous indignation to the point of rage that anyone could support him.
I urge you to try this yourself! Take any recent news story about any kind of disruptive strife and look behind it, and you are likely to find that one or a few people caused that strife out of their own righteousindignation.
Righteous indignation is so insidious and so pervasive that it is not an exaggeration to say that it has become the single biggest threat to the long-term survival of humankind. Please bear with me on this! The reasons why righteous indignation is so destructive are inherent in what are actually positive aspects of human nature:
All good people crave to make the world a better place.
Each of us constructs a worldview that is based upon what we see as the highest good.
When we see what our worldview tells us is evil happening right in front of us, we suffer what feels like the saintliest possible need to actively fight that evil.
Even Jesus was not immune to a sudden impulse to attack the temple money-changers!
Many of us see reality as essentially a fight between good and evil, and that awareness only ramps up our craving to battle for what we believe is right. But evil seldom presents itself wearing horns and a spiked tail! Rather, nowadays evil often comes to us cloaked in angel robes.Righteous indignation actually afflicts most severely the very people who are most determined to do what is right. Consider:
People in the grip of righteousindignation are insidiously immune to reason. They see their views as good because they formed those views with the purest of intentions, so any attempt you or I might make to share with them our different views only makes them see us as ambassadors of evil.
People in the grip of righteousindignation are sure they are defending all that is good. So they aren’t just fighting for their own beliefs. No, they see themselves as fighting for the very survival of goodness and truth! The stakes in their own minds could not be higher.
As I have begun to write about the fact that righteousindignation is the primary source of the world’s increasing fear and hatred, some people have written to say, “Aha! But what about righteous wars?” They may have a point! But even wars that seem righteous to us still have righteous indignation as their source. For example:
The American Civil War was fought because a side that saw slavery as the ultimate evil and a side that believed the states had rights were both seized by fits of righteousindignation.
World War I began when someone inspired by righteousindignation killed a nobleman, whereupon the German Kaiser’s righteousindignation inspired him to trigger his alliances.
World War II was the direct result of Germany’s righteousindignation at onerous strictures imposed on it following World War I.
The Vietnam War was the result of righteousindignation in the U. S. government based on the then-current “domino theory” that the advance of Communism had to be stopped.
Recent Mid-East wars have been the result of religious battling and terrorist attacks all inspired by righteousindignation, and then responses based in the righteousindignation of some of the victims of those attacks.
I have come to believe that no war that does not defend against an attack on the homeland can be justified. It may be that even such a purely defensive war should still be seen as wrong, but surely that very limited case would be the only legitimate exception to an outright condemnation of all wars!
How can we end this plague of righteous indignation before it tears our nation and the world apart? Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it simply: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
The key to ending all the chaos and pain that righteous indignation is causing is to help as many people as possible realize this emotion is the opposite of love! You cannot fight righteousindignation in someone else, since any mild defense that you might mount against someone who is deep in its throes will be seen as a personal attack based in evil. So if you try to dispute with such a person, not only will you achieve nothing good, but also you will risk increasing the world’s sorry burden of fear and rage. Your only useful course is to disengage! Send your attacker sincere love and blessings, and then withdraw. Agree to return only when productive discussions are again possible.
The only way to end this plague will be to eradicate righteous indignation as a respectable human impulse. When sufficient people have gotten to the point where they see righteousindignation as the vice that it is, then those who are using it now are going to be shamed into giving it up. And the first place from which to rout it must be ourselves! You are suffering from righteous indignation if you experience any of these symptoms:
You see things in terms of an obviously clear right and wrong. Nothing whatsoever is all right or wrong! Your refusal to respect and listen to someone who holds a view contrary to your own is a massive warning that you are not as sure about the truth as you think you are.
You are so adamant about your position that encountering a contrary view enrages you. These are just competing ideas, for heaven’s sake. They are not drawn swords!
You have let a purely factual argument feel like a personal attack. I have been the target of a recent campaign of righteous indignation, and both of the people who were most rigorous in their attacks on me said the same telltale words: “Do you know who I am?” My dear friend, if you ever so much as think those words, it is time to give yourself a time-out!
What should you do if you find that you yourself are suffering from righteous indignation? First, know that you have become a cause of much greater problems for the world than are whatever wrongs you may have thought you were fighting. So get yourself out of the fray! If your righteousindignation has made you angry with someone, make a point of healing that relationship. And make a big point of open-mindedly studying the points of view of others that most directly oppose your own! Only when you can articulate the best positions that oppose your own beliefs can you trust yourself to speak again in the arena of ideas.
It may be that our only cure for the fear and hatred that are the bitter fruits of righteousindignation will be to change the way we address both spiritual and temporal matters. It is devoutly-held political and religious beliefs that underlie nearly all righteousindignation, so it may be that both institutions have become sources of such monstrous evil that our only choice will be to give them up. It may at last be time to seek out more productive ways to govern ourselves, and more love-based ways to relate to God! Let’s begin to talk about that….
photo credit: Free For Commercial Use (FFC) <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/156555495@N04/36326715251″>Anger! A couple arguing :(</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
photo credit: amslerPIX <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/20777644@N05/38959278830″>Angry group of seniors protesting with signs, old lady with a megaphone</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>
photo credit: Stanley Zimny (Thank You for 32 Million views) <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/82256086@N00/24484887223″>Union Soldiers on the March</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a>
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