“It is my wish, then, that in every place men should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger.” — 1 Timothy 2:8
When I started this blog a little over a year ago, my intention, amid the rancor and vitriol that seems to poison virtually all political, cultural, even spiritual discussion these days, was to offer what I hoped would be reasoned, civil discourse—and to invite reasoned, civil responses—in addressing many of the great issues that challenge us in today’s world.
That is in fact what I have tried to do throughout the long course of my career in primarily Catholic communications. I don’t always succeed, even to my own satisfaction, let alone the judgments of others.
Some would note that I don’t always show the respect that I call for others to demonstrate—a failing that, on occasion, I readily concede. Particularly when I encounter a stridency and lack of respect from proponents of differing views, I don’t always successfully resist the urge to respond in kind. But I try.
Others want me to be more assertive, more confrontational, more angry, in challenging opposing viewpoints and those who express them—particularly on fundamental issues of justice, human rights, morality and the sanctity of life—and to call out, by name, those who—whether I agree or disagree with their views—resort to ad hominem attacks, hateful language, and mischaracterizations or outright distortions of opposing points of view.
So let me be clear. I do get angry, about many things that I see in this world: from the mass killing of innocent children in the womb, to the unnecessary scapegoating of immigrants; from insensitivity to all manner of human suffering, wrought by such maladies as poverty, illness and disease, mental or emotional disabilities, war and terrorism, crime and punishment, government oppression, and on and on; to attacks on the family, and on religious liberty.
And I get especially angry at efforts to shut down reasoned discourse and debate—either through, as mentioned above, distortions of other viewpoints and personal attacks on those who express them; or, in today’s cancel culture, outright prohibition of, or creation of “safe spaces” to avoid hearing, any views different from one’s own.
But I know I ought not indulge that anger, for several reasons.
First, because it is counterproductive. As I learned from my earliest days in the pro-life movement, the goal, in promoting any issue or cause, is not just to win arguments. It is to change minds and hearts. And that is seldom accomplished by responding with anger and intolerance toward those who disagree. I have always found it more effective to listen, patiently and respectfully, to the views of others. This helps me to respond more effectively; it has also prompted me, on occasion, to adjust my own views in light of a new insight I might gain from hearing a different perspective.
Certainly, with regard to abortion—while never lessening my conviction that innocent, pre-born human life must be protected—listening to others has helped me to be less judgmental of those who, genuinely moved by compassion for all manner of human suffering, erroneously see abortion as an acceptable and effective solution.
It is neither. But before I can try to make others see that, I must understand where they are coming from. Only then can I respond, persuasively, in a way that might open their minds and hearts to more life-affirming approaches.
The second, and more important, reason that I—that all of us—must strive to avoid indulging our anger is because of what it does to us. It hardens our hearts and poisons our souls. It makes us so much less than God wants us to be.
Yes, as Jesus showed with His haranguing of the money changers in the temple, there is such a thing as righteous anger. I remember thinking, again in my early days of pro-life activism, that anger was wholly justified—indeed, called for—by the massive, violent killing of God’s most precious beings: innocent, defenseless children in their mothers’ wombs. And we can all think of other injustices so cruel, so inhuman, as to justify our anger.
It is not wrong to feel anger in such situations. But it is self-destructive to indulge that anger.
Rather, when we encounter cruelty and injustice, we are called to act, in whatever ways we can, to protect those being victimized; to advocate for them; and to persuade their persecutors—forcefully, yes, but without anger and hatred, even if they exude such toward us—to begin acting with justice, with compassion, with respect for the humanity of others.
And we are called, above all—as Paul wrote to Timothy—to “pray, lifting up holy hands—without anger.”