Home > John's Blogs, Temptation & Sin > Seven Capital Vices, Part 6: Anger

Seven Capital Vices, Part 6: Anger

This post continues looking at Rebecca Konynkyk DeYoung’s book Glittering Vices, which is a book about what we commonly call the “7 deadly sins” and she calls the “7 capital vices.”  We’ve examined Envy, Vainglory, Sloth, Avarice, and this post will consider Anger.  The problem with anger is deciding when our anger is justified, and when it is a vice.  How do you differentiate between righteous anger, and sinful anger?

First, DeYoung summarizes Aquinas to determine righteous anger:

Righteous anger therefore expresses the desire to punish injustice, not because we delight in the evil of punishment as evil, but because punishment is required to redress a wrong.  The end that moves the rightly angered person is the good of justice, a desire for things to be made right between persons.

Therefore,

(I)f anger is in for a fight, then to stay clear of being a vice, it must fight the good fight.  This means fighting for a good cause and fighting well.  Anger must serve the cause, not the other way around.  Venting emotion is not itself the point; in fact, expressing anger in order to let off steam is often a moral mistake.

Righteous anger fights on behalf of a good cause.  When we see others treated unjustly, we are right to have an emotional response to it.  However, DeYoung thinks that even when our cause is just we often make a mistake by giving free reign to the anger, rather than to righting the injustice.  Anger can be felt, and acted upon, and be righteous.  But a righteous cause can still turn to anger as vice when we simply vent or let our anger hold us hostage.  I see this a lot when I watch parents defend children.  Often, the cause is just but the method is not.

On the other hand, we also let anger become a vice when we direct it at unrighteous causes.  DeYoung says, “Anger turns vicious, however, when it fights for its own selfish cause, not for justice, and when it fights dirty.”  In other words, we can usually trace unrighteous anger by simply seeing that we are angry at something done to us.  We are much quicker to get angry on our own behalf than on someone else’s behalf, and we are much more likely to blow it out of proportion when it’s on our behalf.

Therefore, a simple guide to determining righteous anger from unrighteous anger is usually simply asking, “Am I angry about what someone did to me or my family?”  If the answer is yes, tread carefully.  While we certainly can be treated unjustly, we usually blow it out of proportion and are more interested in revenge than justice.

This is a terrible vice to master, because we want to justify our anger.  We want to see it as just.  We tell our friends our side of the story, and wait for them to justify our angry response.  We rationalize our anger away, says DeYoung – “Too often, we begin with anger and make our best judgments its puppet.”  We easily decide our cause is just, when our anger is really self-serving.

Anger is rooted in pride, as are all the capital vices.  DeYoung notes it is “deeply connected to our love of ourselves, especially our fear of exposure and our need for security.”  So what can we do?

DeYoung suggests making a journal of times we get angry.  Keep the journal for a week, than put it away for a week.  Re-read it, and see if we blew things out of proportion.  Also, I think more significantly, take the attitude of Christ from Philippians 2 and lower our view of ourselves.

Because wrath is so often rooted in unholy expectations – both of what we are due and what others are due – dealing with this vice requires setting realistic expectations and realizing that the claims we make on the world may be overinflated by our fragile or arrogant egos.

Right.  When we give up our expectations of everyone else, lots of our anger disappears.

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