WRATH: A GREAT SIN FOR THE GREATLY SENSITIVE
Variations of the same Twitter joke pop up around this time every year: “Gay Pride month is over, time for Gay Wrath.”
Joking aside, I like this idea. Except it doesn’t go far enough: why just one month of wrath? Why not twelve? And why just LGBTQ people? There should be enough wrath to go around.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that if the rest of us don’t start to get a little more wrathful about certain things we’re probably going to regret it.
In response to which I imagine they’ll go and make that a “sin” too.
Back In June, NPR ran the headline, “Americans say we’re angrier than a generation ago.”
My take: Americans a generation ago probably weren’t angry enough.
“Some 84 percent of people surveyed said Americans are angrier today compared with a generation ago, according to the latest NPR-IBM Watson Health poll,” Scott Hensley writes. “When asked about their own feelings, 42 percent of those polled said they were angrier in the past year than they had been further back in time.”
NPR goes on to warn that “anger can have an effect on health,” but those 42-84 percent of people sound like they’re having a very healthy response to me. Where can we go in the world today and not have good reasons to get angry?
In 375, Greek monk (and heretic) Evagrius Ponticus compiled a list of “eight evil thoughts” for the faithful to avoid, anger being the fourth most serious. “Anger has an angel of its own kind,” he wrote–that is to say, a demon, which tempted the faithful toward hard feelings and hot tempers.
Pope Gregory the Great whittled the list down to seven in the sixth century, and St Thomas Aquinas labeled them the Seven Capital Sins. But “Seven Deadly Sins” is punchier, so that’s the name that stuck.
Of anger, Aquinas argued that such sinning engendered “indignation, mental disturbance, noisy speech, blasphemy, abuse and quarrels.” Which I note is pretty much interchangeable with the effects of the phrase “series finale” these days.
St. Catherine of Siena warned, “There is no sin that gives asuch a foretaste of Hell in this life as anger.” Of course, she starved herself to death just to prove to god she could, so I’m not really sure who asked her advice on anything.
In Dante’s Purgatorio the angry sinners wander in choking black smoke so thick that even the poet’s previous trip to Hell “ne’er made unto my sight so thick a veil, as did that smoke which there enveloped us, nor to the feeling of so rough a texture, for not an eye it suffered to stay open.”
The blinding smoke renders the wrathful powerless, dovetailing with Cardinal Henry Edward Manning’s later opinion that angry people are “slaves to themselves.” In recognition of Manning’s famed reputation as a debater, I offer the rejoinder: “am not.”
Maybe the most dynamic representation is in Christopher Marlowe’s Faustus, when Wrath states that he “had neither father nor mother: I leapt out of a lion’s mouth when I was scarce half an hour old” and chases around the land “wounding myself when I had nobody to fight with.”
So we’ve got many hundreds of years of dead fucks telling us not to give a fuck. The catch of course is that these days there are certainly people to fight with.
The Daily Beast reports that at Border Patrol prisons in Texas, the federal government keeps hundreds of kidnapped children locked in cells teeming with “scabies, shingles, chicken pox” and “the odor of the unwashed.”
Someone, perhaps, should be angry about that. Meanwhile up at the White House, an assembly of tailored suits accidentally imbued with the semblance of human life and granted critical foreign policy jobs like some fucked up Hawthorne story are frantically shoveling coal into the machinery of an Iranian war for pretty much no reason at all.
(The machinery of war is presumably coal-powered, if only because I can’t see war machinists really warming up to renewables.)
Surely we should be angry about this? If not us, then who?
In 2014, an NYPD cop strangled Eric Garner to death in broad daylight on a whim. Last week the Justice Department decided (after a solid 1d2 minutes of soul searching) that this wasn’t criminal. I guess getting angry about this might invite more of the same, but here we are.
As we observed on a 2018 episode of Black Mass Appeal, transubstantiating impulses like anger and pride into being “sins” is a kind of grand gaslighting, by which galaxy-brained medieval heirlooms convince us that when something is wrong the problem is not the problem but instead, somehow, the problem is us.
“Getting angry or sad or fearful in response to mistreatment or injustice makes perfect sense, and you have every right to express your emotions in a healthy way,” Maisha Johnson wrote in Everyday Feminism in 2016, just months away from all the best possible reasons to be angry dropping.
I get why this is an uncomfortable train of thought. For one thing, there’s all of the constant garment-rending about imagined calls for violence, although these are such (pardon the phrase) bad faith readings as to not be worth anyone’s time.
I will at least admit that nobody really likes the necessity of being angry. It’s unpleasant, it’s messy, it’s sometimes as damaging for us as for whoever it’s directed at.
But I would also say one of the utilities of Satanism is admitting that at least some of the time unpleasant or scary things are good for you. Or perhaps more importantly, good for the world.