[This is a follow-up to an earlier post, “Don’t get caught under the net.”]
What do we think or feel when we hear those words? The impression is of a good thing, even a desirable and godly thing. After all, the word “righteous” is right there at the beginning. And “indignation” is usually something someone feels on behalf of another. It sounds selfless and compassionate.
Indignation is just one more euphemism for anger, however. Just like frustration, exasperation, irritation, annoyance, and a host of others. We have all of these words to express fine shades of meaning and it’s true that they enrich our language when it comes to expression through the spoken or written word. But what is language for? Language was created to praise God. It’s not that I want to eradicate negative words from language, but we should be very aware that language can be used to deceive as well as educate. At the time of the fall, language, as part of creation, fell as well. Remember, the evil one communicates with language too. Relabeling sins and passions to deceive people into thinking they’re not is a long-standing tactic.
So much for indignation. If we say “righteous anger”, is that not nearly as good? Is anything righteous just because you say it is? Well, no, that would be absurd. So where does this righteous thing come from?
As I mentioned earlier, righteous indignation is an anger we feel on behalf of another who has been wronged in some way, or on behalf of a group or organization. But let’s pick that apart a little bit. For example (and let’s take this slowly): you see someone strike a defenseless person. You feel shock and then anger. This is the motivation to step in to stop the abuser, whether by shouting, physically restraining the person, contacting police, etc. Stopping abuse is good. Stopping it, and then exacting revenge is not (and there are laws against this in most places). Does anyone who takes revenge do it with dispassion? No, of course not. They are generally in a rage and full of hate. And as soon as the abuse has stopped, is your anger likewise gone? Generally not. You see where anger can lead. And yet the majority of people will support revenge and angry speech because they were the result of “righteous indignation,” usually because they are in the grip of “righteous indignation” as well! Anger is contagious.
So what is true righteous indignation? The saints have exhibited anger at times, but at sin. They direct that anger at their own passions and at sin itself, not at other people, no matter what they’ve done. (You know, “hate the sin, not the sinner,” the admonition we hear all the time.) They are able to obtain this spiritual dispassion only after a significant time of prayer and spiritual work fighting the passions. Do we honestly think we can say we have achieved this dispassion? I know I haven’t.
And yet we have this concept of righteous indignation being tossed carelessly around as though just anyone can actually achieve it. To see just how ridiculous this is, take another example, that of levitation. Some saints have been observed actually lifted several feet from the ground during intense prayer (St. Mary of Egypt comes to mind because her feast day is approaching). This is not a grace given even to most saints. Do you think that when praying just anyone is lifted from the ground?
I am not trying to discourage striving for dispassion! We should all strive to achieve dispassion (and we’re only touching on one part of one passion here, barely the tip of the iceberg). But I do think we have to be careful to avoid prelest, or the delusion that we have achieved certain spiritual progress. If you think you have achieved dispassion, then you haven’t. The first step to achieving that is to recognize when we fall into sin, and using euphemistic language to disguise sins is not going to help.
Let us be more careful and discerning in our words. Recognize when we are tempted to anger and humbly repent and turn back to God. Don’t fall into the wiles of the evil one and justify it using deceptive labels.
May Christ give us the grace to see our own sins, and repent of them!