Fear, Anger, and Power. Part 1

I was reading an FB post by Ptr. Bill Nieporte, and I felt it had a lot of what I wanted to talk about because of all the madness with bombings and shootings, as well as angry and/or violent rhetoric. You can see more of his writings if you CLICK HERE.  Here is his post.pogo

I have never ended a friendship on facebook or “real life” because of a person’s politics, religion, lifestyle, or anything else. The only thing that causes me to end a relationship is when comments become personally insulting and threatening to me or my family.

Unfortunately, that is becoming more par for the course these days. People from all corners are too darn angry to talk. And nobody seems willing to take ownership of their own anger issues.

I know, most of that comes from FEAR. People are afraid…and they scapegoat their fear and anger on the various boogeymen they think are hiding under every rock and around every corner.

That’s why you get fire-from-heaven rhetoric from pastors-chancellors of “Christian schools” advocating that everyone on campus get a conceal-and-carry permit to “get them Muslims.”

That why you have Muslims like the two young people in California who were so angry and fearful of a world not fully Muslim that they shot up those people.

That’s why you have people like the guy who shot at the Planned Parenthood office shouting stuff about “no more body parts” while he created body parts out of corpses

That’s why you have people like the church shooter in South Carolina.
That’s why you have people like the shooter at Fort Hood.
That why the rhetoric from talk radio spawning more fear and hate.

Look, the guy across the block and down the street with the conceal-and-carry permit is not the source of all evil. Neither is the Muslim man at the gym. Neither is the gay couple in the grocery store line. Neither is the liberal…or the conservative…or libertarian…or progressive on Facebook .

Those folks are not the enemy. The real enemy is the hatred that desires to “call fire down from heaven” to consume those who do not receive us with kindness When everyone is praying for fire or wanting to “bomb the sh(&” out of others, we are ALL in trouble…none will survive.

Jesus spoke of inspecting the log in our own eye, not the spec in the eye of our neighbor. Maybe it’s time we start heeding his instructions.

That does not mean we do no disagree. There are several of my friends whom I have intense disagreements with about a number of issues – some on Facebook and some in “real life.” They have not blocked, fired, threatened, or insulted me or my family…nor have I done that to them.

But here lately, it is happening. It’s happening everyday.

A fourth grade Arabic boy has been called a terrorist in a nearby school. I know of this boy from a very reliable reference. He is scared. Where do the fourth graders get that sort of thing. From mommy and daddy.

We are doomed as a society if this does not change…and this cannot be scapegoated on Obama, Trump, Fundies, Muslims, Jews, gun owners, liberals, conservatives, progressives, tea-party people. It is on us if we do not learn how to love each other

In Pastoral Counseling we learn that Anger is typically a “secondary” emotion. That is, something triggers a primary emotion (like fear, disgust, or mistrust) and that primary emotion then triggers a second emotion. A xenophobic reaction (Us versus Them… fear or mistrust of those we don’t understand) can easily morph into anger or hatred.

Frankly, this is a pretty human response. One might even say it is our nature (Not that it is an excuse.  Quoting Rose Sayer from the movie The African Queen, “Nature, … is what we are put in this world to rise above.”) And since we are all humans, like it or not, we find it easy to fall in this trap. That is why, in part, Jesus said that we are to love one another… including those we consider enemies— those we are tempted to dehumanize, demonize, or objectify. We are told to love these people because it is difficult. I think there is a lot of reason for concern when Christian leaders provide religious support for culturally triggered hatred. Something clearly not Christian in this. When we embrace a “righteous” anger for those we find distasteful or those we fear, we begin to become what we hate. We become the enemies that we have, or the enemies we imagine.

I do think there is another related issue here… and that involves Christians’ (illicit) love affair with power. But I will save that for Part 2.

Negative and Positive Words in Countercultural Balance

It is common to say that “Love is the most powerful force in the Universe.” It is part of romantic philosophy (if there is such a thing). It is often thought of as Christian. And perhaps it is. God is greater than the Universe. Since God can be characterized by love, then love in some sense can be seen in those lights.

I don’t think I have the expertise to give a definitive answer to the above statement. But I feel pretty confident that the following statement is true:  “Hateful Words are more powerful than Loving Words.”

Westboro Baptist Church at the United Nations ...
Westboro Baptist Church at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, on the day of Pope Benedict’s address to the UN General Assembly. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


If you are not sure of this… feel free to try this experiment. If you have a loved one (spouse, son, daughter, parent, fiance’, best friend), start tomorrow morning with the statement, “____, I wanted to tell you that I really hate you.” The next day, start the day with “_____, I wanted to tell you that I really love you.” To make it a fair experiment, make sure that your attitude/emotions match the words you give. No irony, no cancellation or explanation of statements later. See the effects of the statements. Effectivity is essentially the power of the statements.

You might feel that this test is rigged since you are already dealing with a loved one. If you want a more reliable test, try the same on two other people, one a person that you hate (or at least strongly dislike) and one for whom you have ambivalence.

Since, you have not done the test yet, I don’t know what results you will get (perhaps you won’t even do the test… and that is okay… maybe for the best). However, in group dynamics it is found that positive supportive words are needed more than negative critical words. A healthy, functioning group should have around 5 times as many positive statements as negative statements. As one approaches 3 to 1 ratio things are becoming risky.  Well before one gets to 1 positive to 1 negative, things start to fall apart. Any group, partnership, or marraige that has equal amount of positive and negative statements is in deep trouble. This suggests two important thoughts.

1.  Negative statements have a stronger effect on a person than do positive statements. This suggests that they should be used more carefully and rarely.

2.  Some negative statements are needed. Negative statements, being more powerful, are a greater impetus for change. Positive statements are more likely to maintain some status quo (but not always, of course).

The church (any church) must provide some negative commentary on the society around it or it has no countercultural power… it provides no visible contrast. A church that gives no negative commentary will be seen as accommodating, and maybe even supporting, cultural problems. Some churches have chosen not to talk about sin or social justice… because it sounds negative. But some negative is needed… can hardly be salt and light in a world without some genuine critique of the world systems. However, the positive statements must greatly outweigh the negative. For the church to be seen as a loving place, it must be demonstrate loving words far more often than negative words. If it fails to do that (consider the example of “Westboro Baptist Church” for a church  that appears to be only hateful because so much of what it talks about is hateful in tone and content) the church provides nothing that decorates the Gospel of Christ (recalling Titus 2:10).

Churches and Missions must balance their role of loving positive statements with loving negative statements. But the balance must be strongly towards the positive because of the power of negative words. With a healthy balance (maybe 5 positive supportive acts or statements for ever 1 negative) the church can be seen as a loving, supportive, Christlike place, while still challenging that which is wrong around them.