Friday, July 08, 2005

Is anger a sin?

Jerry's Blog: Is anger a sin?

  1. A transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate.
  2. Theology: Deliberate disobedience to the known will of God or A condition of estrangement from God resulting from such disobedience.
  3. Something regarded as being shameful, deplorable, or utterly wrong.

The famous (infamous) Seven Deadly Sins are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. While not biblical, this list is listed in paragraph 1866 of Catechism of the Catholic Church . So, Catholics believe (and how can 1.07 billion Catholics be wrong?) that anger is a sin.

I am not Catholic. I should not pretend to understand Catholic doctrine, so I guess I should say that my understanding is that Catholicism considers anger a sin.

Different translations replace the word "anger" with the word "wrath". Are "wrath" and "anger" the same? I don't know if Jerry's Blog would or would not consider them the same, but for my discussion I am going to say "yes". The dictionary defines wrath as forceful, often vindictive anger. Wrath is a high degree of anger, and still within the scope of our discussion.

So I say again, Catholicism teaches that Anger is a Sin. Not only would a Catholic say that Anger a sin, but that it is a Deadly Sin (Capital Sin... Unforgivable Sin... Mortal Sin). As a non-Catholic, calling anger a Deadly Sin seems pretty harsh to me considering, as Jerry accurately points out, that Jesus demonstrates anger at least twice. Jesus lived a blameless life... a life without sin. If Jesus got angry and Jesus did not sin, clearly anger is not a sin.

However, Jesus, in his sermon on the Mount (blessed are the poor in spirit ... Etc), also tells us "But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be liable to the hell of fire." - Matthew 5:22

"Liable to the hell of fire" sounds pretty Deadly to me. I'm not sure how to reconcile this particular passage ("every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment") with Jesus (our model of morality) violently overturning carts and wrathfully confronting merchants, but I have to say that I agree with Jerry (and disagree with the Catholic assertion that anger is a Deadly Sin).

Clearly anger is not a sin (Jesus got angry).
Some actions that result as manifestations of anger are clearly sins, but I don't see how we can say the anger itself or even justified actions resulting from anger are sins (Jesus justly attacked people to get his point across)

So, why is anger widely considered a Deadly Sin? There are many examples of destructive anger, but it is important to separate the anger from the resulting action. Or is it?

Anger is a choice we make about a given situation. When my little boy dumps water out of the tub, my initial reaction is anger. I want to yell at him. But, if my heart were truly at peace with God's love, I could react to the situation with humor or kindness or understanding. I don't have to be angry. I am angry because I do not like what Tyler did, and I feel superior enough to him that I am able to pass some sort of judgment on his actions. It is my job to patiently steer him along the path of right and wrong, but that does not have to be done in the spirit of anger.

In other words, anger belongs to the righteous. (I stole that sentence from When I choose anger, I am choosing an emotion that presupposes that I am in some way able to judge others. Judging is not my job, it is God's job.

I am not righteous. I sin everyday. Everyone sins. Every Saint sinned. If you are a human being, you are a sinner. If this were not the case, God would not have sent his only Son to die for our sins. Jesus is righteous. He is God. He passes judgment as he sees fit and therefore is entitled to be angry when he finds merchants in his Father's house. To say I am allowed to be angry because Jesus was angry, isn't really a valid argument.

But what about when we see people hurting other people? I am extremely angry (and sad) when I see terrorist attacks on the news. Certainly, patience and understanding are not the proper response to such heinous crimes. What is wrong with being angry at people who murder or rape or hurt other people? Am I righteous enough to pass judgment on these acts but not righteous enough to pass judgment on a guys who cuts me off in traffic?

So, is anger a Sin? I don't know. I really don't. Reading this whole Blog without any kind of conclusion is enough to make you angry, isn't it?

Just a little side note that doesn't really add to the discussion:
Dante places the wrathful in Terrace 3 of Purgatory where they are punished by walking around in "thick acrid smoke that is darker than night". While unable to see with their eyes, they suffer hallucinatory visions in which they witness examples of meekness (the virtue opposite of anger) and then "see" examples of anger.

1 comment:

  1. There is a difference, I believe, in having a response of anger and maintaining anger. I can feel an angry response to something, but to have, live or be in anger, I must nurture it, feed it, and maintain it. The maintenance is a response to an original anger.

    I disagree with your comment. I don't believe we choose anger - not initial anger. Anger presents us with the choice, and anger itself can be a response. For simplicity, I say "It is not the emotional response that matters. It is the response to the emotion."

    As an aside, Proverbs 31: 9 and Leviticus 19: 15 both state we are to judge, but fairly. And, 2 Timothy 3: 16 discusses Scripture's use for reproof and correction. It's not a matter of superiority, it is a matter of obedience - I must judge right from wrong in my actions and the actions of others, and I must respond. Like anger, it is how I respond that can result in sin.

    Continuing, I think it worthwhile to point out that Jesus is not the only one purely righteous from God's perspective. Man may be righteous even before heaven. Romans 3: 23 tells us all have fallen short, but verse 24 tells us we are made righteous by God's gift in Jesus Christ. Our daily sins remain offending but are inadequate to tarnish our new righteous through Jesus Christ.

    Great blog.