My friend Abby once told me, “Every person is made in the image and likeness of God, but some people hide it really well.”
Who could disagree? I’m sure we’ve all encountered people in real life or online that get on our nerves and even stir up genuine anger. The problem is that anger is becoming much too commonplace today because it’s often not the kind that inspires us to move toward Christ-like love and positive action. Instead, it turns into a seething hatred and venom directed at “the other,” whoever that might be.
A lot of the arguments I see on social media involve both politics and religion. It also takes place between Catholics in the vein of “I’m a better Catholic than you because…” The bickering that ensues doesn’t always result in civil, reasoned debate about facts, but rather descends into personal insults.
Author and radio host Gary Zimak recently asked me to be a guest on his “Spirit in the Morning” radio show on Holy Spirit Radio in Philadelphia because he, too, was bothered by the negativity and harshness he was seeing. The Christophers, he thought, could shed some light on how to mitigate all the darkness cursing. It got me thinking about one of the roots of the problem.
Social media allows us to experience a sense of community, which is a good thing, a holy thing, even. But when we find a person or opinion we disagree with and mock it online, it can produce a mob mentality where everyone jumps in and piles on, creating a “dark glee,” which is how Pope Francis described the feeling we get when gossiping about someone we don’t like.
Is it natural to fall into this trap? Yes. We’re human and fallible. But as Christians, we’re also called to be better. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:3, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”
Sometimes, we justify our anger by noting that admonishing the sinner is a Spiritual Work of Mercy, and that even Jesus could speak harshly at times. Jesus, however, was the Son of God, who knew people’s hearts, minds, and souls. Since you and I don’t have that ability, we need to be a little more diplomatic in admonishing the sinner, especially if it’s someone on social media we don’t personally know. After all, the goal is to change someone’s mind or evangelize, which requires the person you’re talking with to be receptive to your ideas. When someone feels attacked, they become defensive, not receptive, so your chances of actually accomplishing something go down dramatically.
So what are some solutions to dealing with this anger in a healthier way? If you read something online that you disagree with, ask yourself what you want to accomplish by responding. Do you want to change someone’s mind or just vent? There’s nothing wrong with a little occasional venting, but if it becomes a regular habit, your anger might be getting the better of you.
And remember, there’s no Commandment that you have to respond to everything that bothers you. It’s okay to roll your eyes and just keep scrolling. Or, better yet, say a brief prayer for the person, that he or she become more open to God’s mercy and truth. It won’t produce an immediate change, but in a supernatural sense, it will have more effect than a snarky online comment. And make sure the prayer is humble and genuine, not like the Pharisee’s prayer from Luke 18 in which he praises himself for not being like the tax collector.
If you do choose to respond, follow the example of St. Paul in Acts 17, talking to the pagans in Athens. He started by praising them for being religious, instead of condemning them for worshiping idols. Then he introduced them to the ideas of the one true God and His Son, Jesus. As Pope Emeritus Benedict has said, “The Church does not impose but freely proposes the Catholic faith, well aware that conversion is the mysterious fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit.”
Another thing to keep in mind is Jesus’s Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10, in which a Samaritan helps a Jewish stranger on the side of the road who was beaten by robbers. Unfortunately, this story has become neutered in the modern world to refer to anyone doing a good deed. But there is a lot more than that going on here.
At the time, the Jewish people hated the Samaritans because of religious differences. Yet Jesus specifically chose to make someone the Jews considered an enemy the hero of His story. The message, it seems, is that there is divine goodness even in the people you can’t stand and, in some ways, they might even act better than you. That’s a humbling thought – and an unpleasant one from a human perspective. It means that I don’t get to write anyone off as a lost cause, even though that’s exactly what I sometimes feel like doing. Jesus sure didn’t make Christianity easy, did He?
Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you. Forgive those who hurt you 70 times seven times. That’s not in our human nature. We want to hate our enemies, not love them. We want to damn our persecutors, not pray for them. We want to hold a grudge against those who hurt us, not forgive them. And yet, what do hatred and resentment do to us, if we’re being honest? They corrode our hearts, minds, and souls. And as science has borne out, they’re also horrible for our bodies and physical health. So in a way, Jesus is giving us good medical advice, too, by appealing to “the better angels of our nature.”
If being on social media leaves you angry a lot, maybe it’s time for a break. Reach out to people in the real world in a way that involves helping them and building them up. Instead of “dark glee,” those actions will produce a healthy joy and fulfillment.
If giving up social media isn’t a choice you want to make, remember that human beings are complex and life is messy. Sometimes good people do bad things, while seemingly bad people do good things. So choose your battles wisely, and engage in them with Christian civility and responsibility. And make sure that any anger you experience is short-lived and ultimately moves you toward positive action. The only person that long-term anger will change over time is you.
As Psalm 37 says, “Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it leads only to evil. For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land.”
(Photo via Visualhunt.com)