Would You Like Some Charity With That Outrage?
We’re all aware of the phenomenon of online aggression and many of us have taken part in some online debates or conversations in which we expressed frustration or anger, when it would have been better for us to unplug and calm down.
St. Paul is pretty clear on the correct disposition Christians need to adopt as a lifestyle - it is that of true love; none other than the love shown by Jesus toward us.
His passage from Corinthians hasn’t lost any of its power despite being the standard accompaniment to so many Hollywood wedding scenes and secular marriages:
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:11
Of course this is not to say that we don’t need to be honest; fear of becoming angry doesn’t absolve us from telling the truth. Here’s what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had to say about criticism of sin: (you can read the whole homily here)
The Church’s tradition has included “admonishing sinners” among the spiritual works of mercy. It is important to recover this dimension of Christian charity. We must not remain silent before evil. I am thinking of all those Christians who, out of human regard or purely personal convenience, adapt to the prevailing mentality, rather than warning their brothers and sisters against ways of thinking and acting that are contrary to the truth and that do not follow the path of goodness. Christian admonishment, for its part, is never motivated by a spirit of accusation or recrimination. It is always moved by love and mercy, and springs from genuine concern for the good of the other.
It is a difficult thing to balance, to be sure.
I was surprised to learn that our bodies give us a chemical reward for expressing anger, similar to that experienced by drug or porn addicts. (You can read more here at Anger Mentor. Warning - it’s not a Christian site). You’re probably familiar with dopamine: it can act as a neurotransmitter but also as a hormone and is sometimes known as the ‘feel-good’ chemical.
From the article:
The problem with chronic dopamine release is that with time your brain’s receptors get desensitized and bring little pleasure. A small amount of dopamine can only help you to feel temporarily ‘normal’ again. As with drugs, an angerholic will in turn crave a larger release of dopamine to feel the same ‘high’ and the only way to achieve this is to up the rage and act out more; either verbally or violently. This is how anger addiction is born.
How many online arguments are related to an addiction to anger? I have no idea. But it’s interesting to note that at least some of our desire to be outraged can be attributed to this chemical reaction that makes us happy to be angry.
Which all brings me to my main point: we must try anew to have meaningful online dialogues with those people whose ideas are different from ours.
If we are all about getting a lot of comments or likes, then I guess we would have to resort to being chronically outraged - because that kind of debate attracts the most online interaction. Take a look at the longest threads, and you’ll see that they’re usually on a controversial topic written by an outraged ideologue - of any persuasion. Write a kind or gentle post, and you will be lucky to pick up a couple of likes, unless you’re a saintly celebrity like Fr. Barron. (He broke the internet one day, by the way. Well, his servers had to shut down, because he had so much traffic. The web-hosters were surprised to learn that it was a Catholic priest who had generated so much traffic!)
But, we evangi-bloggers aren’t in the business of writing to gain followers or to simply generate some dopamine. We have a message to share, and it must always be told as kindly, as gently as possible, and always contain an underlying theme of hope.
Surely, in this time of societal collapse, it is more important than ever for us to learn the art of telling the truth in kindness.
And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.