I have been following the debate over at BCC on outrage. Here‘s how it started with a post on the treatment of Iraqi prisoners by Americans. The writer’s primary point is that Americans and especially Mormons should be outraged by such mistreatment. Then, Ronan followed up with a post saying that we should be concentrating on the lack of outrage in the Arab world about Muslim atrocities.
I agreed with many of the sentiments expressed in both of these posts. Except for this: I don’t think outrage is a positive, productive or uplifting emotion, and I think we should use it very, very judiciously and very rarely. And as Christians we certainly should not be encouraging it.
Here is what Laurie says about outrage:
Outrage is a welcomed emotion. It denotes response to a fundamental denial of humanity. I imagine that perhaps the deepest pain suffered by the Christians when they were thrown to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome, is that people were cheering in anticipation at their fear and pain. The thread of common humanity was so thoroughly broken that people actually cheered –they were “beyond feeling”–while their fellow humans were terrified. And no one expressed outrage.
I disagree that outrage is a welcome emotion. I think it is a dangerous emotion and should be avoided except in the most extreme cases. Here’s why: outrage begets anger, which begets contention, and this is what the Savior says about contention: “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Nephi 11:29).
As part of writing this post, I did a search on the word “contention” in the Book of Mormon. In almost every case, it meant “disputes and anger that led to war.” Of course, the Lamanites were outraged by the Nephites because they had created an entire culture based on outrage. The Nephites had stolen the plates and thought they were superior. It was outrageous! And during the last Lamanite-Nephite wars, there was outrageous behavior on both sides, which created more anger, and more contention and led to the decimation of an entire group of people, once millions strong. And of course the same thing happened in Ether’s day.
The Pharisees’ primary emotion during Jesus’ day was outrage. The man was claiming he was the Messiah and that he had the right to forgive people and look how he was offending the Sabbath. It was outrageous! Of course the man should have been killed. And that Joseph Smith. He claimed the right to re-translated the sacred Bible and he called himself a prophet and took on dozens of wives. Outrageous! We have to do something about it. Let’s kill him!
On a smaller level, all of the persecutions in the scriptures start because some group, more powerful and angry than the other, becomes outraged. The heroes are always the ones who are not outraged (think of Stephen) or who channel their outrage into very specific nationwide goals such as Capt. Moroni.
I can think of only one example when the Savior was outraged. That was when he cleared the temple. From an eternal perspective, we can understand his outrage — this was the most sacred spot on Earth, and they were turning it into a den of thieves. But remember the Savior’s outrage was very controlled. He didn’t hurt anybody. And his outrage only lasted a short amount of time, and he immediately went back to humility and long-suffering, which are the primary emotions of His that we should emulate.
Joseph Smith has talked directly about outrage and told us to avoid it. D&C 121:41-43 says it best: “No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guileâ€” Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.”
It seems to me that this is the way we should always act: kindness, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, love unfeigned. When somebody does something that we consider outrageous, we should point it out very forcefully but quietly, but only “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost,” and we should immediately follow it with an increase of love toward the target so that we do not create contention.
Of course I am not saying people should not be politically active. People should protest and march and write their politicians and write their newspapers and write their permabloggers. They should put forth their views. But the moment they are moved upon by anger, or contention or outrage, they should immediately check to see what the source is of this emotion.
I believe this applies to all politics and all political commentators. Although I tend to be conservative and less likely to be outraged by Abu Ghraib than, for example, abortion, I try very hard not to let conservative commentators manipulate me into feelings of anger and outrage. The moment that I feel that emotion rising in me is the moment that I try to stop it (and of course I am the first to admit I don’t always succeed). Although the death of 45 million unborn children since 1973 because of the legalization of abortion is outrageous, it is not outrageous enough by a long shot for me to support people who bomb abortion clinics or threaten abortionists. These people are being moved by the spirit of contention, which is, as Jesus says, “of the devil.” I will speak out about it, I will write about it and try to persuade others of my viewpoint, but I will never allow myself to be outraged. At least I’ll try not to.