Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anger and hate clouds your reasoning

The religious figures and leaders in the New Testament gospels are a fine case study in the rationally detrimental effects of anger, hatred, and misplaced religious zeal. Confronted with Jesus of Nazareth who only does good and seeks to turn people to the presence of God's kingdom, they respond with blind rage and a murderous disposition.

Consider the case of the man with the withered hand in the synagogue. It was a sabbath day, and Jesus went into the synagogue where he found a man with a withered hand. He poses a question to the people present, whether it is lawful to do good or to do evil on the sabbath (Mark 3.4). (Of course, the options here are not very generous: either you are doing good on the sabbath, or else you are doing evil; there is no other option. This tells us much about the sabbath and its significance for Jesus, perhaps worth writing about on another occasion.) Jesus finds that the people respond with silence and blank stares, which frustrates and angers him (v. 5). He heals the man's hand, and Mark tells us: The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him (v. 6).

Jesus does good, and finds that the most important people in society respond with anger and hatred, and a desire to kill him. He does good, and receives evil in response. This is more or less the story of his life -- until resurrection, that is. His drive to do good and to save grows stronger, whereas the religious leaders' drive to kill gets more and more intense.

On another occasion, he comes across the following accusation from the scribes: "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons" (v. 22). Not only do they reject his sabbath-day healings, but they also accuse him of being possessed by the devil! In fact it is by the devil that he has power to cast out demons! Of course, this makes no sense, and Jesus is quick to offer the appropriate rejoinder: "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand" (vv. 23-4). It would not make any sense for Satan to be casting out his own demons, defeating himself in this way.

The point here is this: the scribes' blind rage and hatred for Jesus of Nazareth leads them to reason in this very obviously fallacious way. Their minds are clouded by the hardness of their hearts, and this leads them to come up with an explanation for everything that certainly satisfies them -- but it is clearly mistaken, and more than that, they are so darkened in their minds that they cannot even see this.

Anger and hatred clouds your reasoning; the Pharisees and scribes in the New Testament gospels provide fine examples in this respect. We ought to be careful, then, and watch over ourselves when talking and thinking about others in our anger. It may just be that, though our explanations and reasoning convince us in our anger, we are actually poorly mistaken and cannot even see how this is so. Glen Pettigrove has a fine article on this topic: "Meekness and ‘Moral’Anger*." Ethics 122, no. 2 (2012): 341-370.