A Cause for Anger

In an earlier piece, I argued that Matthew 5:22, which (in the King James) says we should not be angry WITHOUT CAUSE – is actually better in the modern translations, which say that we shouldn't be angry AT ALL.

Ok, so what’s actually wrong with anger? What if you’re only angry over evil things in the world that a good person SHOULD be angry about? Let’s analyze that a bit.

The root of anger is a very primitive fighting response. It is the body’s way of preparing to defend ourselves against immediate threats to our body. It causes a surge of hormones in the body, such as epinephrine, cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. These are responses to threats or danger. Depending on the threat, our disposition, our other hormonal levels, etc – this hormonal/emotional response may motivate us to fight, or to flee. We may experience fear, or anger. They are simply the two sides of the same coin – the physiological response to a threat. Their purpose is to help us to run fast… or to hit hard. In natural conditions, they are also momentary. They make brief, enormous demands on the body structures and systems for the sake of survival. The body recovers from these demands when the fight or flight is over, in the relaxation response.

These physiological responses are probably still useful, but in an increasingly limited set of circumstances. Most of us may be in a “fight for your life” situation once or twice in a lifetime. Those who are in such situations often, such as soldiers or police, learn to control their anger. While rage may help get an ordinary person survive an extreme physical conflict – in the long run it interferes with a trained, calculated response to aggression, such as a soldier or police generally needs to employ.

Unfortunately, we have a problem – the ego. Our egoic mind constructs an elaborate mental image of ourselves. And it will trigger the body’s emotional fear/anger/stress mechanisms if it perceives any threat to our elaborate self-concept. This self concept includes our imagined status, our self-appointed roles, our country, our religion, etc. This is how thousands of Muslims can find themselves in a screaming, raging hormonal stew – fully prepared by their biology to immediately defend themselves against a rogue mastodon … over an old Pope quoting some obscure Byzantine emperor from a podium.

And since the ego spends more time in the imaginary past and present than in the here and now, the egoic threats don’t even have to be actually present. We can simmer over past wrongs that are no longer a threat. We can fume over possible events in the future that may not even happen. And 99 percent of these simmerings and fumings will be about things that are no direct threat to our actual physical person at all.

Because our ego is so large and complex, and because the combination of all imagined past and imagined future pseudo-threats is so numerous – many of us spend most of our lives in a state of – if not actual anger – at least borderline fear and stress. As a result, the enormous stress demands we make on the body – which are supposed to be momentary, become chronic. And chronically high levels of fear, anger and stress hormones are catastrophic to our health. They can cause high blood pressure, impair thyroid function, and disrupt our blood sugar levels (leading to obesity or possibly diabetes). They cause impaired mental function, decreased bone density, impaired immune system. They contribute to cancer, heart disease, stroke… sound familiar? The spigot of hormones, intended to save you from immediate physical danger will, if left running, KILL you.

So is there an appropriate time for anger? Yes. When you or someone you are responsible for is in mortal peril. And that’s about it. So if you really want to believe that Jesus says only someone who is angry with his brother WITHOUT CAUSE is in danger of judgement – fine, but realize that the only proper CAUSE for anger is that your brother is running toward you with a weapon threatening to kill you. If you insist on living in perpetual anger – realize that you are in danger of judgment. If nothing else, it will be the judgment of your body, which will collapse under the strain of trying to support the need to defend your own ego.

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