by Andrew M. Haines
The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA, and its pointed dismissal of Perry, seem to give grounds for righteous anger. This is especially true for those who perceived and fought hardest against the social tide most responsible for yesterday’s decision—in short, a mass surrender to solipsistic ideas of self-determination and personal dignity. (It’s no surprise, for example, that libertarians of all stripes were at least partially placated by lessened federal involvement in state and personal matters; and why wouldn’t they be, since they take these to be irreducible and absolute goods?)
If there’s a case at all for righteous anger, it’s a case that entails removal from the mire of talking points and comparative issues. It’s not a case, moreover, that emerges simply from socio-political identification with a particular group, even a religious one. (Robert Christian appears keen to make this point at Millenial, when he notes that “exploded” support for same-sex marriage amongst Catholics is qualitatively different than support for abortion, concluding that “community and communion” cut both ways on issues of love. No surprise, I think he’s wrong in the end.)
Righteous anger, more than anything else, requires a clear picture of the goods and evils of a situation. More simply, it requires understanding that there is a situation at all, which means being able to know and articulate something that transcends mere particulars. For this reason, Republicans—like some libertarians—despite their sincere disapproval of certain eventualities, cannot (qua Republicans) express righteous anger. Neither, even if they wanted to, could Democrats.
As it happens, righteous anger is reserved for those who not only perceive and express a certain state of affairs, but who know it by the testimony of a legitimate authority. (This is where Robert Christian’s argument breaks down: that somehow “community and communion” can be realized in direct conflict with the witness of the Church’s perennial teaching makes little sense.) Righteous anger isn’t a reactive or polarized emotion; it is an instructive and empathetic disposition. There is no place in it for a lack of clarity or reasonable inquiry, even though it may incite passion.
The post-ruling instruction by some to avoid anger—usually replacing it with prayer—is a false dichotomy. Righteous anger is in no danger of collapsing into reaction or rage. If it weren’t prayerful, it wouldn’t be righteous. That means, however, that it’s simply not achievable for everyone, just as mature prayer is not achievable for everyone: both entail practice in self-control (emotional and intellectual) that is largely uncommon.
Christians have not only the capacity for, but also a duty to righteous anger. The DOMA ruling—including its reasoning that the law stifled “equal dignity” for same-sex couples—was a bad one. The social current behind a majority opinion, which states that defense of marriage aims “to disparage and to injure” same-sex couples and to “impose inequality” upon them, is quite simply rubbish. (Cf. Scalia’s dissent, p. 21) These are facts easily discernable in the cultural context, not to mention in the context of the Gospel. To overlook their mistreatment involves a lack of charity; to vindicate them, even if it involves wrath, is upright.
The rub, of course, is that in vindicating the defense of marriage we must admit that the institutions upon which we so readily rely are incapable of securing its future. We can hope that some latent cultural surge will move the tide in a new direction—there’s good reason, after all, to believe that it’s there below the surface—but pinning such hope on the halls and benches of justice is showing increasingly to be futile.
If we are to respond with righteous anger, we must also respond with clear thinking about the means for effecting it. Those means are not primarily political, but prayerful. And prayer is not an impotent practice.
This article originally appeared on Ethika Politika and was reposted with permission.