The director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, Brian Levin, recently gave an interview to Time magazine in which he shared his thoughts about the anger many Americans feel when engaging with online news platforms. Levin's research found that the constantly breaking news on social media tends to strengthen fearful thoughts that life is out of control. Combine this fear with political preference and conviction, in addition to the massive venting our society engages in on social media, and you can see the potentially toxic side effects. Crude or violent comments that slander government officials, other citizens, or even friends online represent a very real side-effect. As a society, we have come to expect this type of angry talk online. The comments have lost shock value, which is why diatribes from politicians or even late-night comedians take on deeper layers of sarcasm and insult. The level of insult must increase to grab our over-sensitized attention. Interestingly, Levin says, “our fears often don't match the actual risk. We know, for example, that we're more likely to be killed in a car accident than in a terrorist attack, but that context is lost because the most dramatic and divisive ideas steal our shrinking attention spans. In a very fearful and realistic society, we run on emotion, which is the currency of social media. It’s emotive first.”[i]
All this discussion begs the question, why are we so angry?
Anger does not arise out of nowhere. In his book Uprooting Anger, Dr. Robert Jones, professor of biblical counseling at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, defines anger with four key ideas. Identifying the four ideas of Jones’s definition might help society to understand the true nature of anger and how to “uproot” its negative effect in daily life. Jones writes, “Our anger is our whole-personed active response of negative moral judgment against a perceived evil. Anger arises from a fundamental perception of something as wrong, and it invites a volitional desire to repay” (18).
Read that definition again and catch the four key ideas:
1. Whole-personed. Whole-personed in the sense that it involves our entire being and engages our feelings, thoughts, and even our spirit. It is not simply an emotion. It is a response against something and it courses through our bodies.
2. Active response. Anger is a response. It is not something we have, but something we do. We are not passive in our anger. Anger invites us to react. We react either internally in thoughts or externally in action.
3. Moral Judgment. Anger involves a judgment on something we perceive as morally right or wrong behavior. While this is a negative judgment, it is not necessarily sinful, especially when we feel this anger about something we believe is evil. Anger arises from our personal interpretation of the facts.
4. Perceived wrong. Anger arises from something we perceive or interpret as wrong. How many times do we initially interpret situations correctly?
This definition helps us understand that anger can only be justified when we rightly interpret someone else’s action as wrong and respond appropriately in return.
Apply this definition to the anger many Americans feel when engaging with online news platforms, and things begin to make sense. Why do Americans feel so angry when engaging with news online? Perhaps they feel:
• Anger arising due to a perceived threat to their liberty, way of life, beliefs, or personal preference.
• A threat leading to a moral judgment on another’s action or comments. He/she/they are misinformed/wrong/bad/evil!
• Judgment leading to an angry response. We tend to believe that the other person’s action or idea caused the anger, but in reality, anger was already inside looking for an excuse to show itself.
This is why Jesus taught that out of the overflow of the heart our mouths speak. In other words, what's already inside of us tends to reveal itself through our actions.
We are responsible for our responses. Sadly, we often display unrighteous anger. We cannot allow our slander, slight, put-down, critical or harsh response to be justified by another’s actions. As believers in Christ, we must be above negative responses and take responsibility for our angry reactions. This all points to how anger affects our whole-person.
Dealing with Our Anger
What can we do to begin "uprooting" the problem of anger? Jones provides a helpful exercise in his book. On page 170 Jones provides an exercise titled Journaling a Problem Incident. In the exercise, you select a recent incident in which you displayed or felt anger. In a journal, on a piece of paper, or on your personal computer, summarize the situation and your angry responses to it as follows:
• Your situation: What happened?
• Your behavior: How did you respond?
• Your thoughts and desires: What thoughts or desires led to your response?
• God’s answers: What does God’s Word say about your thoughts, desires, and
With the gathered information write out a plan to respond differently in the future.
Daily ask God to teach and pour out into you both His forgiving and enabling grace so that you might wisely handle situations that typically provoke you to anger. In addition, I encourage you to read Uprooting Anger. If your battle against anger continues, seek out Brookstone Counseling and sit down with a biblical counselor for additional help.