A pattern I’ve noticed in political and sometimes religious discourse lately is the concept of “good anger.” This isn’t the calm and measured, but firm response of Christ before the Romans or at the temple, but a deep antipathy with bite to it. The acidity of this anger is not considered a weakness, but is intentional; a feature, not a bug, justified because of the injustice that motivates the anger.
My interest here is with the justification for the hate. In the same sense that there is a major difference between weaknesses of the flesh and open rebellion against God, the justification of social or political righteous anger is essentially an open revolt against the teachings of the Savior, even if it’s not seen as such. On the issue of forgiveness, the Savior is clear and direct. All people, everywhere, in any circumstance. It’s hard enough for those of us living in fairly comfortable circumstances to pull this off, but a few moments of pondering on just how horrible humans can be to each other makes one realize just how radical this command is.
Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris committed what are considered some of the most horrendous murders in US history. I have no desire to go into detail, but the tapes they made of their tortures are used by the FBI to habituate recruits to violence, and by all accounts the perpetrators never showed real remorse for their crimes. I would never, ever blithely tell their victims’ families to simply forgive, or to point out that hate cankers their souls. Like the concentration camp prisoners who burned their sadistic guards alive or the Haitian sugarcane slaves who massacred their white slavers, some people undoubtedly deserve to hold and act on their hate.
However, there’s a difference between feeling that you have the moral standing to tell somebody how to act and feel in those extreme circumstances and openly rebelling against the commandment, which again is straightforward (albeit difficult to embrace when you really sit on it for a while). At the end of the day, Jesus would not have killed the guard, even if I wouldn’t think less of anybody doing the same.
One reason I’m going straight for the extremes here is because people who justify their own political animosities and see them as virtues often draw some tenuous line between their political hobby horse and the extremes, yet even in these extreme cases the doctrine is pretty straightforward; ergo, while hatred and not forgiving can be a completely understandable response, at no point is what was identified as an evil (hatred, antipathy) good or a good (forgiveness) an evil.
This does not mean that one should not protect one’s self or fight, with lethal violence if necessary, for a better, more just world; that’s not the issue here. The issue here is the open identification of malice with good, which we’re seeing more and more, and is a direct contradiction of the teachings of the Savior.