Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Rageoholics and Religion

Cardinal O'Malley greets President
Obama at the funeral of the late
Senator Ted Kennedy
Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, making his swan-song after twenty-four years in the United States Senate, recently said:

I’m not saying I was always right,” he said at his Senate office. “I’ll leave that to God and history. But I believed I was doing what I thought was right and people didn’t just disagree with me. There was hatred. But I’m not alone in that. You can take the last three presidents — Clinton, Bush, Obama — and people haven’t just disagreed with them, they’ve hated them. And to me, that’s really terrible. That’s a cancer that’s eating at our politics.”

As I would also say about Mr. Justice Scalia on the political right, while I have not always agreed with Senator Lieberman, I have always had a lot of respect for him because he is a man who is not afraid to speak up for what he believes to be right.   And I find that people of small intellects and narrow spirits have met both the Justice and the Senator with a personal animosity that is nothing less than pathological.  And if that is true for the lesser lights, such as Justices and Senators, how much more so for Presidents—Clinton, Bush, and Obama most of all.
I must admit that I have never cared for Mr. Clinton personally though I think he had a successful presidency and will go down in history as one of our better Presidents.  Mr. Bush I think is a good man but was a terrible president not only because of the disastrous policies that led both to a national financial shambles and two immoral wars with the consequent socio-political chaos of the implosion of the Middle-East, but even more so because he allowed himself to be surrounded by evil persons who manipulated their access to power for personal gain at the cost of national ruin.  As a professional historian, I have no doubt that the Senior President Bush and his predecessor, President Reagan, will be evaluated very differently in the long-run than they have been in the short.  When archives are opened and the definitive history of the 1980 election and subsequent presidencies of the winning candidates can be written, Americans will be appalled at the way in which the Republican Party undermined our constitutional government.   And to be honest and fair, the roots of the evil that like a cancer is eating out the democracy from within our republican form of government go back further and deeper and are not limited to one party.   I only wish there were more Joe Libermans and Antonin Scalias whose integrity I trust.  All this is a way of saying that while I while I wouldn’t buy a used car from Bill Clinton, and I think George W was in way over his head, and while I think Ronald Reagan and George H.W., and Karl Rove and Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and John Ashcroft are (or were) evil people—and I don’t use that term lightly—I don’t have any personal animosity, much less hatred, for them.  I don’t wish them harm or even misfortune.  Like evil people I have personally encountered in my life—in the Church, in academics, in business, as neighbors, or as relatives—my disappointment in them doesn’t fester into rage or even an abiding anger.  My perception of them as “evil” is precisely that—my perception—and I don’t expect that God sees them the same way I do.  In fact, I am aware that if I saw them as God did I might better understand where their moral failure—or what I perceive to have been their moral failure—comes from and having a context for it I might better understand it.     
On the other hand, the rage we see today directed by some towards President Obama baffles me.  I can understand people disagreeing with him.  I can see their being disappointed in their fellow citizens choosing him for a second term.  I can see people worrying for the future of the country as I did under the last three Republican administrations.  I can even see people not liking him, as I obviously have disliked some of his predecessors.  What I cannot see is healthy people being enraged by everything the man does from spending a Christmas vacation with his family to his occasional attendance at a Church service to his appearance at a Catholic Charities benefit to his visits to our wounded warriors to his remarks at a memorial service for the victims of the Newtown Connecticut gun murders.  When everything an individual does inspires rage in a person, one begins to see that the problem is not with the individual but with the person who becomes angry.  
Regular readers know that one of my bête noires is the author of a blog under the title of “Les Femmes.”   Twenty years ago when I worked in Northern Virginia this woman had a certain reputation and her little home-printed newsletter circulated quarterly among the various parishes and organizations to which she mailed it, unsolicited and gratis.    She used it to excoriate various priests and nuns and diocesan officials that didn’t meet her criteria for orthodoxy or whose read on canon law differed from her own.  Though “Les Femmes” entitled themselves “Women of Truth,” she never hesitated to use lies, half-truths, innuendos, and out-of-context quotes and stories, to pass judgment on her spiritual betters.  Over the years her organization, never more than a handful, has dwindled down to what pretty much appears to be a one-woman campaign to attack a range of foes from Jesuit Father James Martin to Benedictine Sister Joan Chittester to local prelates and priests such as Father Tuck Grinnell or Cardinal Theodore McCarrick.  But these last few years, foes within the Church have been eclipsed by an increasing and incredible personal animosity towards not only President Barack Obama but towards his wife.  When, during a question and answer period after a talk I gave recently, I used her blog and newsletter as an example of pathological anger hiding beneath a cover of religion, a member of the audience told me:  
" I have known this woman for over forty years.  We had children together at St X School in Y, Virginia.  She is a rageoholic.  For her, religion—her religion, not the Church-- is the fuel that drives her anger.  Her anger blinds her ability to see reality in any way other than she constructs it and she constructs it to feed her anger.”
I found this insight fascinating.  A colleague of mine who is a psychotherapist often speaks of rageoholics.  Some people, more than a few in our society, are addicted to anger even as others are addicted to alcohol or drugs or are compulsive in their sexual acting-out, or their use of food, or their self-mutilation.   Like other addicts, rageoholics construct their realities to support or justify their addictions.  It is not that they are conscious of their lies or deliberate in their evils—reality becomes for them that which they need it to be to feed their addiction.  The roots of this addiction, like the roots of other compulsive  behavior, can be many—incidents of abuse, fear, depression, loneliness, anxiety or a thousand other experiences that produce a need for whatever gratification the addiction gives or angst it soothes.  Anger releases many of the same endorphins as sex and even as sex-addicts find their compulsions soothed by sexual release, anger-addicts find comfort in their release of those endorphins by giving rant to their rage.  The moral culpability for such behavior needs to go not towards the addict—whose loss of moral freedom has been diminished by the addiction—but to those who fan the flames of this anger.  For those who find in pseudo-Catholicism a justification for hating—not disagreeing with, but hating—someone we must find the sources that are feeding that compulsive rage.  Those who use the pulpit or the press for demagoguery or voices like that of Michael Voris and his “Real Catholic T.V.” are the ones who need to be held responsible for the epidemic of hatred under the cover of “religion,” that is becoming part of the warp and woof of our society.   There is no way that the Gospel of Christ can be used to justify the sort behavior that can swell ideological disagreement into personal hatred and as a Church we do not want to be known for this sort of attitude.  By this shall know you are my disciples—that  you have love for one another.  There is enough evil in the world already; we don’t need Westboro Baptist Catholics.              

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