wish I could tell this baby it'll get easier
Reading Time: 9 minutes (A story about the baby.)
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Yesterday, we talked about Kent Hovind’s recent arrest for domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend. At the time, I noted that he’s always seemed like a very typical white evangelical guy: full of anger, entitlement, and control-lust. And yet evangelicals’ own marketing insists that Jesus  heals his followers of anger. So evangelicals’ anger actually functions as a contradiction to their own claims. Today, let me show you how pervasive anger is for evangelical men — and how their leaders try to contain the problem.

anger in kitty
(Farzan Lelinwalla.)

(Quick Note: I had a massive problem with anger when I was Christian. But I’m not focusing on that today. We’ll be talking about anger in white evangelical women later on. It’s almost a whole different problem for women than for men — with different causes, a different (but equally ineffective) roadmap assigned to women to deal with it, and different responses from white evangelical leaders in addressing it. For now, I’m focusing on anger in white evangelical men.)

Anger: No Introduction Needed.

I suspect everyone alive knows the white-hot feeling of anger. Even Sappho wrote about it long ago. That  poem permanently seared itself across my mind in college:

Sappho, when some fool

Explodes rage
in your breast
hold back that
yapping tongue!

[#76; see also this translation]

Plutarch wrote about anger as well. He even quotes that exact poem:

. . . there is nothing more dignified, if one is angry, than holding one’s peace, as Sappho​ advises:

“When aggression swells within the breast,
Restrain the idly barking tongue.”

Psychologists call anger “one of the basic human emotions.” I suspect that humans have been feeling angry since we first evolved into humans at all. And we can express anger right out of the womb: there’s a famous image of a newborn baby glaring at the delivery team with pure, murderous, unsullied rage on its tiny little face.

wish I could tell this baby it'll get easier
(A story about the baby.) I really wish I could tell this baby that things’ll get easier.

Man alive, very few creatures express anger quite as well as babies.

How Anger Can Help Us.

Anger isn’t bad, in and of itself. A famous self-help book is called The Gift of Anger. It offers advice to those suffering from anger problems. Among other things, it tries to teach readers how to recognize and reorganize their responses to anger.

I don’t know if I read this book or one with a similar name years ago when I was in therapy for anger. Either way, I had to learn that anger can bring us to good places as well as bad. Indeed, anger can inspire us to fight injustice, help others who need it, and radically change both our own behavior and even society itself.

But when we don’t address our anger productively and constructively, it can also tear and rend everything we hold dear.

A lot of our emotional development as children centers around learning to deal constructively with our anger. Unfortunately, a lot of folks never learn that lesson.

Anger’s Triggers.

Anger happens when a trigger occurs around someone who is predisposed to react strongly to it.

The trigger can be any of a bunch of things:

  • An unmet expectation — thus producing disappointment
  • Shame, guilt, and embarrassment
  • Feeling slighted, insulted, ignored, or challenged
  • Being denied something we want or need
  • Getting hurt — emotionally or physically

As you might have noticed, a lot of these triggers overlap. When a lot of them occur at once, our anger will likely be even more strongly felt — and rational thinking all the less easily summoned and maintained.

Anger’s Predispositions and Estimations.

As for predispositions, they can have a powerful effect on how quickly people become angry (if at all) and how constructively they’ll be able to deal with it. Here’s a list of some of those predispositions:

  • Existing in general states of anxiety or fear
  • A low tolerance for frustration
  • Competitiveness
  • Personality traits like narcissism, mental illness and disorders, and personality disorders like borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • Physical states like fatigue or hunger
  • Emotional states like loneliness and feelings of isolation
  • Feeling frazzled or pressed for time

This other psychology page also includes a third factor that might determine when and if we’ll get angry about something: how important we think the trigger is, and if we think some sort of punishment is in order here.

That’ll become important later, but for now, bear in mind that someone’s assessment of the trigger might not be unfair or inaccurate. Maybe the trigger really is something people should be getting mad about, and maybe it does require action to be taken. At other times, people can under- or overestimate one or both sides of that score.

The Anger of Modern Men.

In 2013, Men’s Health noted that anger had become a serious problem for American men:

According to a 2006 Harvard study, 10 million adult men in the United States are so angry, they’re sick. In fact, their disease has a name: intermittent explosive disorder, or IED. [. . .]

Previous estimates put the number of IED sufferers in America at less than 0.5 percent of the population. But if the Harvard researchers are correct, almost 1 in 10 adult men routinely display wildly disproportionate aggression, and are so angry that they’re likely to damage property, or threaten or injure others. (The researchers estimate that only half as many women suffer from IED.)

That issue of Men’s Health tries to explore what is making so many men so angry. They list off a number of predispositions and triggers that are all too common in men’s lives: crowded living conditions, low frustration tolerance, knowing no street-legal ways to deal with it all, tons of pressure to perform masculinity in increasingly-extreme ways, and more.

A lot is at stake, if men can’t figure out how to deal with this strong emotion.

Repercussions of Anger.

The lead author on that Harvard paper notes that men suffering from IED do indeed suffer. They’re “more likely to be divorced, they have worse jobs than others with the same education, and they have fewer friends.” So this anger seriously affects men’s lives.

The article explores, too, what happens when men can’t learn to deal better with this emotion. They endure health issues, self-harm, damage to relationships and property, and more.

And finally, the article describes therapies that can help men learn how to cope with their anger in better ways.

But what happens when a man belongs to a dysfunctional community that does not allow him to seek effective care? What happens if his community refuses even to validate his feelings? Or when that community offers only inadequate ways to deal with angry feelings?

What happens when the already-awful options accessible by American men are nonexistent in his subculture?

What if, in a word, this man is evangelical?

furious kenneth copeland anger
Televangelist Kenneth Copeland famously reveals the love of Jesus Christ at all times.

“Righteous Anger” as the Only Allowable Anger.

Evangelical Christian leaders spend an awful lot of time telling men in the tribe when it’s permissible to get angry at all. And they always have.

Here is a description, for example, of a sermon from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a Calvinist evangelical minister who lived from 1899-1981:

He contends that Paul is not saying that one can be angry as long as they don’t sin— it is not a permissive statement. Rather, Paul is saying that there are certain things it is acceptable to be angry about as long as we do not sin in our anger and do not give a foothold to Satan. Anger, he says, is a natural capacity given to us by God against the things that dishonor him and what he declares to be good.

That’s about how evangelicals consider the matter nowadays, too. They allow one form of street-legal anger. Often, they insist (as this perennially-angry YouTube evangelical does) that it is even a requirement.

Anything else must be stuffed away.

And they call this one allowable form of anger righteous.

Why Righteous Anger is Okay.

CBN offers a big list of Bible verses about anger. Then, they print “God’s List” of reasons why he’s always angry. Finally, their writer asks:

Now, these are some of the things on God’s list, but what do they tell you about your own list? Is there a way to look at what God becomes angry about and determine acceptable areas of legitimate anger for yourself? I believe there are some general situations that are cause for what has been called “righteous anger” because they mirror what God is angry about.

Everywhere, evangelicals similarly insist on tribe-approved and -disapproved reasons to get angry. One church site declares that the only “righteous” (ie, not sinful) anger “is consistent with God’s will for the behavior of His people.”

The Gospel Coalition (TGC) even commands evangelicals to become righteously angry.

Here’s why evangelicals are okay with righteous anger.

They think of themselves as mini-mes of Jesus. Jesus got angry all the time. Heck, Yahweh spent entire centuries in a complete funk of petulant rage.

Therefore, it’s totes fine for evangelicals to be angry all the time. Just about the right things. Not the wrong things. Only things that anger their god…

Who doesn’t really exist.

… And whose ghostwriters have set down specific rules for them to follow that preclude any displays of anger on their part. Righteous or not. Jesus-flavored or not.

Angry Evangelical Men.

But Christians trying to live by evangelicals’ roadmap quickly run into a problem.

Since their god doesn’t really exist, there’s no magic invisible wizard friend to change them into better people. They don’t really transform at all. So evangelicals never lose their old tendencies toward anger. They never repair their emotional habits.

Instead, when they get angry they stuff down those feelings. They paper over them with Jesus-flavored rituals.

But none of it reliably works. Instead, we get admissions like this from one church:

Anger can play a significant role in all of our lives. With men in particular, though, anger tends to be a major battlefront.

“All of our lives?”

“Major battlefront?”

Speak for yourselves, evangelicals.

Cuz I am hard-pressed to remember a single reputable culture in America that has ever talked about an epidemic of violent anger in its members like regular ol’ evangelicals do. For some reason, evangelical men tend to be the angriest, touchiest, most hair-trigger-tempered men around.

What Angry Evangelical Men Do.

Over and over again, we encounter evangelical men throwing tantrums and melting down like toddlers. Indeed, most of us have personally known men like that in the tribe. They have no idea how to handle this emotion.

As a result, evangelical men habitually explode in rage at any safe target they can. That usually means their wives and children — and subordinates, for the powerful men of the tribe. As we see in that church admission above:

And for men who have families, anger is too often directed toward the very people that men are called to protect. Wives and children end up caught in the crossfire. Whether this results in domestic violence, volatile arguments, or verbal outbursts, those of us who are men must seek to bring our anger under control. [Source]

That’s some very serious stuff to be saying. However, I believe it wholeheartedly just based on my direct experience with evangelical men. The authoritarian rules of power alone would dictate that evangelical men will release their unapproved feelings at those who are helpless to stop them or rein them in.

But evangelicals don’t usually feel free to talk about this problem. They know that this problem directly contradicts the tribe’s marketing. Nobody rational wants to join a group of perpetually-angry, potentially-violent people.

The Realities of Angry Evangelicals.

Now, let’s meet an evangelical man whose god has only just now gotten around to meekly, gently mentioning that maybe, just maybe, this guy kinda-sorta has a teensy-weensy issue:

Throughout my journey as a Christian man, the Lord has been very kind not to demand too much all at once. However, when he asks for something big, He tends to make it very clear. Recently, He asked me to evaluate my tendency toward anger. [Source]

(One wonders what “very clear” means here. I suspect he blew up at the wrong person or made a life-altering bad decision.)

You have to really hunt for admissions of pervasive anger in evangelicalism. Often, it takes the form of a listicle like this one. Or it might look like a rueful ex-pastor finally confessing his lifelong problems with anger.

In fact, you’ll soon notice a pattern to these admissions.

It’s okay to confess to pervasive feelings of unapproved anger if it’s described as sin that this evangelical has already defeated through Jesus Power.

At such times, the newly-divinely-fixed ex-angry man can claim that a tribe-approved list of non-solutions totally fixed everything. Then, evangelical readers can dismiss these angry feelings, as the writer himself always does, as sin that must be addressed with Jesus Power.

What these men don’t realize, though, is that their problems are only just beginning at that point.

NEXT UP: How evangelical leaders teach men to deal with unapproved anger. It doesn’t work, but it’s the only roadmap they’ve got. See you soon!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...

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